Intermittent Suckling: Variable Effects on Sow Fertility

THE NETHERLANDS - Gerritsen and colleagues at Schothorst Feed Research in Lelystad investigated the effects on sow reproduction of intermittent suckling (IS), a technique in which the sow and her piglets are separated for a period of time each day. The researchers concluded that the effects of IS were too inconsistent for this to be of use in practice.
calendar icon 14 January 2009
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Intermittent suckling (IS), a system in which the sow and the piglets are separated for a number of hours per day during lactation, is put forward as a system that can increase piglet welfare around weaning and also induce lactational oestrus. To be of practical use, IS regimes need to result in a predictable oestrus and good reproductive performance.

This review describes the effects of IS on sow reproductive performance. During IS, the LH pulsatility pattern switches to a high frequency, low amplitude release during separation, as is normally observed at weaning. In sows that ovulate during IS, LH pulsatility remains higher than in anovulatory sows. Around 90% of the IS sows show follicle growth up to pre-ovulatory size in a similar time period as sows post-weaning.

Depending on the stage of lactation that IS commenced, 13% (day 21) to 21% (day 14) of the sows with pre-ovulatory follicles did not ovulate, but follicles either regressed or developed into cystic follicles. In the ovulatory IS sows oestradiol production is comparable but the LH surge is lower with an early start of IS (day 14) when compared with the weaned sows. Continuation of IS post-ovulation has negative effects on pregnancy rate, embryo development and progesterone levels.

Factors related to lactation, e.g. a high metabolic clearance rate, may play a role in this.

In conclusion, IS can result in a fertile oestrus when the timing of start of IS and duration of IS are taken into account but for practical use, IS regimes result in a too variable reproductive performance.


Gerritsen R., Soede N.M., Langendijk P., Hazeleger W. and Kemp B. 2008. The intermittent suckling regimen in pigs: consequences for reproductive performance of sows. Reprod. Domest. Anim. 43, Suppl 5:29-35.

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