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Feeding lactating sows: a farmer's experience achieving 39 weaned pigs per sow

17 piglets

17 piglets

How, when and why should feed be increased? what needs to be considered when drawing feed curves? first hand farmer experience from Can Ballau, answers these and other questions

Tuesday 19 November 2019 (1 months 30 days ago)
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There are several objectives when we consider how to feed sows in farrowing:

1- Ensure the sow has enough energy to farrow. (Day -10 to farrowing/day 0)

In order for a sow to have a good farrowing, she must have enough energy to perform the farrowing process as quickly as possible. Sows with a quick farrowing will have a faster recovery and will start eating earlier. than a sow who takes longer to farrow.

Another advantage of good pre-farrowing feeding is that it boosts colostrum production and quality.

Ideally, sows would be to brought into the farrowing rooms during this period 10 days prior to farrowing, but this something not always feasible in practice. We will try to bring sows in, at least 5 days before the expected farrowing date.

At this point we must begin to choose the feed curve for each sow according to:

  • Body condition: It is basic to distinguish between fat and thin sows. It will be more difficult for a fat sow to give birth, and it will be harder to get her to reach maximum milk productivity. This is why it is important to control body condition in gestation. At the other extreme, a thin sow is always at a greater risk of having to wean her pigs early if her diet does not meet her lactation needs, as she has no fat reserves.
  • Parity number, it is essential to differentiate between nulliparous and multiparous sows, and from there, to try to distinguish between parities 2-3, parities 4-5 and parities greater than 5.

Young sows do not have the same needs as a multiparous sow, nor do they have the same feed intake capacity. Nulliparous sows before farrowing should consume about 3 kg of lactation diet, and multiparous sows should consume 3.8-4 kg/day. They should be fed a minimum of twice a day. Try to space feedings every 12 hours for better distribution throughout the day.

2- Feed the sow according to her potential intake, milk production potential, size and number of piglets, and body condition. (From farrowing to day 7-10)

This is the most critical phase for both piglets and sows. In my experience, the feed intake should be encouraged as quickly as possible to recover the sow after farrowing and so that the level of milk can always keep increasing, allowing the piglets to drink their fill.

In the past, sows were fed little or no feed at all, on the day of farrowing, which I believe is harmful. If we want to reach the maximum potential of the sows we must start from the day of farrowing or ideally,10 days prior. Low feed intake will mean that the sow has to pull from her body reserves for the first few days, which is when she most needs to eat in order to recover well from farrowing and to start producing quality milk. We should try to get the sows to eat an average of 4.5-5 kg/day (for multiparous sows) and about 3.5-4 kg/day (for nulliparous sows).

In order to achieve these intakes, it is essential that we stop setting feed curves based on the sows consuming average or below average amounts. By doing this we are losing potential in the other half of the sows. In terms of feed management it is easier to control the 20% of sows that will not eat well, i.e. to adjust the feed curve according to appetite and remove the excess feed after each meal so that it does not spoil, than to guess what the 40% of sows that are above the average will eat.

Here it is important to distinguish between two (if not three) groups of multiparous sows: parity 2-3 and parity 4+. This is even more important if we have second-litter syndrome due to a feed deficit in the first lactation.

The number of daily meals depends on the amount of feed they get; a maximum of 2-2.5kg per meal would be ideal. In hot weather I would advise feeding early and late in the day so that the sows are not so hot at feeding times. With the use of automatic feeding devices, this is a little simpler since the staff does not have to be there at every feeding.

The flow of the drinker is important, and even more so in summer, so that the sow can drink a lot of water without having to work to make it come out. The temperature of the farrowing room is key to feed consumption and milk production; the cooler the sows, the better their performance.

After farrowing, litters should be allowed to drink their mother's colostrum a minimum of 12-16 hours. Then they should be sorted and matched by size and according to the teats of each sow. It is recommended to put more piglets on a young sow than she has teats in order to boost future milk production.

Recently born litter of piglets, similar sized and with great vitality.

3- Prevent sows from losing body condition as much as possible. (Day 10 to 20 post-farrowing)

Once we have achieved a good feed intake during the first 10 days WE HAVE MADE IT THROUGH THE MOST DIFFICULT PART, now it's time to finish the job and start enjoying the fruit of our labor. After 10 days the piglets are already growing at a good rate and it is important not to hinder this, so if the sow is hungry we should not stop feeding her.

A high feed intake in lactation is never a loss; it is the best investment we can make. The sow's milk production increases until days 18-20, so the feed must follow suit.

One sign that we have done a good job is seeing some of the piglets missing a meal when the sow nurses and their litter mates drink. Those piglets are content with fully bellies and don't need to rush to get in on this particular nursing bout.

It is extremely important that the feed intake we have achieved at 7-10 days does not go down at this stage, at the very least, If possible, we even want to see a 1-2 kg increase. There will always be sows that surprise us and go up 3-4 kg at 20 days.

But the best thing we can do is promote intake, trying to provide more meals, avoiding the hottest hours of the day, and especially not letting the feed stay in the trough more than 2 hours, with 30 minutes being the ideal time to finish each meal. With the sows we weren't able to get to eat well during days 0-10, maximum milk production will never be reached, but we can recover them and help them not lose body condition while the piglets grow.

If the sow is fat at this stage, intake can be limited in order to prevent her from gaining too much condition and creating problems in the next cycle, so pushing those sows to use some fat reserves for milk production can be of interest..

4- Prepare the sow for weaning -service and the next reproductive cycle. (Day 20 – weaning)

At this point, we have done everything possible to maximize milk production and now it is time to make sure that sows don't get too thin or fat, having already in mind their next reproductive cycle. All this keeping in mind that the piglets should continue to grow at a good rate. In my experience, lactation length should be a minimum of some 24-25. days

Encouraging feed intake as early as possible is key to achieve good performance in every aspect of sow reproduction: milk production and an adequate body condition at weaning to start the next cycle.

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