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Researchers optimize sow nutrition

Researchers optimize sow nutrition

Continuous research dials in feed requirements to improve sow performance while minimizing feed costs to producers 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

Demeter Veterinary Services recently hosted a webinar informing pork producers on some of the latest research in swine management. Jean-Philippe Martineau, swine nutrition expert on the research team at Group Cérès Inc., gave an update on how best to feed sows for success during gestation and lactation.

Group Cérès Inc. is a swine production company based in Lévis, Quebec, that offers services for every step of the pork production system, from genetics to processing. 

“In gestation we don’t want to overfeed our sows,” Martineau said. “We know that this is detrimental to their feed intake in lactation but also it’s a waste of money.”

For the formulation he uses, sows require only 5.2 lbs (2.4 kg) of feed until they are close to farrowing. If sows are underconditioned, feed one lb more than usual, he explained.

 The goal is to have the sow each week “gain maybe 1-3 mm of backfat, just to get her in the perfect range which is 14-18 mm” over the course of gestation, Martineau said.

Also, “when we have gilts in pens, be sure to have some fermentable source of fibre,” which helps slow digestion, he added. Options include Soy hull, beet pump, wheat shorts, barley.

“It’s necessary to the animal because we’re giving her a limited amount of feed …. that she feels full and not agitated. We just want her to feel comfortable,” he explained.

Martineau is conducting research to better understand energy needs of sows in gestation.

“We’re doing a trial where we’re feeding different levels of quantity but also concentration of energy … without effecting the protein distribution,” he explained. The researchers want to see if less kilocalories, but the same amount of protein, would be sufficient during gestation.

They are measuring the “effect it has on her body condition,” he added. “There’s a potential saving of $8 per sow per year … but we have to make sure we’re not going to have a negative effect on performance first, obviously.”

After the first 100 days of gestation, some producer may bump feed prior to farrowing.

“Bump feeding has been a topic that’s been controversial in the field,” Martineau said. From day 100 to 110 “give her an extra pound per day.”

He recommends this, because “we want to make sure we’re not mobilizing protein at the end of gestation,” he explained.

Some researchers say it doesn’t help piglets, but it may have some impact on the sow, Martineau said. His team is planning to do a trial to measure the impact on the sow.

“Once the sow is in the farrowing crate, we recommend if there’s no transition feed available to directly go to a lactation feed,” Martineau said. He prefers to transfer to the new feed before lactation starts, to allow the sow to adjust and make sure she doesn’t go off feed in early lactation.

However, “we have to go easy with the quantity of feed that we’re giving prior to farrowing,” he added.

He recommends 5 lbs (2.27 kg) of feed, but notes others may recommend up to 8 lbs (3.63 kg).

“To me this is a risk for prolapses,” he said. To reduce that risk, limit feed quantity.

Additionally, Martineau suggests that to  reduce stillbirths is to give  a pre-farrow top dress 5 days prior to farrowing.   “It plays with the electrolyte balance and calcium availability; it gives a boost of energy, and also works as a laxative. And the last two times that we did trials on this … we were able to reduce stillbirths by 0.2.”

The pre-farrowing top dress is a low investment with high return.

Reducing stillbirths is “very valuable for a sow barn,” Martineau said.

Nutrition during lactation is also very important.

“We don’t formulate based on crude protein in swine,” Martineau explained. Instead, he suggested focusing on SID (standardized ileal digestible) lysine or leucine to lysine ratio.

Researchers have found that feed intake wasn’t linearly related to crude protein, it was affected by the leucine content of the ration, he said.

By better understanding the leucine to lysine ratio “we can continue getting the savings from dried distillers’ grains with solubles (DDGS) but without having the detrimental effect that DDGS can have if we were to use it at high levels,” Martineau explained. “I would encourage any producer that has a sow barn to be informed on the percentage lysine they have in their lactation feed.”

Producers should target SID lysine ration based on feed intake to optimize piglet weight at weaning and next litter size, he added. Currently, researchers are working on trials to minimize SID lysine without negatively impacting performance.

Throughout lactation Martineau recommends increasing feed incrementally from 5 to 20 lbs (2.27 kg to 9.07 kg).

“If you have low feed intake sows, we recommend using a top-dress” during lactation, he added. This top dress would contain energy and protein concentrate.

“Fat sows don’t eat well during lactation,” Martineau said, which ties back to the initial message of not overfeeding during lactation.

Focus on keeping sows relatively lean “to be sure that we’re optimizing lactation feed intake,” he explained.

The final piece of new research for nutrition involved photoperiod.

“We showed that by keeping the lights on in the farrowing room for 16 hours instead of 8, we increased the piglet wean weight by 0.26 kg,” Martineau said. However, researchers also found more pre-wean mortality in the first 48 hours, even though there was no difference in overall pre wean mortality. The scientists will conduct another study to validate the results.

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