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The nutritional challenge of ‘feeding for fecundity’

At the recent BPEX innovation conference Professor Sandra Edwards presented information on feeding for fecundity. During her presentation she detailed trial work that demonstrated new areas of thinking when feeding sows. This raised several challenges for nutritionists.

Pig nutritionist Steve Jagger responds to this challenge by explaining how ABN have already developed feed rations with some aspects of fecundity in mind.

With litter size at an all-time high, addressing the gap between the number of piglets born and the numbers of piglets weaned needs to be considered. There are many aspects of nutrition that we can utilise to help achieve this. At ABN, research work in this area has allowed us to develop three major advances within our existing sow feed ranges.

Firstly, the feeding of fermentable carbohydrates has been incorporated into our recent sow diets due to research results that have shown benefits. The reason we utilise fermentable fibre is to maintain a more gradual transition from gestation to lactation feeds and reduce changes to the gut micro flora. It was very encouraging to hear that it may also be having a beneficial impact on ova and embryo quality, which may be an area for future work.

I have long been interested in the influence of micro nutrition, and the second of the advances in our sow feed range links into this. Our research has shown piglet development can be improved through micro nutrition, so we have incorporated elements of this into one of our gestation diets.

Thirdly, ABN’s sow diets are formulated using electrolyte balance which some work has shown increases piglet survival from improvements in milk production.

It is also worth noting that live yeasts have now been included in our higher density lactation diets, with the aim of increasing the level of antibodies in the colostrum and increasing piglet weight at weaning with a higher overall survival rate.

In all, Professor Edwards’ presentation was certainly thought provoking, and as a secondary point to pick up on, it was particularly interesting to hear of the research detailing the effect DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, had on reducing stillbirths while boosting piglet vitality immediately after birth. I am fully in favour of using omega-3 fatty acids, but to date our trial work has not been able to show any financial advantage of including it in our ration. I would be interested to see if this changes with increased litter sizes.

I am also in full agreement that one of our main aims should be to reduce sow weight loss during lactation.  For this reason, we have introduced a sow diet with very high amino acid levels which has shown benefits in subsequent reproductive performance. Our developments in this area have been backed up by work of the PIC (Pig Improvement Company).

As a pig nutritionist I believe the industry still has a lot to learn about how we can influence the quality of the embryo which may start with nutrition of the gilt, but trials are needed to establish any link, and to research how we can affect embryo quality. Other areas in which I feel we need to focus research and development include improving the efficiency of the placenta and developing the ideal transition diet*. 

Historically, before I started work in the industry, co-ordinated large scale sow trials were common place. I personally fully support returning to large scale nutritional trials as I think it would allow the UK pig industry to make nutritional developments which could lead to further production advances and help put us back on a par with our European counterparts.  

(*end of gestation to beginning of lactation)