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Study reveals beneficial diet for breeding pigs

By Jean-Paul McDonald

Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station researchers discovered swine nutrition that could redefine breeding practices worldwide.  

Inspired by techniques used in the dairy industry, the team developed a slow-growth diet for female pigs, which has shown remarkable benefits in both piglet production and maternal health. 

The study focused on controlling the weight gain of female pigs, known as gilts, before their first breeding.  

This approach contrasts sharply with the traditional method where breeding pigs are fed similarly to non-breeding pigs, often leading to excessive weight and associated health problems. 

Charles Maxwell, a professor of animal science, highlighted the positive outcomes of the diet, noting significant improvements across four breeding cycles.  

The gilts on this special diet were about 15 pounds lighter than their counterparts on a standard diet at the end of their development phase. However, they reached the same body weight by the time they were bred, thanks to a balanced intake. 

The slow-growth diet was carefully formulated to reduce protein and energy intake without starving the animals. It included ingredients like wheat middlings and dried corn distiller’s grain, which are lower in energy but fulfill nutritional needs.  

This diet not only prevented excessive weight gain but also ensured the gilts did not lose too much weight during the lactation period following breeding. 

One of the most significant findings was the increase in the number of piglets born and weaned. Gilts fed the low-nutrient diet produced, on average, over four additional piglets per litter compared to those on a normal diet.  

Over their reproductive lifetimes, these sows farrowed 30 more litters, resulting in 380 more pigs being born alive and 204 more pigs weaned. 

Maxwell and his colleague TsungCheng Tsai observed that these sows maintained better overall body condition and did not reduce their feed intake during lactation, unlike their counterparts on a normal diet.  

This led to better nutrient use and increased survivability throughout their breeding cycles. 

This innovative dietary strategy not only promises to improve the profitability of pig farming by reducing the need for frequent replacements of breeding sows but also enhances the animals' overall welfare.  

As such, it represents a significant step forward in sustainable livestock management and could serve as a model for other regions and animal types. 

Arkansas has become a hub for this progressive approach, with local sow farms adopting these practices to develop high-health replacement gilts, crucial for maintaining the state's competitive edge in swine production.  

The study's success has attracted interest from major industry players, including JBS and PIC, signaling potential widespread adoption in the future. 

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