Udder efficiency – a different view on sow management

30-12-2009 | |
Udder efficiency – a different view on sow management

Udder efficiency is becoming an increasingly important concept at pig production sites. The idea is to improve udder functioning, leading to sows farrowing more peacefully. High udder efficiency will cause more joy for producers, healthier piglets and better technical results.

By Roy Nieuwenhuis and Wilfried Goldewijk, ForFarmers, Lochem, the Netherlands

The concept of udder efficiency comes down to raising as many piglets as possible with their own natural mother sows. The lower the numbers of piglets that have to change litter, the less contact exists between the litters, resulting in a reduced disease shedding between litters. Additionally, it is possible to save on labour as fewer piglets need transfers to foster sows or automatic feeders.
  Mathematically, udder efficiency is the true average number of piglets raised and weaned at a sow without the help of either foster sows or automatic feeders. So the number needs correction in case either a foster sow or an automatic feeder is used. For instance, should a pig farm wean 120 piglets at 10 sows, then udder efficiency comes down to 120:10 = 12. Should however, one of the sows be a foster sow having nursed 22 piglets in total (2 x 11 piglets), then the calculation would change as follows: (120-11):10 = 10.9.

Udders in practice
The difference found between pig farms is enormous. In 2008, there have been reports of farms in the Netherlands weaning 13.1 piglets and having an udder efficiency of 12.4. On the other hand, there are farms achieving an udder efficiency of 10.7 using the same type of sows, see Table 1. Many factors influence udder efficiency, varying from pen construction to piglet condition and vitality. Some of the more common factors are discussed below.
  Many udders are being damaged due to sub optimal sow conditions. This can happen in gilt nurseries but also in the last week prior to farrowing. It is absolutely vital that sows will receive correct feeding levels that match their conditions. Farms measuring backfat and adapting feeding schemes as a consequence often manage to keep levels of condition much closer together. On farms where sows are kept rather thin, animals usually hardly show any udders with oedema (permanent damage through an accumulation of fluid, predominantly in the hind udders).

About ForFarmers
ForFarmers is an animal nutrition manufacturer, active on the Dutch, Belgian and German markets. Annual production is approximately 2.4 million tonnes of compound feed. The company’s sow specialists constantly monitor and analyse sow farms using technical figures, the so-called ‘agroscope’. This way it is possible to quickly determine what factors need improvement on pig farms and how management or nutrition changes can add to improve technical results. For more information, please check www.forfarmers.eu.

Feed levels
It is considered a well-known pig farm management error to excessively feed sows in the last phase of gestation. This habit will lead to udders being too full of milk around farrowing. In fact, udders will be ready for piglets 24 hours before farrowing. When piglets are absent at that time, udder pressure will be too high and sows will start lying on these udders to relieve their pain. In addition, piglets will not be allowed access to this particular udder. As a consequence, the udder will not produce milk for that particular moment and also be permanently damaged for future litters. Some piglets will thus not receive colostrum and mortality figures will rise rapidly. Hence, although often underestimated, management focusing on udder pressure is very well possible in the last week before farrowing.

Farms being stable with regard to disease will perform better in terms of udder efficiency. It is vital that sows feel and achieve the best around the onset of milk production after farrowing. Factors like influenza or blue ear disease (PRRS) can thus be disastrous for any sow’s achievements, just like vaccinations as from day 70 of gestation.
  Especially when vaccinating for these two diseases it is often noted that sows will start up only slowly when they are expected to farrow litters two to three weeks after vaccinating. In addition, when the number of on-farm diseases is relatively high, piglet vitality is suboptimal. Piglets will have difficulty stimulating udders, hence lactation will be more problematic and more teats will appear to be dry after approximately days three to five post-farrowing.

In the case of an even age spread in the sow herd, it will be easier to achieve a higher udder efficiency. Farms having a relatively aged sow herd will thus have a lower number of piglets per udder. Hence, it is key to continue to order shipments of gilts, about 40-45%.
  In addition, it is important to focus on a low mortality rate in younger sows, as empty sows or leg problems endanger an equal age spread in the sow herd. In farms replacing 43% of their sows and having no excessive mortality, only 4% own eighth parity sows and has no aged sows. By having excessive mortality in younger sows, the number of older sows rises or new gilts have to be purchased.

Factors influencing udder efficiency:

  • water
  • diet before farrowing
  • climate
  • condition
  • average sow age
  • selection policy
  • sow breed
  • piglet vitality
  • diseases vaccinations
  • inductions at farrowing
  • crushing
  • foster sows
  • housing
  • leg condition

To conclude, on-farm management towards udder efficiency determines the outcome. Farm managers capable of making the right strategic decisions at key moments in situations of crisis may thus be able to prevent damage. Farm managers capable of constantly securing all factors around udder management have proven to achieve better results.
  In farm systems like e.g. more than one week batch farrowing systems in each phase of the production process the best results are being achieved with the right knowledge.

Nieuwenhuis And Wilfried Goldewijk