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After a successful farrowing and litter equalisation, you can focus on optimising the feed intake and ensuring access to plenty of clean, fresh water. This is important as it leads to an optimal milk yield and ensures the piglets get off to a good start.

Inspect the farrowing pens daily and make sure you can see that all the piglets are moving around. From the age of 7-10 days, give a feed supplement to the piglets. Split the daily ration and feed it to the piglets several times a day- this will keep the feed interesting for the piglets and encourage them to eat their full ration during the day. Make sure that the feeders are clean before adding any fresh feed.

Feed supplements in the farrowing unit can be in the form of either meal feed or pellets and can be administered in troughs or directly on the floor

It can also be an advantage to administer feed supplements in the form of milk powder (in milk cups) in order to increase growth and weaned piglets per sow

After a nursing period of around four weeks, the piglets are ready for weaning. That is when it is time to decide whether the sow should stay in the farrowing unit as a foster sow, be moved to the mating unit or be culled.

Feeding farrowing and lactating sows

Proper feeding during farrowing and lactation will make sure that each sow has the energy she needs for a successful farrowing, along with the body condition needed to maintain a solid milk yield during the full nursing period. It is also important to make sure that the sows experience as little mobilisation from fat and muscular reserves as possible during the nursing period as this will have a negative effect on their next reproductive cycle.

The following recommendations about feeding strategy will help you achieve your farrowing objectives.

More details on feeding lactating sows can be found here.

Feeding from entry into the farrowing unit until farrowing

  • We recommend a constant feed allowance of 3.4 kg per day from entry until one or two days before farrowing
  • From one or two days before farrowing until farrowing, reduce the feed allowance to 2.9 kg per day
  • We recommend feeding at least three times a day with an interval of eight to 10 hours so the sows have enough energy for farrowing – frequent feeding will also shorten the length of the farrowing

Individually adjust the feed ration after farrowing

Everyday routine for feeding:

  • Empty all feeding troughs before feeding

When emptying the feeding troughs, it is essential to also keep safety in mind – scoops like the one above can be used as they are easy to handle and keep the employees safe

When emptying the feed troughs you need to make sure that both leftover feed and dirty water are removed so as to ensure clean drinking water and fresh feed at the next feeding
  • Check that all sows get up and start eating, and encourage any sow to stand that continues to lie down
During feeding in the farrowing unit, all sows must get up to eat, which gives you an opportunity to clean the pens to keep the environment hygienic
  • Sows should finish eating 30 minutes after feeding. Check this at least once a day but always at the same time every day
  • If sows do not eat the full ration, adjust the feed ration or skip a feeding
  • After the sows have finished eating, empty all the feeding troughs and make sure all the sows have access to clean water

When emptying the feeding troughs, it is essential to also keep safety in mind – scoops like the one above can be used as they are easy to handle and keep the employees safe

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

Make feed adjustments every day

Adjust the ration of those sows which have been eating the full ration by + 0.4 kg feed per day from day 1-10 of lactation and +0.2 kg per day following. The adjustment should be done by the same person and after the same feeding every day. Make the adjustment before the troughs are cleaned.

Number of feedings per day

  • We recommend feeding the sows three to four times a day
  • The time span for feedings could be:
    • 06.00-08.00
    • 11.00-12.00
    • 15.00-16.00
    • and/or 19.00-21.00

Feed curve for sows with an average body condition score

In the first week of lactation, feed allowance should gradually increase by 0.2 – 0.4 kg per day.

Feed the sows restrictively until days 10-14.

Aim for a feed allowance of 4.7 to 6.0 kg at day 7 of lactation and to reach the maximum feed allowance on day 16-18 of lactation.

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
Total feed allowance in 28 days 194 226

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 high litter size and good appetite. From day 10-14 onwards an increase of 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. 

Feed curve for lactating sows

The above graphics show both the minimum feed allowance as well as the aim for feed allowance.

The best sows should be fed levels of feed beyond the level of the blue line (within the blue area), and sows performing below the average sow should be fed a level in between the blue and red line (within the red area).

Maximum feed allowance:

2.4 – 2.9 kg feed is required daily for body condition maintenance and 0.47 kg per piglet daily at maximum milk yield (day 16).

A sow which is nursing eight piglets only needs 6.5 kg of feed per day at maximum milk yield, whereas a sow nursing 14 piglets will need as much as 9.3 kg per day at maximum milk yield.

  • 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, except gilts nursing >12 piglets
  • Keep average sows at 9 kg per day
  • Give sows with a low body condition score up to 10.5 kg feed per day
  • Maximum feed allowance should be reached at lactation day 16

Water for lactating sows

Check the water nipples or drinkers and make sure the water flow rate is correct.

The recommended flow rate is at least 4 litres/ minute when 20% of the sows are using the nipples/drinkers.

Lactating sows need 25-35 litres/ day, but this also depends on the number of piglets she is nursing.

Everyday tasks in the farrowing unit

  • Inspect all pens daily – and focus especially on sows that have started farrowing
During the daily examination of the piglets, it is important that all piglets get out of the creep area. This will make assessments of health and behaviour easier and more accurate
  • Assess the behaviour of sow and piglets

Piglets that are comfortable and healthy will spread out in the creep area, without huddling or pulling away from the creep area

When the piglets move away from the creep area and lie scattered on the floor, it is a sign that the temperature is too high
When the piglets are not evenly spread out in the creep area (huddling up as shown in the picture) it is a sign that the temperature is too low or that there is a draft in the creep area
  • Assess the health of the sow and piglets
  • Within the first week after farrowing, give the piglets an iron supplement to ensure healthy growth
    • The iron supplement can be given orally as a paste or powder, by injection, floor feed or through the water supply
Administering iron in the water supply makes hygiene extremely important, both in the drinkers and in the mixer to ensure the piglets are getting the correct dose
  • To make sure that you are using the correct iron strategy, and that it works, take a blood sample to test the haemoglobin level. Ask the herd veterinarian for help administering this test.

Piglet weaner unit

After weaning, move the piglets to the weaner unit, where their first 5 – 7 days need to be a priority to closely monitor their progress.

When the piglets are moved to the weaner unit, the pens must be clean, dry and ready with fresh bedding, feed and water

Once the piglet is weaned, the passive immunity it got from the sow’s milk won’t be immediately replaced by the piglet’s own immune system. During the transition from passive to active immunity, the piglets can be vulnerable to disease, so it is crucial to keep their environment as clean as possible so they get the best start possible.

When doing inspections, be especially aware of the smaller piglets < 7 kg. To make routines simple, handle all piglets the same way but base the routines on the needs of the smallest piglets.

Preparation of the pens – the environment

The environment in the pens is important, especially when you want to reduce the challenges post-weaning. For weaners, we recommend a “two-climate” pen in which half of the pen is covered while the other half is open, to meet the pigs’ different needs.

Two-climate pens are different from other pen types as half of the pen is covered, giving you the possibility to meet the needs of multiple piglets in the same pen

Newly weaned pigs should have an average temperature of around 28 to 30 °C in the covered pen area. Note that the average temperature depends heavily on the weight of the pigs.

Weight (kg) Temperature in covered area (°C) Floor temperature in covered area (°C) Room temperature in open area (°C)
5.5 31-32 32 25-26
6.0 30-31 32 24
7.0 29-30 32 24
8.5 28-29 32 23
11.0 27-28 32 22
14.0 26-27 32 21

It is worth using some tools to help optimize the temperature in the covered area of the pen to keep it at an ideal level. You can use curtains or plates to partly cover the entrance of the covered area. This can decrease heat loss from the covered area, reduce draught and keep the bedding material in the right place.

Using curtains as shown in the picture, will ensure a more even temperature under the cover since the curtains will hold in the heat

It is important to observe the behaviour of the pigs while they rest so you can optimise the temperature and the environment in the pens. If the pigs are lying almost on top of each other underneath the cover, it is a sign that the temperature is too low. On the other hand, if the pigs mainly use the open area for rest, and either start soiling in the covered area or do not use it at all, the temperature is almost certainly too high.

Feeding – the transition from milk to solid feed

One of the biggest changes for the piglets at weaning is the transition from milk-based feed to solid feed. Focus on the feed and how feeding is carried out can help you minimise the risk of post-weaning diarrhoea.

It is essential that the pigs do not stop eating during the first days after weaning so they maintain a steady nutrient intake. It is also important to stimulate the pigs’ interest in eating for the first one to three days after weaning. By stimulating the feed intake, intestinal activity is maintained, which is important for reducing the risk of post-weaning diarrhoea.

One way of stimulating feed intake is to start feeding a small amount of piglet starter feed twice per day from the age of 7-10 days, this will give the piglets interest in eating the feed. Increase the number of feedings per day during lactation, aiming for four to five feedings per day around the age of weaning.

Besides giving the piglets interest in the feed and stimulating feed intake they also learn the routine of feeding which will be helpful when they are weaned.

Feeding the piglets with a liquid starter mix is another way of stimulating feed intake. The liquid feed helps them make the transition from milk to starter feed as its texture is similar to that of milk. Use the liquid feed mix in the first five to seven days after weaning.

Administering liquid starter mix, will increase the piglets’ interest in the feed, and make the transition from milk to solid feeds easier

The liquid starter mix can be made on the farm:

  • Mix together five parts water, one part milk and 2 parts starter feed
Liquid starter mix can be mixed in buckets and stirred with either hands or a whisk
  • Allow for one litre of liquid starter mix for every 10 pigs

  • The pigs must empty the trough in 20 to 30 minutes
  • Feed the liquid starter mix to the pigs at least four times a day, and give it to them as often as possible

Hygiene is extremely important when you use a liquid starter mix as bacteria can easily multiply in the liquid mix. We recommend rinsing and leaving some water in the trough after each feeding. The water can serve as extra drinking water.

After weaning, water intake is another essential way of helping the pigs to keep eating. Access to plenty of pure drinking water is a given. We recommend installing at least two water nipples in each pen – but the more nipples the better. Place them as close to the feeders as possible to ensure proper use and higher feed intake. The minimum recommended water flow is 0.5 to 1 litre/minute.

Everyday tasks in the piglet weaner unit

Inspect all animals at least once, but preferably twice, a day – and pay particular attention to:

  • Health – do any of the pigs or the environment show signs of disease?
  • Pigs which do not get up
  • The trough and water nipples – check them and keep them clean

A successful transition from sow to weaning unit is the key to successful the productivity of your pigs. From the weaner unit, the pigs’ journey continues through the rest of the production facility.

My notes for Farrowing unit – post farrowing


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