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Reducing the number of nurse sows on the farm

Finding alternatives to reduce the number of nurse sows by maximising the number of suckling piglets per sow.

Some time ago I told you, in this section, about how to calculate easily the number of nurse sows that we needed each day on our farms. We still use this system, but we are also trying to reduce the number of nurse sows due to the amount of space needed for them in the farrowing buildings and the cost that this entails.

We are using two very simple tricks that are helping us to leave more piglets with each sow, thus reducing the number of nurse sows:


1. Sharing sows

This system consists of removing the dividers that face the corridor and open between four and five farrowing pens (see the photo) so the piglets can go from one to the other. The sow stalls will remain closed, and only the piglets will have the freedom to find their space and suck. We know that the bigger the groups, the lighter the hierarchies among them, so the smaller piglets will have a better chance to feed although we have big litters.


Open farrowing pens so the piglets can go from one to the other.

Open farrowing pens so the piglets can go from one to the other.
We can see how whilst a sow is standing the other ones are nursing.


2. Alternating sow milk and milk replacer

This system consists of adapting the farrowing pen to split the litter into two groups with a variable size. The farrowing day we make a sequential colostrum suckling alternating the groups every 1.5 hours so we ensure that all the piglets suck colostrum (Split suckling). From the second day on, we divide the farrowing pen, so we have a heat source at both sides. In one of the sides we have the sow, so the piglets suck naturally. In the other side we will put a milk replacer system so they can suckle.

Due to timetable issues, it is not possible to alternate the groups every twelve hours. What we do is that we leave a group with its dam whilst we are on the farm working, and then we swap it when we leave, so during the rest of the day they consume milk replacer and vice versa. The size of each group needs not to be equal, and we can decide this depending on the number of piglets, their size and the number of the sow's functional teats. Anyhow, we will never leave less than 10 piglets in the group that stays with the sow, so there will be piglets that will always be with the sow and that will never drink mik replacer.

Very home-made (improvable) system for sequential nursing

Very home-made (improvable) system for sequential nursing. The ideal, if we decide to work in this way, would be to set up special drinkers for the milk replacer in the appropriate place in some farrowing pens.

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