Piglet Survival Affected by Sow's Diet

DENMARK - The diet fed to sows at the end of their pregnancy affects the production of colostrum and, to a certain extent, its composition, according to Aarhus University. However, milk yield and onset of lactation appear not to be influenced by sow nutrition during this period.
calendar icon 4 August 2014
clock icon 3 minute read

The first few hours and days following birth are critical for the chances of survival of the newborn piglet.

The piglet does not have large energy reserves to draw on, and its first priority after birth is to find its way to a teat and get a life-giving amount of colostrum – the elixir of life.

The piglet is totally dependent on its mother's ability to produce a good supply of colostrum for when it is needed.

Can the farmer support the sow in her role as a colostrum producer?

Scientists from Aarhus University have studied this question and in an article in the scientific journal, Animal, they reveal how sow nutrition in late pregnancy affects her ability to produce colostrum.

The scientists focused on four attributes that could potentially be positively influenced by diet in late pregnancy:

  • energy depots in the neonatal piglets
  • production of colostrum
  • timing of lactation
  • milk production when lactation has started

"Theoretically, the energy status of the newborn pigs can be improved if just one of the four attributes can be improved by the sow’s nutritive status, says senior scientist," Dr Peter Kappel Theil from the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University.

Better colostrum through better feeding

A review of the research in this area shows that sow nutrition is unlikely to affect piglet energy reserves at birth. It is also doubtful whether sow nutrition can affect milk yield or the timing of onset of lactation.

The research suggests, however, that a change in the sow’s diet late in the pregnancy may increase the supply of energy to the piglets via the colostrum and thus affect piglet survival in the early days following birth.

"It would appear that the feed composition in late pregnancy affects the amount of colostrum produced and, to some extent, its composition," said Dr Kappel Theil.

Particularly the content of fat and fibre appears to improve the quantity and quality of the colostrum.

The importance of colostrum to the newborn piglet cannot be underestimated. Piglets are born without any available energy stores.

If they do not get sufficient energy via the colostrum immediately after birth, they risk freezing and/or starving to death.

The article "Neonatal piglet survival: impact of sow nutrition around parturition on foetal glycogen deposition and production and composition of colostrum and transient milk" has been published in the scientific journal, Animal, where it has been elected article of the month. The article can be read here.

Charlotte Rowney

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