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The early eater gets the gains!

Supporting large litter sizes

Over the past decade, continued genetic selection for increased reproductive performance has resulted in a substantial increase in sow litter size, both at birth and at weaning. According to the PigCHAMP database, the average number of piglets born alive per litter on commercial swine herds in America has increased by two piglets, rising from 11.5 in 2010 to 13.5 in 2020. During the same timeframe, the number of piglets weaned per litter increased from 10.2 to 11.8 on U.S. units (see Figure 1).

Although this increase is positive from a production standpoint, these larger litters are associated with a greater proportion of piglets with a lower birthweight — and with that, a lower survival rate to weaning (pre-weaning mortality increased by almost 3% between 2010 and 2020). Rearing more piglets to weaning places a heavier burden on our sows. The modern lactating sow must now produce higher volumes of milk to meet the needs of a greater number of suckling piglets without depleting her own body reserves — which is not an easy task!

To help support these larger litters and alleviate some of the pressure on the sow, the provision of highly digestible and palatable creep feed to piglets is becoming increasingly more important. Although creep feeding is not a novel practice by any means, outlined below are several strategies that will help piglets get off to a stronger start and will also increase the number of piglets actually eating creep (known as “eaters”), as well as some practical tips for successful creep feeding.

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