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Improving Sows’ Feed Intake throughout Lactation Logo Feedia

The number of quality piglets sold per sow per year is a key component to the profitability of pig production. A piglet’s homogeneous weight gain throughout growth and piglets' death rate after weaning highly depend on the sow’s milk yield. The amount of milk produced is directly influenced by sows' nutritional intake and the availability of their body reserves. Indeed, lactating sows considerably draw upon their physiological functions to sustain their piglets’ needs. How can sows' capacity for ingestion - and therefore, their milk production – be maximise without any detrimental effects on their health?

Sow's feeding throughout lactation has a significant impact on their milk production and on piglets’ weight at weaning, and accordingly, on their upcoming breeding performances. The more piglets in the litter, the higher the needs are of lactating sows.

What are the parameters to consider for avoiding sows’ underconsumption of feed?

A sow's spontaneous level of ingestion is barely sufficient to fully meet its needs.This ingestion level depends on environmental conditions (temperature, humidity etc.) on parity, on genetic factors, on the energy concentration of their diet…

sow’s feed intake is especially limited in the event of heat stress. High surrounding temperatures — for instance in the following cases: summer, tropical climate, room heating control settings — may result in a decreased appetite.
Low feed intakes can also originate from limits in the sow’s own ingestion capacity, especially for primiparous animals. Indeed, within a same herd, the spontaneous ingestion level of primiparous sows during the lactating phase is quite often 20-25% lower than that of the multiparous. Moreover, gilts need to satisfy their own growth needs while also feeding their piglets.

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What are the risks to the productivity of the sow of insufficient consumption ?

An insufficient production of milk is likely to increase the risk of piglet mortality under the sow (wasting, crushing) thereby impacting most of, or the entire litter. As a result, weaned piglets can end up being fewer, lighter and weaker. A good start in lactation generally ensures better piglet performance after weaning has occurred.

Sows' insufficient feed intake will also impact their breeding performance after weaning. When this happens, sows will compensate for this deficit by drawing upon their own reserves. Excessive mobilisation of lipid and protein supplies during the milking period may directly impact their upcoming breeding cycles. This will result in a longer weaning to oestrus interval (ovulation rate), a decreased farrowing rate (embryonic survival), and ultimately, smaller litters. Such declines of their reproductive performance will cause higher culling rates, especially early ones.

What should be done to optimise sows’ feed intake in the difficult lactation phase? 

Upon farrowing, the objective is to reach a maximum level of feed intake by guaranteeing a good feeding start and therefore a good start in lactation. This will also result in maximising their production of milk. With increasing litter sizes, the sow's milk production is becoming a key factor in the performance of the farm.

  • The concept of quality feed must supply the nutrients sufficient for the needs of gilts and multiparous sows. In order to optimise sows’ feed intake, additional ingredients can also be incorporated in the feed: ingredients enhancing feed palatability and solutions especially designed to valorise the ingested feed and to limit the oxidative stress – the oxidative stress is caused by a high mobilisation of body reserves and / or higher temperatures. All these efforts should benefit the sow and their piglets.
  • In addition, the sow’s body condition in the gestation phase should be monitored so that energy supplies stay sufficient and appetite remains stimulated upon farrowing.
  • Easy access to water is also crucial for ensuring successful milk production. A sow that doesn’t drink enough will definitely not eat sufficiently. A sufficient amount of water should therefore be provided, both in terms of quantity and quality.
  • Feed presentation: it is better to choose pellets or crumble instead of meal, or wet feed instead of a dry one.  
  • Feed management: meal delivery should be increased up to 3 times a day instead of just twice. These meals should be provided early in the morning rather than late in the afternoon, especially in the event of high temperatures.

Remember that a higher feed intake allows for increased milk production and the ability to wean one extra piglet.

This approach is far from being exhaustive. Whatever your sows' characteristics (parity, genetics) and their living context (climate, feeding system) our professionals are here to provide you advice and offer solutions on improving your lactating sows’ feed intake. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact the Techna Group's experts!

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Feedia embodies Techna's range of advice and solutions in breeding techniques and precision nutrition, serving the performance of production organisations, feed manufacturers and their breeder customers.