Making the Most of Your Sows

By Livestock Knowledge Transfer, UK - This article is the seventh in the series from "Getting the best from your pigs" and looks at the factors for correctly feeding your sows.
calendar icon 1 May 2003
clock icon 4 minute read

All producers aim for their sows to produce a regular stream of large numbers of heavy, healthy piglets at weaning, but are you managing your sows correctly to achieve this?
The main factor you need to consider to ensure a long, healthy, productive life for your sows is their feed intake. Are they getting the right quantity of the right nutrients at the right time?

How do you know if you are feeding your sows correctly? The best indicator is sow body condition and it is simple to assess. If they are too thin they are getting too little feed; if they are too fat then too much feed is being given.
Either way, their welfare could be compromised, but especially if the sow is too thin. The feeding strategy should aim to achieve the targets given below for the whole herd.

Factors affected by nutrient intake:

  • litters/sow/year
  • numbers born/sow/year
  • weight of piglets weaned/sow/year
  • kg carcass meat/sow/year

When to condition score:

  • At weaning
  • At service
  • At intervals during pregnancy
  • At farrowing

Scale for condition scoring:

  1. Visually thin, hips and backbone very prominent, no fat cover
  2. Hip bones and backbone easily felt with no pressure
  3. Firm pressure required to feel the hip bones and backbone
  4. Impossible to feel bones with pressure on palm of hand
  5. Visually very fat, impossible to feel bones with pressure from a finger

Targets for conditional scoring

Target nutrient intakes for a sow feeding strategy

Sows Energy (MJ/d) Protein (g/d) Lysine (g/d)
Pregnant sows 25 to 30 min. 200 min. 10
Lactating sows 80 to 120 1000 to 1500 min. 40

It is difficult to achieve the target nutrient intakes in pregnancy and lactation from the same diet. Using only one diet can result in over feeding of energy and protein in pregnancy and underfeeding of energy and protein in lactation.
Serious thought should be given to using a low density, dry sow diet and high density lactating sow diet to achieve these targets.

Achieving target nutrient intakes

  • If the Sow’s condition is too fat then the diet is too high in nutrients or the feed intake is too high:
    - Changing over to lower spec diet.
    - Reducing feed levels
    - Diluting diet with fibrous/ bulky material

  • If Sows’ condition is too thin then diet is too low in nutrients or the feed intake is too low:
    - Changing to higher spec diet
    - Increasing feed intakes
    - Supplementing diet with a high density feed

  • If the condition of an individual sow differs from the rest of the herd then the same considerations apply

Factors which can lead to low feed intake in the farrowing house;

  • Temperature of farrowing house too high:
    Consider lowering the temperature by covering the creep areas and check the ventilation

  • Water supply for sows is restricted due to slow flowing drinkers
    Give extra water in the feed trough

  • Number of meals per day
    Sows can often be persuaded to eat more by offering feed 3 or 4 times a day

  • Pattern of feed intake
    Restrict feed for the first 3 to 4 days after farrowing then allow the sows to build up their feed intake gradually

  • Low density diet
    Increasing diet density will increase nutrient intake at the same level of feed intake

Source: Livestock Knowledge Transfer - First published 2001. Added to this site 2003.

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