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Yoghurt for stronger suckling piglets and sows

Feeding yoghurt to suckling piglets, starting the day after birth improves the piglets’ feed intake in the first weeks of life. This results in higher weaning weights and higher growth rates after weaning. Also, the sows lose less weight during lactation and gain more weight during the following gestation.

By Dr Gerhard Stalljohann and Reinhard Schulte-Sutrum, Landwirtschaftskammer NRW (Haus Düsse), Germany

With large litters sow milk production is often insufficient to make use of piglets’ growth potential.

Large litters put a strain on the lactating sow, leading to impaired growth rate of her offspring. Sustaining a high level of milk production requires a lot of energy. With large litters, sows are unable to nurse their litters sufficiently to reach piglets’ genetic growth potential. Large litters often contain small piglets and it is a challenge to provide these small piglets with enough nutrients to increase survival rates, and reach adequate weaning weights and growth rates after weaning. A key factor to obtain healthy sows and piglets is a high feed intake of piglets in the suckling period.

Comparing yoghurt and milk replacer
In order to meet the requirements of young piglets, Dutch animal nutrition company Sloten developed a new sustainable feeding concept, called Nuklospray Yoghurt. The yoghurt is fed in liquid form to suckling piglets, starting the day after birth. To prove that the concept improves the piglets’ feed intake in the first week of life and increases higher weaning weights and a higher growth rate after weaning, a study was performed in LZ Haus Düsse in Germany. The trial was conducted with 92 litters, divided into two groups: from day two after birth 49 litters received the yoghurt and 43 litters were offered another milk replacer. On the first day, 250 ml of the yoghurt (400 g powder per litre) was provided, and 500 ml of the control milk replacer (125 g powder per litre).

The yoghurt was given during three weeks, while the control milk replacer was fed for two weeks. The offered amount of milk replacer during the suckling period increased up to 2.5 litres per litter per day. Piglets were subsequently offered a pre-starter (Milkiwean Granito Premium) in the yoghurt litters and a commercial prestarter in the control groups. Table 1 shows the results of the two trial groups.

Better daily gain and homogeneity
The higher weaning weights and the lower mortality rate in the yoghurt litters were obtained by the higher intake of milk replacer and pre-starter. It shows that the yoghurt initiates early feed intake, smoothens transition to the pre-starter phase, and stimulates consumption in the post weaning phase feeds as well. In larger litters (≥12 piglets), the average daily gain in the first week after weaning was 20 g per day higher for piglets fed yoghurt in the suckling period, compared to piglets in the control group. Piglets were also weighed at day 41 after weaning. After weaning, piglets from the yoghurt group showed 13 g/d higher growth, which is significant. When fed yoghurt in the suckling period, piglets that weighed less than 7.8 kg gained a significant 20 g/d more in the first six weeks after weaning than the control piglets. For the heavier piglets (>7.8 kg) the extra 7 g/d growth in the same period was not considered a significant difference. This implies that all piglets benefit from the yoghurt, however larger litters and smaller piglets benefit more, as shown by the higher average daily gain after weaning and improved homogeneity.

Benefits for the sows
From Table 1 it is also concluded that the lactating sows benefit from the yoghurt: they lose less weight during lactation. The next cycle of the sows from this trial was also studied.

Trial outcomes comparing technical results from litters fed Nuklospray Yoghurt and a prestarter diet versus control groups.

In the control group, six sows had to be culled due to fertility problems, while only three sows in the yoghurt groups were culled for this reason. Fertility problems (no return to heat after weaning, or failure to conceive after first service) may be caused by a too low condition score of the sows, hence by the loss in body weight during previous lactation.

Litter size of the successfully mated sows was not affected by the feeding management in previous lactation. The higher body weight loss of control sows in the previous lactation did not cause smaller litter sizes in the following gestation. The sows in the control group lost 10.3kg more body weight during lactation in the trial period. Comparing the sow body weight development revealed that the control sows gained 12.8 kg between weaning the experimental litter and weaning the following litter. The sows from the yoghurt group gained 14.3 kg over the same period. This means that the control sows regained 8.8 kg of the 10.3 kg lost in the previous lactation. To obtain this, the control sows needed an extra 35 kg of feed in gestation, compared to the ‘yoghurt’ sows.

Yoghurt initiates early feed intake.In conclusion
The improvements in piglet and sow performance with the yoghurt addition include: a higher feed intake of suckling piglets, less piglet mortality, higher weaning weights of litters, and better fertility and condition of sows.

Taking into account the higher feed costs, a financial benefit remains of approximately €30 per weaned litter. An additional financial benefit of €0.55 per piglet is obtained in the growing phase after weaning, due to the improved average daily gain of piglets fed the yoghurt in the suckling period. To better understand the reason why sows of yoghurt fed piglets have a better condition, further research is needed to elucidate the effects of the yoghurt on the metabolism of the sow; it may be that piglets on the yoghurt are more vital and are therefore better able to stimulate milk yield and efficiency of milk production by the sow.

This new feeding concept clearly improves the performance of piglets and helps the sow to raise well-performing litters and stay in good condition. This may benefit fertility and longevity of high-producing sows.