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Improving milk production – are we missing some tricks?

At the recent ESPHM meeting in Helsinki, I was fortunate to attend an impressive lecture by Chantal Farmer from Canada on factors affecting milk production and mammary development in swine. Although not usually a veterinary topic, with the current trend to use hyper-prolific sow lines it has become increasingly important to be able to feed all these extra piglets.

Mammary gland development is critical to good milk production. There are two important development phases, in pre-pubertal gilts (3 months of age) and during the last third of pregnancy. Their development is controlled by a complex interaction of hormones and during pregnancy, particularly oestrogens and prolactin.
Nutrition does play a role in mammary gland development but surprisingly feed restriction between 3 months and puberty does help development. Feeding high energy diets during gestation may have detrimental effects on mammary development and milk production. Fat gilts may have poorer development and less milk than lean gilts at the same bodyweight.
Mammary involution also appears to be important. If the gland is not suckled it will start to involute within the first 7-10 days of lactation but starts from 3 days of non-suckling. This reduces its productivity in the next lactation by as much as 30% and reducing piglets’ weights by 1.1kg at weaning. Piglets can differentiate between previously-suckled and unsuckled teats and are prepared to fight for the former.
With top yielding sows producing potentially up to 16kgs (litres) of milk/day at 3 weeks of lactation, what are your, the readers’, experiences with improving mammary gland development, subsequent milk production and piglet performance?

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    Dr Nikolaos Kotrotsios

    Modern sows produce large volumes of milk. Relative to her body weight, a good sow produces more milk than a dairy cow! This high level of milk production results in daily nutrient requirements that are about three times higher than during gestation. Feeding management during gestation focuses on minimizing embryo and fetal losses and on preparing the sow for farrowing and lactation. Older and heavier sows have increased nutrient needs and will require more feed to maintain their body than younger sows. The most common thing and also resulted to the most economical approach is to control the amount of feed offered to sows. I usually recommend on the gestation diets, high fiber ingredients such as wheat bran, soya, barley and wheat and in the opposite site restriction of corn, oils and fats minimize in this way the energy content. The primary challenge of feeding highly productive sows is to minimize the negative nutrient (energy and protein balance) during lactation in order to minimize short term and long term reproductive performance problems. The level of milk yield is in part a function of the lactational ability of the sow (body size, body reserves, nutrition) and in part a function of the suckling stimulus of the young (litter size, piglet weight and piglet vigour). Milk yield also increases with parity number but so also does litter size-so yield per piglet tends not to increase with parity number. In general, lactation diets for highly productive sows should contain ingredients that are concentrated sources of energy and protein such as corn and soybean meal. On the other hand we should decrease the amount in fiber content cause dilute the nutrient content of the diet and may limit total nutrient intake. Supplemental fat can be added to lactation diets in an effort to increase energy intake. Since the sow transfers dietary fat to milkfat, the calorie intake of nursery pigs is increased, thus weaning weights are improved. The overall goal of the feeding program for lactating sows should be to economically optimize energy and nutrient in order to support sow body maintenance and maximize litter performance while minimizing negative effects on subsequent return to breeding, litter size and sow longevity.

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