January 2016: Transition to success

It’s fair to say that kilos of pigs produced per sow is probably at its most critical at the moment. Low pig prices focus attention on the margin between cost of production and price of the end product. The higher the amount of saleable meat produced/sow, the more kilos the non-feed costs of production are diluted by, hopefully resulting in a margin for the producer even in stringent times!

When it comes to feed, and its role in ensuring a margin, we should look especially at the transition phase. Long gone are the days that one diet saw the sow through her lactation and gestation. We now feed specialised diets between weaning and service and also at farrowing. It’s this stage around farrowing – the transition phase – when sows enter the farrowing accommodation until five to 10 days post-farrowing where the number and quality of liveborn piglets can be influenced and, ultimately, the overall productivity of the sow.

During the transition phase, the sow experiences many physical changes and her nutritional requirements must be met to ensure a successful birthing process. The late-gestating sow has an energy requirement for maintenance, but also for the developing litter and to carry the pregnancy full term. This is satisfied by feed intake and also from the sow’s own body reserves, built up during pregnancy. These reserves are a good source of energy. However, it’s important that the sow’s liver is functioning at its optimal level so that these fat reserves can be used efficiently.

At farrowing, the sow has a high calcium demand, not just for milk production but also for muscle contractions during parturition. Diet manipulation during the transition phase can kick-start the mobilisation of calcium that’s been stored in the bones.

Typically, sows move from a low-density/high-fibre diet during gestation to a high-density/low-fibre diet during lactation. This sudden change can lead to constipation, which is something to be wary of.

It’s well documented that constipation leads to a slower farrowing process and an increase in piglets born dead. Constipation can also cause a proliferation of E coli in the sow’s large intestine. The toxins produced by E coli can suppress the prolactin hormone that delays milk let down, leading to obvious sow and piglet management problems for the farrowing house. The introduction of a readily digestible fibre source at this juncture can help bridge the fibre gap and avoid constipation.

Modern sow feeding systems should reflect the rapidly changing requirements of transition sows. Not all of them do, and producers should check them out. A complete diet can be adapted to fulfil the requirements at each stage.

More commonplace at the moment is offering a nutritional top dressing fed alongside the lactation feed throughout the transition phase. The sow then reverts back to just the lactation feed when the transition phase is complete. Certainly, with the pressure on margins, it is worth fine-tuning the ration at this stage and it should represent a cost benefit advantage. All food for thought!

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About The Author

Barry Hoare is Cargill's pig nutritionist for the UK and Ireland. Based in southern Ireland, he graduated from University College Dublin with a masters degree in pig nutrition in 2001