Expert opinion

4235 views 6 comments

Modern gilt feeding methods – does it pay?

I have just completed analysing the farm records from some courageous breeders who bit the bullet several years ago and adopted the advice on upgrading their gilt feeding which appeared around 2004.

I have just completed analysing the farm records from some courageous breeders who bit the bullet several years ago and adopted the advice on upgrading their gilt feeding which appeared around 2004.

This was to move away from the conventional growers diet fed from final selection at 100 kg to final service at 135 kg and use a specially-formulated 'gilt developer diet'.

Then to adopt a special 'gilt lactation diet' in that critical first lactation.

Some preferred to go carefully and just use the gilt lactation formula while others took a deep breath (because both uprated diets do cost more) and used both feeds. How did they get on?

For those four farms adopting the whole procedure, on average…

Their feed cost per sow rose by 12% (inflation-compensated) and the extra cost of storage, bins etc., and labour another 5%. The benefits were bigger litter sizes – the number of piglets born alive, and their second litter fallaways reduced, i.e. they got bigger second litters.

This gave an average of 28% more income in the first year of the sow's productive life (SPL). Thereafter, the SPL increased by a significant 1.9 litters – nearly 20 piglets weaned, and replacement costs reduced by 23%. All from an increased cost of 17%. The payback over the extra costs varied from 2:1 to 3.6:1 compared to the more conventional diets used before the upgrade.

Questions to pig nutritionists
This got me asking six pig nutritionists (one independent, one academic, and four company nutritionists) which system they would choose if push came to shove on the recent hike in feed cost. They all chose 'the beefed up gilt lactation diet' for preference and two remarked that for any first-litter sow who nevertheless looked shattered due to a big first litter/ or was later-weaned, then use it for her second lactation too, and even use a gilt developer diet in that second pregnancy. Interesting!

They could be right, as six other farms which just transferred to the gilt lactation diet alone got slightly less benefit (but not much less) for a cost increase of 5% less. I am sure we shall hear more of this as further results I know are in the pipeline come through.

So, my interpretation on where we've got to on this subject is…

Yes, many of us are now almost certainly out of date in the way we are feeding these new high-performance gilts.

Yes, it probably does address the global problem of the second litter fallaway.

Yes, the feeds are more expensive but nevertheless…

Yes, the potential long-term payback looks encouraging.


  • no-profile-image

    Judy Wise

    Some may prefer larger litters from their gilts or sows but from my experience I prefer around 8-10 piglets. My success rate has been better. I do have a sow that normally has 20 every time and they are very small. She is a good mama but takes somewhat longer to get them to market size.

  • no-profile-image


    hello there.
    what is gilt formula.
    Iam from Uganda, africa. You can help me by providing for the best formula

  • no-profile-image

    Gerald - Uganda

    Surely, a shift to modern gilt feeds has short-term costs but with encouraging long-term production results.

  • no-profile-image

    John Gadd

    No Judy - the answer to future profit is not to downsize on litter size in order to get bigger piglets and better susequent performance, but to upsize (increase) litter size and still get bigger birthweights!
    How to get both?
    Read the first chapter, pages 1-18 on 'Increasing Litter Size' in my textbook 'Pig Production Problems, A Guide to their Solutions' (Nottingham University Press, 2003), and then Chapter 2, pps 19-26 on 'Increasing Birthweights'.
    How to achieve the best of both worlds, in other words. Sure, a sow producing 20 (bless her) is bound to have more than several 'joeys', but we are talking about obtaining regular issue of 12 to 14s, and whoppers at that.

  • no-profile-image

    John Gadd

    Gerald. Thanks for your comments.

  • no-profile-image

    John Gadd

    Wilberforce. You will find examples of the nutrition specs. for gilt developer and gilt lactation diets in Close and Cole 'Nutrition of Sows and Boars' (Nottingham University Press, 2000) p. 359.
    While the ingredients available in Australia and the UK and amounts to make up these diets are also given, you should check with a pig nutritionist to meet the specs quoted from the feed materials you have available in your own country. Also if you have invested in gilts from a recognised pig breeding firm, take their advice too. While this excellent and reliable textbook was written 8 years ago, the specs are a little more advanced now but it will give you an idea of what is involved.

Load more comments (2)

Or register to be able to comment.