Nursing piglets National Pork Board

Got colostrum? Lactation diet is key to improving colostrum production

Insufficient consumption of colostrum greatly increases the risk of preweaning mortality and reduces pig quality.

As litter sizes continue to increase, challenges with piglet quality persist. Hence management solutions are needed to mitigate preweaning mortality and enhance piglet weaning weights.

It is well known that colostrum is vital to newborn piglets. Insufficient consumption of colostrum greatly increases the risk of preweaning mortality and reduces piglet quality. Yet few studies have investigated strategies to increase piglet intake.

Researchers at North Carolina State University developed a study to determine the effect of late-gestation diet and feeding level on piglet colostrum intake and piglet quality. Sixty-one second parity, composite Landrace × Large White sows were housed at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Tidewater Research Station. At day 104 of gestation, sows were randomly allocated by body condition to one of two diets, gestation or lactation, and one of three feeding levels (3.3, 6.6 or 9.9 pounds per day) in a 2 × 3 factorial design. Experimental diets were fed until farrowing.

The gestation diet contained 1,354 Kcal per pound ME, 0.58 standardized ileal digestible lysine, and the lactation diet contained 1,510 Kcal per pound ME, 0.99 SID lysine and 2.5% added fat.

At birth, piglets were individually identified and weighed. Piglets were again weighed at 24 hours of age and at 21 days of age. Colostrum intake was estimated as piglet weight at 24 hours of age minus birth weight. Piglet survival was calculated as litter size at weaning divided by total number born.

Results revealed

For the study, average litter size at birth, 24 hours of age and weaning was 13.11, 12.49 and 11.05 piglets, respectively. Average piglet birth weight, colostrum intake and piglet weaning weight were 2.55, 0.24 and 12.4 pounds, respectively.

Results showed sow colostrum intake did not increase as litter size increased. So on a piglet basis, as litter size increased, colostrum intake per piglet was reduced. This data provides further support for the importance of colostrum production in modern genetic lines.

An increase in feeding level the last 10 days of gestation did enhance sow production. Higher feeding levels increased piglet colostrum intake, also. Yet, increased feeding level did not significantly improve piglet quality. Moreover, an increase in late-gestation feeding level did enhance sow body condition at both farrowing and weaning. This suggests increased late-gestation feeding levels can successfully be used on thin sows in late gestation to enhance animal well-being and colostrum production.

Feeding a lactation diet in late gestation resulted in multiple improvements in sow productivity. The table shows the effect of diet during the last 10 days of gestation on colostrum intake and piglet quality. The p-values shown indicate the probability that the difference between diets is real. Generally, a p-value of 0.05 or less is considered statistically different, notes the research team. Results showed feeding a lactation diet the last 10 days of gestation increased piglet colostrum intake by 32%. Feeding a lactation diet further reduced litter variation at birth and at weaning, enhanced weaning weight and numerically improved survival.

The results of this study are extremely promising and break open a new area of investigation. Feeding a lactation diet the last 10 days of gestation clearly improved colostrum production and sow productivity. Yet these results should be validated before wide-scale implementation. Two subsequent studies are planned for the coming year. Identifying the specific components of the lactation diet that enhanced colostrum production is needed. Yet the fact that we may be able to relatively easily increase piglet colostrum intake is energizing.      

Researchers: Mark Knauer and Eric van Heugten, North Carolina State University, and staff at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Tidewater Research Station. For more information, contact Knauer at [email protected] or 630-639-9263.           

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