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How to Adjust the Diet of Gestative Sows to Optimise their Longevity?

Feeding sows aims to optimise their breeding potential and to ensure their longevity. Some countries have legally imposed the placement of gestating sows in Group Housing Systems. This measure has been implemented in parts of the European Union since 2013.  Given this context, what is the most suitable feeding strategy to apply for reaching the breeding targets and the profitability you are aiming in any swine production systems?


Since 2013, European law requires that sows be housed in groups upon early pregnancy, maximum 28 days after insemination. This means that a sow is placed in grouped housing either few days after insemination or after scan control. Group housing systems will vary depending on unit size, the type of housing and feeding systems that are applied (dump or trickle feeding, electronic feeding stations…)


What are the risks raised by group housing on sows' productivity?

Individual follow-up of the sows in groups entails a closer observation of their behavior so some risky situations can be avoided.

  • The frequency of fights is increased by the following factors: physical proximity between animals, the natural emergence of a hierarchy within each group; and improper feeding systems resulting in a competing access to the trough. These situations may trigger injuries, abortions or smaller litters.
  • Heterogeneity between sows within a same herd is another risk stemming from  natural hierarchy establishment within each group. As non convenient distribution systems used for feeding do not allow for individual meals, it can be more difficult to manage dominant sows’ behavior as they are eating and to ensure that all animals are fed in sufficient amounts. Sow’s body condition is important in this regard: a sow that is too skinny or too fat may present reproductive issues: birth, return to heat, etc.

These may result in increasing the rate of early culling and therefore be prejudicial to the profitability of the overall production.


Each gestation phase requires its own feeding strategy

During gestation, feeding programs should be adjusted to guarantee body reserves recovering and quality litters development. To achieve these goals, each of the three stages of gestation should be the object of careful management, as follows:

  • During the 1st month: the aim is to optimise uterine implantation and recover body reserves
  • During the 2nd month: the aim  is to cover maintenance requirements
  • During the 3rd month:  the aim is to maximise litter growth.

The challenge is to meet sow’s needs throughout gestation, both in terms of quantity and quality of feed, while still taking into account the economic aspects.

The performance and breeding longevity of sows in the group therefore requires a special feeding strategy. Sows’ nutritional needs depend on several parameters:

  • parity
  • body condition,
  • genetics,
  • production level.

Each sow is different; its diet must be adjusted so that nutrients intake can satisfy its needs and the targets set upon farrowing are reached.


How can the nutritional needs of gestating sows be taken into account?

  • Feed design, nutrients intake: it is important to ensure that gestative requirements are satisfied at each stage of gestation: optimisation of fertility, recovering of body reserves, litter growth. In addition, other precautions must be taken such as management of the locomotor system (hooves scoring grid, specific micronutrient strategy ...) and the supply of fibres sufficient both in quantity and quality.
  • Individual requirements and adapted supplies: to achieve the targets related to body condition at farrowing, it is important that sows’ condition be considered at weaning as well as their rank, prolificacy ... these variables constitute the overall criteria of their individual requirements. Only when this basis is established can the allocated rations be adjusted, depending on the farming system that is applied. Using Precision Software is an effective way to offer solutions suited and optimised from a technical and economic standpoint – which is in fact, the primary and foremost concern of any farm.

Gilts are the future of any swine production system. Preparing these young animals to breeding from onset is crucial to their longevity. Optimal feeding intakes are necessary to constitute their body reserves and develop their musculoskeletal system.


Other strategy parameters such as management of the atmosphere, soil condition  etc. must also be considered. The list of actions is not exhaustive and may be adjusted depending on the characteristics of each farm. Our experts are here to help you achieve your goals! Please do not hesitate to contact us!

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