Improving milk production – are we missing some tricks?

14-07-2011 | |
David Burch Pig health

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?