Feeding for optimum performance

Mick O’Connell, a senior pig nutritionist with Devenish, looks at a couple of recent trials undertaken by the company that show how feeding pigs correctly can help make the most of their potential

Thanks to continued genetic improvement, modern pigs have significant growth potential advantages when compared with pigs of a decade ago. We need to maximise this biological advantage by feeding pigs in such a way that enables them to express this growth potential. Importantly, feeding to maximise biological potential isn’t just about one stage of the pig’s life, but more the total nourishment of the pig from the sow, to creep, to growers and finishers.

Continued research is paramount if we’re to fully exploit the potential. Genetics companies have to improve the pigs; feed compounders and suppliers of nutritional solutions need to work to provide producers with the feeds that can reach the targets; and producers have to provide the correct management of the pigs to ensure all the work done in the supply chain is successfully utilised.

To highlight what’s possible, we’ll look at two research projects undertaken by Devenish to show how feeding the pig correctly can influence pig performance and, more importantly, the performance and profitability of your business.

First, we’ll consider the importance of using the correct creep feeding strategy to lifetime performance, and then we’ll look at how to feed sows to ensure they produce the best milk for their piglets.

Creep feeding
According to the Gompertz description of growth, early differences in weight get magnified throughout the pig’s lifetime. Therefore, the key to increasing slaughter weights is to maximise weaning weight and first stage performance. By doing this, we set the pig off on a high trajectory of growth (see Figure 1). This, in turn, leads to more kilos of meat produced during the same feeding period. In simple terms, the best way to help pigs meet their potential is to maximise provision and intake of high-quality creep feed in early life.

Creep feeding is a necessity for three reasons: to provide nutrients for maximal piglet growth; to promote development of digestive enzymes pre-weaning; and to condition and maintain gut health integrity post-weaning. This crucial period, both pre- and post-weaning, can’t be overlooked if producers wish to drive lifetime pig performance.

In order to verify the impact of piglet feeding regimes, Devenish undertook a project in collaboration with a large multiple-site producer to improve lifetime performance.

In one of our primary studies (800 pigs), we performed a lifetime performance trial with the aim of driving carcase weight. The only change implemented was to amend the nursery feeding programme. The pre-existing allocation of 2kg starter and 2kg post-starter diets per pig was compared to a higher allocation of 3kg starter and 7kg post-starter per pig. These pigs were then followed through the growing and finishing stages, housed side by side in the same accommodation on identical diets, with feed continually recorded and pigs weighed every four weeks.

By allocating the appropriate creep diet and increasing feeding level from a total of 4kg/pig to a total of 10kg/pig, the results speak for themselves (see Table 1). From weaning to day 117, daily liveweight gain increased by 39g/d, liveweight at slaughter increased by 4.48kg and FCE improved by 0.18.

This performance trial is one of many that Devenish has undertaken that clearly proves the importance of creep feeding on lifetime pig growth and your bottom line!

It is worth considering. How does providing that extra creep look for you?

Lactation diets
Sow feeding is key in ensuring that piglets receive the milk they require in order to get the best start possible, and to maximise weaning weight. With increased potential for milk production, management and nutritional factors must be changed to meet these demands for lactation.

Sows can achieve and maintain high levels of milk production throughout lactation if given adequate nutrients. Milk production typically constitutes 90% of the piglet’s total nutrient supply during lactation. This means a high nutrient intake by the sow at this time is essential if we’re to maximise milk production, and by extension piglet weight, while avoiding depletion of sow body mass.

Excessive mobilisation of body tissues during lactation is hugely detrimental to herd productivity because it results in reduced milk production, prolonged weaning-to-service intervals and potentially smaller subsequent litter size. High nutrient intake can be achieved by increasing feed intake and/or increasing the nutrient density of the diet.

In terms of increasing feed intake, the message should be to start high and increase quickly. As a general rule, we should try to get sows to eat the same daily quantity on the day after farrowing that was eaten in the final week before farrowing. The feed curve should increase rapidly thereafter by at least 0.5kg/day.

Research has shown that if feeding is too restrictive in early lactation, then total lactation feed intake will be reduced. Restricted feeding patterns are sometimes practised because of the commonly held opinion that “overfeeding” sows in early lactation may cause udder congestion, reduced milk production, piglet scours, sow constipation and may lead to sows “going-off” their feed in mid-to-late lactation.

Survey data has shown that 10-30% of sows show a marked dip in feed intake for two to three days in the second week of lactation (Kotetsu et al, 1996).These dips in feed intake are associated with longer weaning-to-oestrus intervals, reduced farrowing rates and smaller subsequent litter size. Deen (2005) reported that a reduction in feed intake for even one day will increase the odds of removal of this sow from the herd by 50%.

The cause of reduced feed intake is still speculative, however, and while 10 to 30% of sows do show a marked dip in intake at this time, a further 30% of sows – including those on aggressive feeding programmes in early lactation – show no such dips in feed intake whatsoever. Restricting feed intake in any week of lactation, whether due to a poor appetite or imposed by a very conservative feeding programme, will increase sow weight loss and may decrease reproductive efficiency after weaning (Kotetsu et al, 1996).

Therefore, it’s better to tailor feeding towards those sows that don’t show a drop in intake and target appropriate management strategies for those that do, rather than the other way around. Where feed intake is a problem, we must react to what the sows are telling us and formulate an appropriate diet that will supply the nutrients required within the limitations of her physical appetite.

The need for high nutrient intake means that more fibrous ingredients should be avoided for lactating sow diets because they tend to be lower in energy content than cereals. Furthermore, when formulating lactating sow diets there’s a balance to be struck between the use of crude protein/oil/synthetic amino acids and speciality products such as MatanXL or Dinamic Pig.

In order to get the best out of diets like these, we need to be sure that we don’t overload the digestive system with unnecessary protein and oil, so judicious use of speciality products is recommended in order to supply all nutrients in the proper balance.

Our sows today are very capable of producing large litters and of vast quantities of milk to feed them. However, unless we provide these animals with the correct nutritional tools, we’ll struggle to reach the potential that currently exists for litter size and weaning weight.

Both studies highlight the importance of getting your feeding right at the start to maximise lifetime potential. If piglets don’t get the optimum start, they can’t make up the weight, and if sows aren’t fed correctly in early lactation, then total lactation output will be reduced.

While we’ve only looked at creep feeding and sow rations in this article, optimum feeding is required throughout the animal’s lifetime. The question you have to ask yourself is, can you afford not to get it right?

Unless our sows are provided with the correct nutritional tools, we’ll struggle to reach the potential that exists for litter size and weaning weight.

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