Got Sow Milk? Low milk supply hinders piglet growth and survival

By Sarah Fischer, Ontario Pork - For pre-weaned piglets, getting a full belly can be quite a challenge. Starvation is the cause of nearly half of all piglet deaths - a problem stemming from poor sow lactation. Now, researchers are seeking ways to combat this problem by increasing sows' milk producing capabilities.
calendar icon 9 January 2006
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Information provided courtesy Ontario Pork Ontario Pork Logo

December 2005 Newsletter

Message from the Chair
New Time Limit for Settlement Adjustments
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Hog Barns Receive Shelterbelt
Donate A Hog this Holiday Season
Culinary Students Give Pork the Royal Treatment
The New Faces of Farming for 2006
Call for Ontario Pork Industry Merit Award Nominations
New Time Limit for Adjustments to Settlement Statements

Swine production researcher Prof. Paul Luimes, Ridgetown College, is looking at what factors signal the mammary glands to generate milk in nursing sows.

Current theories suggest that nutrients, such as amino acids, are the key. But Luimes believes there is more to the process.

"Research has often suggested nutrients are important determinants in sow lactation and milk production," says Luimes. "While this is true, hormones and how they interact with nutrients are also critical factors. We're going to look at these interactions to develop a more comprehensive understanding of sow lactation."

For this study, Luimes will offer sows one amino acid at a time, measuring hormone levels before, during and after the process to see how nutrients impact on prolactin, insulin, and other hormones involved in lactation.

"Certain amino acids may play an important role in lactation and milk production," says Luimes. "If we can isolate which of these nutrients are responsible for increasing hormones that help with milk production and lactation, they can be incorporated into a sow's ration to improve the lactating process." Although still in the first stages of the project, Luimes hopes the results will help researchers and producers understand the optimum nutrient profile for nursing sows.

Improving sow lactation has direct benefits for piglets too. If lactating sows can produce more milk, more piglets can feed, decreasing piglet fatalities due to starvation and improving overall piglet growth and survival.

Producers may also profit from improved sow lactation. Increased milk production means sows can feed their piglets for longer, potentially decreasing the amount of starter feed needed by producers for weaned piglets.

"Making lactation easier for sows helps them feed their piglets, helps piglets stay alive and healthy, and can help producers lower their feed costs," says Luimes. "It's a process where all involved can benefit from improvements."

Research scientist Chantal Farmer, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and graduate student Karl de Ridder are also working on this project, which is funded by Ontario Pork and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Source: Ontario Pork - July 2005

Sarah Fischer is a writer with SPARK, the University of Guelph’s student writing program.

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