Careful attention feeding during lactation is vital to reach the full potential for maximising piglet growth. Furthermore, feeding throughout lactation must ensure that weight loss does not exceed a level where it influences optimum wean-to-service interval as well as litter size in subsequent litters.

Proper feeding of the lactating sow will have a positive influence on the viability and development of piglets during the lactation period, as feeding affects both the quality and quantity of the milk produced by the sow.

During the lactation period, it is necessary to adjust feed intake to optimise milk production as well as maintain best body condition possible.

Production targets

  • Ensuring a successful farrowing and efficient onset of lactation
  • Support high milk yield to maximise the number of nursing piglets
  • Maintain an average body condition throughout lactation
  • Keep sows between 13 – 16 mm back fat at weaning

Body condition & Weight

Feeding during lactation should ensure that 90% of the lactating sows all times can be categorized as average in a body condition evaluation. The best way to determine body condition score is to measure back fat.

* measure back fat the point P2.

Accurate backfat measurements rely on precision – measurements are made 7 cm from the spine on the rear rib

When reading the measurements of backfat on the scanner, it is important to read in P2 in order to have comparable results

Water for lactating sows
The greatest component in sow milk is water, why it is important to ensure that sows constantly have free access to fresh water.
It is estimated that sows need a water intake of 25 to 50 litres per day when milk production peaks approximately 3 weeks into lactation.

Check the flow rate for all drinkers frequently and ensure a minimum flow of 4 litres/ minute when 20% of the sows are using the nipples/drinkers.

Regardless of which valve or water bowl is used, check the water pressure and clean troughs regularly.

Nutrient requirements

The basic nutritional requirements for DanBred sows are described below. The requirements are based on production in a temperate zone, adaption for the relevant climate may be necessary.

Energy, per kg feed
MJ ME/kg feed 13.4
MJ NE/kg feed 10.1
Danish Feed Units (FU) sow/kg 1.13
Relation between MJ ME/MJ NE are depending on feed ingredients
Basic nutrients, digestible per kg
SID protein. min. g/kg 125
Lysine, SID g/kg 8.4
Digestible phosphorus g/kg 3.3
Calcium, g/kg 8.7

Mineral and vitamin supply should be adequate to ensure optimal litter development and general health. Soluble, as well as insoluble fibres, should be added to maintain gut health.

The full nutrient tables can be found here.

Feeding strategy

At entry in the farrowing unit, the recommendation is to give sows in average body condition around 3.4 kg per day.

One or 2 days before expected the feed allowance is reduced to around 3 kg per day. The recommendation is to feed the sows least three times a day with an interval of eight to 10 hours, this will ensure a steady energy supply which has shown to shorten the length of the farrowing.

Daily feed adjustments

Good feed intake is the key to high litter gain, why it is important to notice if all sows are eating well every day.

Let the sows follow a feed curve where daily adjustments are made for sows which are eating their full ration. In the first week to 10 days of lactation, feed allowance should gradually increase by 0.2 – 0.5 kg per day.

Adjustments to the feed curve should follow the individual sows actual feed consumption, why only sows who have emptied their troughs should be adjusted daily.

Days post farrowing Minimum feed allowance

(kg per day)1,2

Aim for feed allowance

(kg per day)1,2

0 2.9 2.9
2 3.3 3.7
7 4.7 6.0
14 7.0 8.5
16 7.5 9.0
18 8.0 9.0
21 8.0 9.0
28 8.0 9.0
35 8.0 9.0

1 Feeding curves serve as a guideline, and feed should be adjusted individually for each sow. Using daily corrections in liquid feeding for sows is recommended, and in early lactation an additional 8-10 % increase in feed allowance is recommended for sows with a high litter size and good appetite. From day 10-14 onwards an increase from 2-4% each day is an adequate increase in feed allowance. The exact same recommendations can be used when using dry feed for lactating sows
2 The feeding curve is based on lactation feed with an energy concentration of 9.8 MJ NE/13.0 MJ ME/1.06 EW per kg feed and containing 8.3 g SID lysine per kg feed equivalent to 9.4 g total lysine per kg feed. 

In practice, it can be an advantage to let the same person do the adjustments after the same feeding every day. Adjust before the troughs are cleaned.

Adjusting the feed allowance is highly dependent on the feed systems, however, feed curves and routines for adjustments should be consistent regardless of system.

The second half of the lactation period is when the piglets will be picking up growth-wise which the feed allowance for the sow should reflect.

The daily adjustment can be set around +0.2 kg per day, adjustments should continue to follow the individual sows feed intake.

The advised minimum feed allowance as well as optimum feed allowance. Ensure that the highest performing sows are fed beyond the level of the blue line, and sows performing below average is fed adjusted to a level within the red area between the blue and red line.

Maximum feed allowance

Towards the end of the lactation period, the sow can consume more than 10 kg per day, nevertheless, it is advised to administer the feed allowance properly and take litters size into account.

At maximum milk yield around day 16, the daily requirement for body condition maintenance is between 2.4 – 2.9 kg depending on the size of the sow. On top of this, an additional  0.47 kg is needed per piglet in the litter.

A sow average size nursing eight piglets should be allowed 6.5 kg feed per day at maximum milk yield, whereas an average size sows nursing 14 piglets will need as much 9.3 kg per day at maximum milk yield.

When adjusting the feed allowance:

  • Pay attention to the body condition of each sow.
  • You can restrict fat sows to 8 kg per day to reduce their body condition score.
  • Keep gilts at 8 kg per day, but adjust for litter size if the is gilts nursing +12 piglets
  • Keep average-sized sows at 9 kg per day
  • Allow sows with a low body condition score up to 10.5 kg feed per day
  • Maximum feed allowance is reached around lactation day 16.

Feeding hygiene

Hygiene around feeding can play a significant role in optimising the feed intake and thereby milk yield in sows.

Emptying and cleaning the feed troughs before feeding will not only reduce bacterial growth but will encourage the sows to eat the full ration given. If a sow consistently leaves feed, look into hygiene and ultimately adjust the ration to avoid unnecessary feed wastage.

When emptying the feed troughs you need to make sure that both leftover feed and dirty water is removed to ensure clean drinking water and fresh feed at the next feeding.

It essential to keep safety in mind – scoops like the one in the picture can be used as they are easy to handle and keep the employees safe.

My notes for Feeding lactating sows

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