October 2014: Nutrition nurtures sows

The physiological demands on the sow keep increasing as litter size grows. If these physiological processes aren’t managed, inefficiencies can manifest. The sow has a lot on her plate; there’s larger litters to carry and support, and then, simultaneously, the change in surroundings as she “moves house” from dry sow accommodation into the farrowing shed.

Typically a pregnant sow will be moved into the farrowing house about five days prior to farrowing. The social environment changes from groups to individual housing. And in most indoor production systems access to straw is limited or unavailable as the diet shifts from a fibre-rich, low-density ration to a high-density ration with relatively lower levels of fibre.

The higher-density diet is fed at lower feeding rates so gut-fill is also affected. The combined effects can lead to constipation and a reduced appetite post farrowing, with the associated knock-on impact on the piglets.

Recent Dutch research has shown that the diet can be manipulated in this transition period to address these issues. By partly substituting the lactating sow diet for a fibre-rich supplement, balanced for vitamins and minerals, the sow will have fewer issues with constipation and subsequently her feed intake will increase during lactation. Not only that, but the research goes on to show that piglets with lower birth weight had improved access to colostrum, and pre-weaning mortality was subsequently reduced.

By using a combination of fermentable and indigestible fibres in the diet during the transition period, volatile fatty acids can be generated in the hind-gut that makes the surrounding environment less desirable to pathogenic species. This creates a “cleaner” environment for piglets with less risk of scouring.

This simple manipulation in the transition diet can pay dividends in the management of the farrowing house and lactating sow. The additional beauty of this concept is that the fibre-rich supplement can be fed to sows either in a compound or home-mix diet, and should be considered as part of the normal farrowing house routine through the transitional period.

Another feature of larger litter size is increased tissue mobilisation in the sow as she works harder to produce colostrum and milk. This increases her risk of developing a fatty liver. Symptoms are typically a drying up of teats early in lactation.

Again, recent research has developed a number of key natural components that can help “flush” the liver and reduce the chances of the teats drying up. These components can be included in a premix for home-mix rations.

There’s no question that many producers should develop their litter management to take advantage of the modern sow’s potential. These nutritional developments can help prevent some of the issues that may arise and, from my experience, they’re easily justifiable in terms of cost and production efficiency.

> Born in Essex, schooled in Suffolk and a graduate of Reading University, Dr Phil Baynes has spent his career in pig welfare and nutrition. Now based in Cheshire, he runs Baynes Nutrition and is a consultant nutritionist to Provimi

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