Hyperprolificacy – avoiding the shattered sow syndrome

After buying gilts/sows that are both good mothers and strong milkers (see my last blog) the next strategy of importance is what I call “thinking ahead”, writes John Gadd.

During the past 10 years I’ve been privileged to visit many expert breeders who invested in hyperprolific genes early on, and despite the strain imposed on the gilt and young sow in producing litters of 12 to 16, nevertheless have managed to squeeze four litters – and sometimes five – out of them at this level of performance. It became noticeable that the ability to think well ahead in several management areas was one reason for their success.

For some years now the advice has been to serve gilts later and thus heavier. This advice is even more important with the “hyperprolifics” in order to build a strong sow physically, but also biologically so as to acquire as much natural immunity to the unit’s subclinical disease profile as possible before the strain of that large first litter hits. This should be done in an unhurried way through a controlled daily food intake – that’s where patience comes into it.

To get to the heavier weight by rushing the feeding risks hyperprolifics being culled prematurely. Sure, it costs more to feed and manage the gilt for at least three weeks or more longer than in the past, and there could be the 10-year amortisation cost of a gilt pool to be added-on.

I have done quite a few costings on what the outcome of this disciplined and patient approach has been for several experienced clients. When set against the payback from another 20 weaners from some 1.5 extra parities, which can yield litters of 13s and 14s, this extra income at slaughter weight, added to the savings in a lower sow replacement cost, has provided a return of 4:1 on most farms and as much as 7:1 on a few others. Patience pays.

A Gilt Developer and a Gilt Lactator diet have been available for several years (my book Modern Pig Production Technology has suggested macro-specifications) and these have been tweaked upwards with a variety of nutritive additives including organic acids, essential oils and more digestible fibre. But I see that the feeding levels remain pretty much the same.

During lactation, however, the genetically improved sow can well need 12-15kg/day, so liquid feeding three times a day seems sensible. No doubt the CWF manufacturers are looking at the interesting new Gestal feed concept as it offers the sow numerous pre-set meals designed to a feed curve for each sow during the 24 hours, but also allows the sow to access her set ration as and when she wants to.

Another innovation is to have a special wean-to-service formula with extra sugars designed to meet the special needs during this critical period when a hyperprolific sow needs to switch into re-breeding mode as smoothly as possible. Two gestation diets are also now available – one for young sows and one for older, three-parity-plus sows, as being a good milker (as she should be), a hyperprolific needs the udder to dry up quickly.

So maybe we’ll see five diets for the precision-fed sow of the future, not the two of the past! Having said all this, the “thinking ahead” breeder should consult his replacement breeding stock supplier about diets, as there are genetic differences between different bloodlines.

Having given some tips on boosting the future high-performance sow, my next few blogs will be on taking the strain of rearing her large litters.

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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)