Tips to raising high-performing piglets in the hyperprolific sow era

Piglets born to hyperprolific sows face several challenges throughout their development.

“We are still facing the same problems we have for the past decade. First, these piglets have a lower birth weight, and the second problem is that due to the large letter size, there's a much higher competition at the udder for milk,” said Dr. Jeroen Degroote, a swine nutritionist at Ghent University. “Both disadvantages play out as lower milk production for the sow or lower milk production per piglet.”

Mitigating large litter challenges

The piglets are trying to survive in this stressful environment. A producer can try to help mitigate these key challenges at several points during the production phase in order to reach the optimal milk production during lactation.

“You cannot do all your action at one point in time, rather you should shift your focus throughout the production stages to different focus points,” he explained. “We typically call this a push-pull strategy where you continuously switch your focus from the sow to the piglets. The sow is responsible for pushing the milk production upwards, but the timepoints to interfere are limited, and the actions at those key timepoints are quite specific. Similarly, the piglets are equally important to pull the milk production upwards at other specific timepoints during the lactation. For example, the production cycle starts with a focus on the sow nutrition during gestation, trying to improve birth weights and sow body condition. Later on, you go through sow parturition, when you focus on of the vitality of the newborn piglets. Then, you focus again on the sow to help her have a good startup of milk production. Then, you shift your attention back to the piglet.”

Shifting your focus at specific time points from sow to piglets is a good strategy to mitigate hyperprolific sow challenges and increase milk production in the sow.

Tips to produce healthy piglets from hyperprolific sows

Degroote says it can be hard to increase sow milk production but offers several management tips.

Low birth weight. A critical point for milk production is the birth weight of piglets. Especially in gilts, this is an important point where farmers could invest more attention to monitoring birth weight of piglets.

Sow feed intake. Strive for good feed intake throughout the day of farrowing because high energy is needed for the farrowing process. As a result, it’s important to spread a sow’s meals throughout the day, by introducing a minimum of 3 feeding events. Later on, sow feed intake is again important for milk production, but the actual window where you can increase milk production through higher feed intake is limited to the first part of lactation.

Udder access. During the farrowing process, try to focus on the sow by increasing udder access as much as possible. Piglets reaching the udder and suckling will activate all the udder compartments. Particularly teats at the bottom row are less frequently used during the first day, and this should be avoided. Later on, focus should shift towards the piglets, where it’s also important to reduce teat competition as fast as possible. Thus, a cross fostering strategy can be used to raise milk production.

Reduce sow heat stress. Shifting attention to the sow later during lactation, focus on heat stress as a constraint to milk production. Heat stress is not only associated with lower feed intake, but also lower mobilizations of body reserves, thereby decreasing milk production. Considering the design of the barn to reduce heat stress for sows whilst maintaining an adequate environment for piglets is key. Europe is shifting to larger piglet nesting areas that are covered and heated which allows farmers to reduce the overall barn temperature by two to three degrees without impacting on the piglet.

“These are all quite critical points that, in the end, should pay off in increased milk production,” Degroote said. “Farmers should monitor this, for example, through scoring udder quality and taking this into account when selecting sows for the next parity. I have the impression that when selecting sows, we are still focusing on litter size and number of weaned piglets, and there's not enough focus on udder quality.”


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