Sow Herd Management

By Ed Barrie - Swine Sow-Nursery Specialist/OMAFRA. Individual sow nutrition is one of the aspects of maximizing sow herd performance in terms of pigs produced per litter, and in the quality of the pigs produced.
calendar icon 25 January 2008
clock icon 5 minute read
The requirements of gilts in getting them developed to mating and on to delivery of their first litter is a whole and complete topic in itself and will be discussed later.

In a rather extensive paper by Dana R. Cooper and John F. Patience at the Prairie Swine Centre titled "Sow Body Weight - Changes in Gestation", it was determined that predicting digestible energy allowances that will maximize sow and litter performance is possible with sows between parity 3 and 5. There is too much variation in younger parity sows and older parity sows to predict sow performance with any accuracy.

Picture: ThePigSite

Furthermore, the size and weight of the litter at farrowing is important in determining the body weight gain of the sow in gestation. Therefore, using the actual litter size and weight within a sow herd is desirable when calculating daily feed allowances.

What this paper has also pointed out is that, from the time a gilt is selected for a sow herd until after she has weaned her second litter, we do know a lot about her nutritional requirements, but her overall body condition score and development is very much in the abilities of the stock person who sees her daily.

Similarly, sows after the fifth litter also require the guidance and experience of a capable stock person in maintaining them in a state of reasonable body condition while delivering a well-sized litter of vigorous, healthy piglets. During pregnancy, requirements are a good quality gestation diet that will develop the litter, maintaining body condition and adding some body fat to support the sow during lactation.

The requirements to do this will change with the parity as was presented in the paper. It is also clearly understood that as the pregnancy progresses, so does the nutritional needs of the sow and these demands typically peak in the last five weeks of the gestation cycle.

At parturition, the whole chemistry of the process changes. The nutritional requirements become focused on the need to get enough nutrients in to meet the milk producing requirements of the sow. Typical milk production in sows starts around 3-4 litres per day at birth and works up to 10+ litres per day at full lactation. We would normally start off increasing the feed by .5 kg per day from date of birth, and continue this for several days, hoping to reach 5 kg/day, at which point the sow is put on full feed, or fed to appetite. It must be kept in mind that maximum feed levels will be affected by parity and litter size.

Feeds used should well balance for nutrient content and be made available to the sow frequently, in a fresh form in a clean container. Sanitation is important because of the heightened sense of smell which pigs have. Any rancid, sour or unusual odours will deter them from eating.

Some people find benefits in using wet feed for the first few days to improve palatability and encourage consumption. It is also reasonable to increase the amount of fibre in the diet in the last two weeks of gestation, to expand the volume of the stomach, to enable it to hold the increased volumes of feed required for successful lactation over the restricted yet adequate volumes fed during gestation.

Water should be available easily and quickly, typically from a bowl type drinker, and often is provided to sows both lying down through a drinker and while standing from a bowl.

Following weaning, the sow should be kept on full feed of lactation ration to encourage quick and rapid return to estrus and to assist in the recovery of lost fat and body weight during lactation.

Sows should be weighed in the week following weaning to get a good understanding of their weight gain or loss during the reproductive cycle, and this information can be used quite successful in preparing the nutrition plan for the next gestation cycle.

Depending on the location of the facility, it is often necessary to allow seasonal adjustments to the ration as well to make up for colder air temperatures. While the nutritional balances can all be calculated, it is still critical to use the eye of the stock- man, especially for the first two or three litters, and again in the post five litter portion of the sow herd.

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