Hyperprolificacy among gilts and older sows is increasing. One of the measures to take the strain off the dam having to raise perhaps 13 little monsters for 21 to 28 days is to use a nurse sow. I did this successfully myself with the occasional huge litter but the practice is also useful for a sow which for a variety of reasons is struggling to raise even a normal litter and starting to lose visible and tactile condition.
The practice tended to fall by the wayside 20 years ago, the argument prevailing at the time that a sow is best employed getting back into producing babies of her own than suckling someone else's.
Wait a minute! If a potential nurse sow is kept and bred-from normally like any ordinary sow she produces if you are lucky, 11/weaners/litter or about half a weaner a week over a full year.
Good for her. But divert her into temporary nursing duty for 3 weeks(or longer if you like, by giving her a second batch to suckle) then as a nurse sow rearing 10 to 11 of somebody else's piglets, by so doing she not only gets those up to speed but she has reared 3 piglets/week during her term of duty, not half a pig.
Does she plunder her own self after suckling the equivalent of two or even three litters consecutively? My own experience is that this rarely happens if you've chosen the right sow – a docile, prolific milker with a good appetite and plenty of teats in the right place, especially if fed wet as we did - although that's not essential, while the other factors are.
So my advice is…
* To choose the right nurse sow, look in the records for evidence of high litter numbers born. A good tip is to look for evidence of how all their previous litters have done – not just the last one.
* Allow at least 10 hours colostral suckling on their natural dam before transferring 2 or 3 piglets from a dam likely to be plundered too heavily by a surprisingly large litter or who has a history of finding it difficult to cope with a normal-size one.
* A maximum of 3 piglets from 3 litters – a limit of 9 transfers in all. Some people stretch it to 10 from 4 litters if the sow is a champion milker, but we don't want to run her down in condition either, especially in maternal protein loss, the latest scientific leaf in the condition-loss book.
* To forestall rejection, wipe the transfers over using a dampish cloth (no detergent/disinfectant – just plain water) which has been used in the same way beforehand to wipe over the nurse sows original litter and so transfer the scent. Remember the motto “Time spent with the baby pigs is Golden Time.”
* Do not mix surplus heavy piglets with any underprivileged ones in the same group to be transferred. A policy of move the heavies and leave the 'thinnies' behind to give them a better suckle is logical.
* Keep the nurse sow occupied by giving her a special treat, like a generous dollop of some creep feed, potato starch etc. We gave a can of beer provided by management and put the stockpeople on their honour not to drink it themselves!!
* Get the nurse sow weaned a little earlier in the day before introducing the new sucklers, then move them as a family to the new environment if this is called for. Don't leave mixing until after the move.
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