Why a quality milk replacer is a good nutritional payback

In a world where sows have the potential to produce more than 35 piglets a year, milk replacers are a ‘must have’.
The pressure on the sow to raise these large litters is a heavy burden and she, and her offspring, need extra help. This is where the value of a milk replacer shouldn’t be underestimated.

Larger litters are a sign of progress, but it can lead to lower average birth weights.
Another compromise is that even though the sow has the ability to increase her milk yield as litter size increases, it’s not in proportion to the increase in births.

Typically, as litter numbers increase, the milk intake per piglet decreases. A carefully-formulated milk replacer will bridge the gap.
It’s crucial, for unit productivity, that dry matter intakes are met in these young piglets. And it has a cascade effect: high dry matter feed intakes, pre-weaning, will lead to improved daily weight gain and also to healthier litters with lower pre-weaning mortality rates. Pre-weaning improvements have a significant effect on the lifetime growth performance of the pig.

So, it’s an ideal time to review your replacer and check it is up to the standard required to meet the dietary requirements of these young piglets. Producers should look carefully at the specialised raw materials. Dairy-derived ingredients, such as skim milk, whey and lactose, make up the majority of the formulation.

“Most high-end milk replacers are supplemented with a rich source of immunoglobulins, to stimulate overall health”

Most high-end milk replacers are supplemented with a rich source of immunoglobulins, to stimulate overall health. Readily digestible fats are also cornerstones of milk replacer formulations, as too are organic acid blends to maintain gut pH.

Research is ongoing to develop and improve milk replacer formulations and also to better understand the most effective vehicle and time to deliver it to the piglet.
There’s no denying that milk replacer is an expensive form of nutrition. The right product must be presented in the right way.

Feeding systems, like cups positioned carefully in the farrowing crate, can maximise the benefits of the milk replacer. But, at very least, the feeding method and management protocols must be such that spoilage and digestive upsets are avoided, mixing methods follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and hygiene standards are high.

A milk replacer should also be available to piglets little and often throughout the day. Some systems offer ad-lib milk replacer from two days of age and can provide fresh milk when the piglets come to feed. A system like this also takes out a lot of the labour involved in managing an efficient and effective milk feeding programme.

Milk replacers, and the technology required to administer these products to the piglet, will continue to play a major role as the push for more kgs sold per sow increases. The ongoing development of these products holds the potential to make significant improvements in how our piglets are transitioned from pre- to post-weaning.

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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