Good oocyte (egg) production and quality have a major impact on litter size and sows need careful nutritional management to achieve it, particularly during the wean-to-service period.
Improving litter size is currently a key target for the industry, to help close the performance gap with our European competitors, and managing oocyte production and quality is the first opportunity, right at the start of the breeding cycle, to optimise it.
There’s a challenge to satisfy the high nutritional demands of late lactation and also provide the right nutrients for good quality oocytes during the last 14 days before the sow’s next ovulation. In particular, it is the last 7 to 10 days before ovulation where nutrition has the greatest effect.
Many producers feed ad lib lactation diets before service to help replace sow body condition but more are now moving to tailored wean-to-serve diets with supplementary ingredients to target the different needs, including oocyte production. The options include supplementary sugars and organic acids.
Pig nutritionist Andrew Zarkos-Smith is one of a number who are working with pig producers on ‘wean-to-service’ nutrition. He says that, rather than feeding only a basic lactation or gestation diet, these diets need to be formulated specifically for every farm. There can be an improvement of an extra 0.5 piglets per litter at least by feeding such a diet.
The diets include sugars such as dextrose and sucrose which research has shown boost the sow’s insulin levels which, in turn, increases the luteinising hormone and stimulates her to ovulate more vigorously. This means a larger number of quality eggs is released for potential fertilisation.
BPEX is currently running a feeding trial to monitor the impact of feeding sugars. There are also 12 pig producers taking part in a BPEX body condition scoring trial, scoring sows as they go into farrowing and as they come out. This is to try to find links between changes in body condition and identify sows within the herd which are most at risk of fertility issues.
My full article on this topic is in the September issue of Pig World magazine.
at 8 Sep 2014, 16:13 PM