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To Dry or Not to Dry: That is the Question

by 5m Editor
3 July 2009, at 7:28am

UK - The June issue of Target Farm Action from BPEX explains the benefits and best procedures for drying off gilts right after their first farrowing.

The gilt is the foundation of a productive herd and there are many management factors to consider, many of these will be covered in a future Action for Productivity sheet from BPEX.

In the mean time, one factor that has come under the spotlight in pig groups is the need to use the gilts' udder in the first lactation.

With increasing numbers of units restocking and batch serving gilts, units may find a large proportion of gilts in any one farrowing period.

If gilts have poor numbers born alive though, is it best to dry them off than give them a poor lactation first time around?

There is evidence to suggest that suckling in the first lactation makes teats more productive in the next lactation, this suggests that suckling a big litter would be beneficial.

Equally it would make more efficient use of feed and housing if all gilts (and sows) had full litters.

So if you decided that gilts should be left with 10 piglets, and that meant one or two having their piglets fostered away soon after farrowing and dried off, can it cause problems?

The dried off gilts are likely to come back on heat unevenly, and re-serving them again soon after farrowing will increase the risk of poor litters next time around; reserving before 21 days (and particularly at under 14 days) can lead to reductions in both conception rate and litter size (~0.1 piglets per day earlier).

One way to manage this and keep a batch pattern might be to control the next cycle using a synchronisation product.

The best scenario would be to foster up to 10 (always remembering the fostering golden rules regarding piglet size and age), but not to re-serve the dried off gilts less than 14 days post farrowing.

By doing this the gilts you have chosen to have full litters get a good lactation first time around and the dried off gilts are at less of a risk of having problems after being re-served.

This policy should only be used for times of fluctuating numbers born alive, and not as routine, as units experiencing "not enough piglets to go around" should quickly review serving and gestation management to resolve the issue. For the odd batch though it is good to have a fall-back plan to reduce the negative impact on the all important gilt.