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Lactating Sow Management: When Minor Becomes Major

In the world of sports, athletes are striving every day for small incremental improvements that can make a huge difference in their overall performance. The same happens for the lactating sow. We constantly ask the sow to do more, such as weaning more and heavier piglets, and at the same time, we want her to be ready for the next reproduction cycle.

While producing larger litters is mostly tied to selecting for prolific genetics in your sow herd, weaning heavier piglets is tied to the nutrition and management of the sow. Minor changes in your sow nutrition can equate to major changes in piglet health and growth.

Weaning heavier piglets is key to making the weaning period easier. But, financially, it’s also important as this increase in weaning weight also leads to a further increase in the weight of the piglet at 30 kg and the finishing weight at slaughter. The rule of thumb is that the increase in weaning weight of 1 kg results in an extra 3 kg of body weight at 30 kg and an extra 7 kg of body weight at slaughter.

Five comparative research studies show a weaning weight increase of 200 grams on average per piglet when the sows were fed performance trace minerals, like Availa®Sow. Financially, that 200-gram increase in weaning weight is important, because it results in 1.4 kg more live weight per pig at slaughter, or 42 kg more meat per sow per year.

Bar graphs showing weaning weight in five separate studies.

By focusing on nutrition, producers can achieve huge returns. So, what small achievements should producers look for in relation to the lactating sow? It really comes down to four factors: the transition diet, colostrum management, Postpartum Dysgalactia Syndrome (PDS) and inflammation management. Each relate to trace mineral nutrition.

Focus on the Transition Diet

In many swine operations, the transition from a sow gestating to lactating does not receive enough focus. The nutrition provided to the sow during the gestation phase establishes the success the sow will have in the lactation phase. The sow’s nutrition in the last week of gestation is vital, and the sow needs a transition diet to ensure she:

  • does not experience constipation
  • maintains energy for farrowing (the sow’s marathon)
  • can provide an ample supply of colostrum to the piglets

The latest research shows that a lack of energy during the farrowing process is closely related to increased stillbirths, so producers need to ensure the sow has access to energy for the farrowing process.

Colostrum is the Key for Piglets to Survive and Thrive

Research demonstrates that sows supplemented with performance trace minerals from Availa-Sow have a higher concentration of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) in the colostrum, which translates to a higher IgG concentration in the piglet serum compared to sows fed inorganic trace minerals. A higher concentration of IgG in the colostrum and piglet serum demonstrates a higher level of maternal antibodies being transferred from the sow to the pig, helping to provide the piglet with a more robust immune system.

Bar graphs showing colostrum and piglet serum levels at 2 days of age.

PDS Management Impacts Milk Production

Sows with PDS will experience decreased milk production during the first days after parturition. The reduction in milk production has serious consequences for new-born piglets in terms of survivability and growth.

A study at Copenhagen University shows that a PDS-positive sow can be identified 60 hours before farrowing due to the hormone Chromogranin A. This hormone is an indicator of gastrointestinal health, and the hypothesis is that PDS can be caused by intestinal inflammation and/or leaky gut. The frequency of PDS ranges between 6 and 48% of sows and is estimated to cost more than 300€ ($333 USD) in lost production per case. 

Inflammation Diverts Nutrients from Milk Production

Inflammation gets more attention as we understand its consequences. Inflammation is necessary for life and is the first step in the healing or repair process, helping the body fight off infections. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can become a problem for animals. In addition, high-performing animals tend to have more inflammation.

When an animal is sick, its feed intake will decrease. At the same time, the immune system redirects nutrients used for growth to protection during an acute inflammatory response. When the immune response persists, and chronic inflammation occurs, the immune system gets glycolytic — meaning the immune system uses glucose for energy. When glucose is diverted to the immune system, there is less glucose for lactose production, and lactose is needed for milk production.

The consequences of inflammation on the sow is fewer nutrients for milk production leading to lower piglet weaning weights.

Performance Trace Minerals Make a Difference

Minor becoming major is surely true when feeding Availa-Sow throughout gestation and sow lactation. The development of offspring is affected by a sow’s nutrition even before the moment of conception. Research shows that optimal trace mineral nutrition positively affects embryo and fetal development, which results in improved piglet growth performance — it’s a concept known as Generational Nutrition®.

The global trend towards reduced use of antibiotics, makes it very important to wean heavier and more robust piglets. Availa-Sow supports this trend very well, helping to produce higher concentrations of IgG and larger quantities of milk for the benefit of the piglet.

The inclusion of Availa-Sow in the sow’s diet provides zinc, manganese and copper from performance trace minerals. By making a minor change to the sow’s diet and including 80 ppm of Availa-Mins per kilogram of feed or 0.25 grams per sow per day, swine producers can make a major impact on sow performance related to colostrum quality and milk production. This helps develop heavier and more robust piglets at weaning.

To learn more about including Availa-Sow in your swine feeding and nutrition program, contact a Zinpro representative today.