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Feeding sows a diet which supports farrowing to improve piglet viability

he speed and ease of farrowing is one of the critical factors affecting piglet viability and ultimately, farm profitability.

ABN’s senior pig nutritionist Steve Jagger explains: “The viability of piglets is dependent on three key factors: the farrowing process, birth weight and colostrum intake.

“ABN has been collaborating with its sister company Primary Diets and a European sister company, ASN in Spain. A trials programme is underway in which we are developing dietary programmes to better support the sow through the transition period – from 5 days pre-farrowing to 5 days after.

“Various novel additives with different modes of action are being tested to establish and refine dietary formulations which will enable the nutrient requirements of the transition sow to be better met. Improving her nutrition in the lead up to farrowing, at farrowing, and afterwards while she provides the sole nutrient source for her offspring, will ultimately improve piglet survival.

Research being conducted by Dr Simon Tibble of ASN in Spain, is focusing on improving sow nutrition in the immediate run up to farrowing.

In the summer of 2019, a trial was conducted at a commercial 4,000-sow farm; the sows were Landrace x Duroc, and the boar, a Pietrain.

Two treatments were compared: 92 sows received their standard diet (Control), while the diet of 78 sows was top-dressed with the nutritional supplement Adicare Vita, at a rate of 200g/sow/day for a 10 day period, starting 5 days before the farrowing date.

Litter sizes averaged 14 piglets born alive/sow. As shown in the table below, sows which had been receiving the Adicare Vita diet for 5 days were able to complete farrowing 47 minutes sooner, on average. This reduced the average duration of farrowing from four and half hours to less than four.

Moreover, fewer interventions were required: the need for assistance at farrowing was more than halved on the Adicare Vita diets, and oxytocin treatment was administered in only 3 cases.

Control graph

The shorter farrowing time also had a positive effect on piglet vitality. This was measured by assigning newborn piglets a Baxter Vitality Score, as follows:

  • 0 = no movement, no breathing after 15 seconds
  • 1 = no movement after 15 seconds, piglet is breathing or attempting to breathe (e.g. coughing to clear its lungs)
  • 2 = piglet shows some movement within 15 seconds, breathing or attempting to breathe
  • 3 = good movement, good breathing, piglet attempts to stand within 15 seconds.

Average piglet viability was significantly improved on the Adicare Vita diet with more piglets being scored 2 or 3, as illustrated in the bar chart below.  

 bar chart

Dr Jagger explains: “The longer the duration of farrowing, the greater the risk of piglets suffering hypoxia and being still-born. So by increasing the speed of farrowing, piglets have better viabilityand are able to suckle colostrum sooner and be more alert - so they can move out of the way of their dam.

“The majority of losses of live born piglets occur during the first 3 days after birth and this can be explained, to a large extent, by insufficient energy supply. So to have greater vitality and suckle sooner, will reduce neonatal losses.”  

Measurement of the early growth rates of the piglets showed that those whose dams received Adicare Vita were 45g heavier at 9 hours post-farrowing. (This was calculated from individual birth weights and the 9-hour litter weight.)

“Faster early growth rates ultimately result in fewer days to slaughter or heavier weights at slaughter.”

An average of 10.5 piglets were weaned per sow. In this trial it was not possible to compare treatment mortalities due to the farm’s management practices which included manual interventions, oxytocin administration, and the mixing and adopting of piglets as needed.

Dr Jagger comments: “It is estimated that fewer than 5% of UK pig farmers are carrying out any specific feeding for the pregnant sow in the immediate run up to farrowing. Yet as this trial has demonstrated, additional feeding to support the sow through this critical transition period can improve the speed and ease of farrowing, and hence increase piglet viability.”

Collaboration continues

The collaboration between the AB Agri divisions of ASN in Spain and in the UK, Primary Diets and ABN is continuing. A further transition trial in Spain is already underway. In the UK, Mel Stokes, pig nutritionist at Primary Diets, is leading trial work on commercial farms which will investigate a combination of different nutritional approaches to better support the sow during the transition period.  

Dr Jagger adds: “ABN and Primary Diets are working towards providing UK farmers with the ability to feed tailored transition diets to their sows so they can increase piglet survivability and the number of piglets reared per sow per year. The planned trial work will enable us to fine-tune the product formulations so we can develop products for top-dressing and, if there is market demand, also for including in a complete feed.”

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