news: Lactation Feeding: Optimizing the Feeding of a Lactating Sow
October 28, 2022

Lactation Feeding: Optimizing the Feeding of a Lactating Sow

The objective of the feeding program for lactating sows is to ensure that they consume sufficient feed on a daily basis to meet their energy and nutrient requirements for suckling the litter of pigs that they are raising and for their subsequent breed back and next litter performance.

Data shows that lactation feed intakes average 10-18 pounds per day between bottom and top producers. There are multiple factors that contribute to this variation in lactation feed intake. In order to prevent excessive weight loss by the sow during lactation, the factors must be understood in order for the producer to manage them correctly. We have determined six important farm-specific factors to focus on to optimize lactation feeding of sows:

Factor 1: Body condition at farrowing 

Sows with high levels (>0.85in or >21.59 mm) of back fat at farrowing will have decreased lactating feed intakes. It is important to avoid letting sows get over conditioned during gestation as it will lead to lower lactation feed intake in sows during farrowing, with bred gilts commonly being at an elevated risk for this to occur.  

Factor 2: Water accessibility

Having water source accessibility to the sow in farrowing and adequate flow rates are critical to her reaching optimum lactation feed intake levels. Target >1.5 pints (0.7 L) of water/minute in water flow rate to the sow.

Factor 3: Parity

Lactation feed intake increases in sows from their first parity as they mature in the sow herd, with the most significant increase occurring between her first and second parity. The concern with lower feed intake in first parity sows is accentuated because they are still growing, and producers tend to optimize teat capacity with the number of piglets placed upon them for mammary gland development. 

Factor 4: Barn temperature

High farrowing room temperatures will decrease lactation feed intake, with parity one sows being the most sensitive to this issue. Ideally, farrowing room temperatures should be kept between 66-72 °F (18-22 °C). By the time that piglets are fourteen  days old, the farrowing room should be at the same temperature that the sow was at coming out of the gestation barn. As a rule of thumb, average daily feed intake will decrease by 0.2lb (90.7 g) per °F when temperatures are above 66 °F. During hot  weather, lactating sows will consume 20-25% of their daily feed intake at night during cooler periods of the day (Quinios and Noblet, 1999) so it is important to have fresh feed available at this time. 

Factor 5: Piglet fostering

Strive to complete all cross fostering of piglets by two days of age. After two days of age any disruptions to the number or size of piglets in the litter that the sow is suckling can disrupt her lactation feed intake levels. 

Factor 6: Sow appetite

The appetite of a lactating sow is lower early in lactation compared to later in lactation. Her feed intake increases gradually from the first to third week. Some farms will adopt a feeding program that gradually increases feed allowance of the sow over the first 5-7 days of lactation. This type of lactation feed program will further reduce lactation feed intake by up to 15% in the first week of lactation compared to farms that provide a more aggressive or an ad lib lactation feeding program. This restricted feeding program is commonly implemented by producers who at one time had difficulty with udder congestion, sow constipation, piglet scours, or reduced milk production. Today producers have higher litter sizes and commonly place high quantities of piglets to match teat capacity on gilt litters. These difficulties are seen less often and producers with aggressive or ad lib lactation feeding programs. They report no such issues with their sows and litters in farrowing, and routinely achieve higher  average lactation feed intake levels in their farm.


Calculating lactation feed intakes

A simple calculation can be performed to determine lactation feed intake. Below is a template for the calculation and an example based on a 3-month period:

  1. Take the lbs of feed delivered to the farrowing barn over a period of one to three months. (Three months is preferred to offset any bin inventory or barn flow factors)
  2. Multiply the number of farrowing crates by the number of days in the feed delivery time period. 
  3. Divide the pounds of feed by the farrowing crate days
  1. 192,000 lbs of lactation feed delivered over 91 days
  2. 13,104 farrowing crate days (144 crates x 91 days)
  3. 14.65 lbs average daily lactation feed intake (192,000 lbs/13,104 farrowing crate days)

Target lactation feed intakes

As a rule of thumb, target a minimum of 4.0 lbs (1.8 kg) lactation feed per sow and 1.0 lbs (0.5 kg) of lactation feed per pig in the litter at 21 days wean age for optimum lactation feeding levels and farm productivity results. For example, a farm weaning 12 piglets per litter should target >16.0 lbs (7.3 kg) of feed intake daily. 

Researchers reported that for each additional pound of feed consumed in lactation an additional 0.5 pigs were born at the subsequent farrowing (Kotetsu et al 1996). This aligns with the observation that it takes nineteen days for follicles to reach ovulatory size, and that restricted feeding in any week of lactation can reduce subsequent litter size (Dak et al 1997).

The objective of the farrowing management team is to optimize sow lactation feed intake levels. Review the factors involved with lactation feeding and the rule of thumb target for intake levels. Contact your Nutritionist and Fast Genetics Account Manager for assistance in helping support your team in optimizing the lactation feed intake of your sow herd.

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