Nutritional know how and practical advice on prolificacy well received
Independent pig sector journalist Jane Jordan, reports on Rattlerow’s ‘twin’ autumn conferences. Held in Yorkshire and Suffolk the events attracted more than 150 delegates, most of which were producers, and both were brimming with practical advice on managing highly prolific sows, both indoors and out.
Some key insights into future feeding strategies and management techniques were presented by speakers at both conferences – information that was well received by managers and stockmen.
Dr Sian Nichols, nutritionist and pig technical manager at Trouw Nutrition, said the relationship between genetics and nutrition was becoming much closer. Genetic development had moved swiftly in recent years and nutritional strategies now needed to keep pace. Some traditional concepts and recommendations warranted re-evaluation.
“Modern dams are more than capable of producing large litters, but they need good quality diets and a more focused approach to nutrition if they are to perform to their full potential, and this requires investment,” she said.
Aiming to maintain the correct body condition and providing the right nutrients at specific times during the reproductive cycle would support fertility and production potential. The highly productive dam lines now used on commercial farms required specific, targeted nutrition and producers needed to gain a better understanding of how certain nutrients could influence performance potential at strategic points in the produce process.
Sow nutrition during the transition period, from five days before farrowing to the first few days into lactation, was worth consideration. Dr Nichols advised producers to choose diets/feeding regimes that provided sows with a sustained amount of energy and essential nutrients to fuel the farrowing process and optimise colostrum supplies and subsequent milk production. She said variable colostrum quality and fluctuating milk supplies could occur with larger litters, as high numbers born means more mouths to feed and some piglets might experience periods of undernourishment while suckling.
“Modern dams need good quality diets and a more focused approach to nutrition if they are to perform to their full potential, and this requires investment.” – Dr Sian Nichols
“Even when piglet growth appears to be on track some piglets might not be getting enough of what they need to fulfill their genetic potential. Offering supplementary milk in the farrowing pens can support maternal supplies and prevent this,” she added.
Some comparative trials carried out on commercial units by Trouw have shown that offering high quality, supplementary milk to large litters during lactation does improve post-weaning performance – even when piglets were evenly sized and litters are well managed.
The trials showed progeny from litters that were offered additional milk while suckling had better, more uniform growth during lactation, which was sustained post weaning and throughout the nursery period. These piglets also achieved higher average daily gains than those which had only suckled sows from birth to weaning.
“These trails suggest that although piglets may appear to be quite similar in size, some nutritional compromises might be taking place within large litters while they are suckling. Offering al alternative, good quality milk supplement is worthwhile as performance benefits can be seen much further on in production,” said Dr Nichols.
She also explained how exposure to certain nutrients and microorganisms in early life can influence gut development and impact on pigs’ total lifetime performance. A piglet’s immune responses to ingested materials, such as feed, bedding, medication, dung, create ‘gut reactions’ and if these ‘responses’ were not managed well they can predispose pigs to dietary/health problems later on in life and hinder performance.
Dr Nichols said a better understanding of how naïve digestive systems develop, particularly during the first six weeks of life, might help producers reduce/prevent digestive upsets and optimise piglet growth and feed conversion post weaning.
Disciplined management, standardised approach benefits productivity
Robin Brice of Countess Wells Breeding (CWB) and John Theobald, Rattlerow’s outdoor production manager, explained the management techniques used with high-performance dam lines on their units. These herds rank alongside top 10% of UK recorded breeding herds and attribute their success to consistent, disciplined routines, good biosecurity controls, proactive health management and a skilled, motivated workforce.
Stringent gilt rearing and culling strategies were fundamental features of their herd management plans, underlined by a balanced nutritional programme to promote productivity and maintain body condition. First parity females are ‘pushed’ to perform which benefited lifetime performance, while culling is proactive to remove potential failure and maintain a young herd with a tight parity profile.
“A key objective for us is to maximise performance from everything we have, so we must look at every aspect of the production cycle and optimise productivity in every area,” said Robin Brice.
The 700-sow Countess Wells herd weans in excess of 30 pigs/sow/year and has sold 29.4 pigs/sow during the past twelve months.
“A key objective for us is to maximise performance from everything we have, so we must look at every aspect of the production cycle …” – Robin Brice
Gilts are served at 260 days of age and are expected to rear 12 pigs a litter. And there is also a firm commitment to rear small birthweight piglets which has involved considerable investment in both time and money. Small pigs receive ‘intensive care’ soon after birth are usually reared by gilts and monitored throughout lactation. They can be fostered more than once, too, to keep them with newly farrowed sows and a consistent colostrum supply. This policy means smalls will consume between 50% and 80% more colostrum than their larger siblings, which does pay dividends, said Mr Brice. Piglet mortality is under 10 per cent, production is uniform and the ‘small pigs’ do finish efficiently, with no lag in rearing performance good conformation carcases that grade well.
Prolificacy has at times proved challenging, said Mr Brice, but CWB’s 7-man team has set realistic targets and developed effective management systems to ease pressure points. It’s required investment and new resources, but productivity has reciprocated as the breeding herd is better placed to achieve more of its genetic potential, he added.
Practical and proactive
Outdoors similar principles apply, with systems that are simple, standardised and done well. John Theobald, who oversees management of four outdoor herds, said it was vital for staff to fully understand their roles within the whole breeding cycle and that they have the skills and equipment they need to do a good job.
Optimising productivity outside meant keeping a close eye on sow body condition throughout the year and across the reproductive cycle. Again, gilt management was vitally important with first litter females targeted to rear 11.5 pigs in their first lactation.
“We do load our gilts to get them milking well, but we also make sure they are well fed and can sustain performance and their own development. The strategy achieves good results and sets them up for a long productive life,” he said.
Culling is proactive too. Sows are removed at parity 6 to maintains a tight parity profile, optimum productivity and prevent females them becoming too big for the huts.
Other practical tips for outdoor herds included a quality controlled service management routine, that allowed good observations and boar exposure at critical times before and after service. And at farrowing good bed management is a priority. Wheat straw is used in farrowing huts as its more robust and sows are encouraged to ‘work’ their bed a few days before they farrow.
“You want a stable nest environment at farrowing, one that will last for the first few days of lactation undisturbed, when piglets are most vulnerable and need protection,” he adds.
“We do load our gilts to get them milking well, but we make sure they are well fed and can sustain performance and their own development…” – John Theobald
Rattlerow’s outdoor herds are currently weaning 26 pigs /sow /year – 3.18 pigs more than average AHDB recorded herds. Mr Theobald said performance is sustained but might improve as the units move over to the newly developed circular Aardvark farrowing hut. Initial results from one outdoor herd using the huts are showing a 1% reduction in pre-weaning mortality.
AI: pushing performance and quality
With the recent launch of Klasse, Rattlerow’s independent AI business, the conference was also a platform to review developments in its European and UK studs.
Ian Gillies, RF genetics and AI Manager reviewed the recent expansion of the Klasse Stud at Long Meadow and commented on the range of Rattlerow and DanAVL sire lines now standing at its British AI centres.
Stefan Derks, Director of Klasse in Europe, explained how the business further improving AI efficiency and the quality of its products.
Klasse’s Netherlands-based business supplies semen to commercial and breeding farms and has a reputation for using high index sire lines. It is one of Europe’s leading AI suppliers and its commercial semen output produces around 3.5 slaughter pigs a year.
The company has recently introduced a database that is being used to monitor the productivity outcomes of each dose of semen sold from its studs. The information collected from individual AI matings on independent farms is providing details on product quality, on individual sire fertility and will be an instrumental in identifying and evaluating sub-optimal performance/breeding failure should it occur.
“The response from our customers has been excellent, it’s very accurate information. We aim to have at least 200 client farms logged to this system who can provide us with useful data that we can use to monitor the quality of our working practices, the boars we are using and our AI products and services. It’s a valuable addition to our management protocol that could be integrated into all of Klasse’s studs,” he said.