Taking the strain off the hyperprolific sow

This is a quick canter through the measures being taken these days, here and overseas, to counter shattered-sow syndrome, writes John Gadd.

My past two blogs suggested what can be done to think ahead so as to provide a gilt and a first-litter sow sufficiently fortified biologically and physically to withstand the demands of the first two big (and in some cases enormous) litters.

Farms still vary a great deal, especially in the UK where renovation and refurbishment have taken time. Having now got this cornucopeia of production, what are the cognoscenti doing to take the strain off the provider? The following points are not in order of preference as this varies from farm to farm. Facilities, pig technician skills and training updates, capital availability and levels of (subclinical) disease being prominent influences.

Be there at farrowing. Farrowing times are longer, of course, and the last few to be born are exhausted and need special care (“A pig starts to die as soon as the birth process starts” – English, 1982). Prostaglandins, and their correct timing and use, are now an even more important plank in the survival structure, and in the care of the sow, too.

Special peri- and post-natal equipment are more important these days. The sow’s unlikely to be able to sustain all of the piglets without a nosedive in condition, so some neonates will need ‘artificial” accommodation such as Rescue Decks, which in my opinion are underused. But they do need great care and skill, especially in meticulous hygiene and a special gut-friendly – in fact more than that, a gut-loving – diet. The seemingly high cost is not really a problem as it’s still a small percentage of the extra income from more pigs raised and a quicker growth to slaughter.

Fostering, piglet-swapping and so on. I can think of at least seven different techniques that can be used here, so rather than spend hours reading the literature and trying to fathom which looks to be the best, I favour going to visit a couple of breeders who are doing it successfully. These experts are invariably generous with their help and advice.

Feeding. “Precise nutrition”, which we have heard a lot about recently, involves the gilt and the sow as well as the grow-outs. Sow nutrition seems to have been static for years, but has now taken off into four, if not five diets needed for these high performers from the gilt pool to the fifth litter. Make sure the new technology comes your way. And don’t forget clean fresh water and clean, fresh, mycotoxin-protected food.

Reining back – Reducing sow numbers by 10-15%. Looking after hyperprolifics takes more time (and, I feel, space as we all tend to overcrowd), so having a few less to manage has helped, I’m told. There’s less tail-chasing when extra care needed.

Training. The Japanese are having less trouble with hyperprolifics. Nearly all their farrowing staff are women. I’ve observed them for years. Impressive! Women have patience, observation, attention to detail and cleanliness. Pig technician training these days, which in the UK is growing in excellence, not only involves what to do, but how to do it.

Think about it!

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)