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Increase sow milk yield or increase litter size?

Strategies designed to encourage the sow to produce higher volumes of milk will provide her piglets a greater opportunity to grow resulting in higher more productive weaning weights.

11 November 2019, at 10:59am

Research being conducted on behalf of Swine Innovation Porc to increase sow milk yield and enhance the growth and weaning weights of suckling pigs will be discussed during Saskatchewan Pork Industry Symposium 2019 next week in Saskatoon.

Speaking to Farmscape, Dr Chantal Farmer, a research scientist in sow lactation with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Sherbrooke, says, due to larger litter sizes, today's piglets are getting less milk than they used to from the sow.

"The main, if not only, energy source for piglets is milk," says Dr Farmer, "basically the piglet relies totally on sow milk for energy so obviously the more energy, the more milk the pig will consume the greater growth rate."

"Yes, we've selected for sows that produce more milk but by the same token we've also selected animals that have a greater litter size.

"While increasing litter size, even though milk yields was increased, it was not increased to the same extent so through the years each little piglet has less milk than years ago because litter size has increased so much.

"If you take a baby pig and on top of the milk it's getting from its mother you also give it milk through a bottle, it will grow more.

"It's telling us the growth rate capacity of piglets is greater than what it's achieving now through only getting milk from the sow.

"So anything we can do to stimulate milk yield of the sow will be reflected into a greater weight gain of piglets."

Dr Farmer says certain breeds produce more milk and higher parity sows produce greater volumes. She says feed intake during lactation will influence milk production with cooler temperatures stimulating higher feed intake and thus higher milk production. Stress will also affect the sow's milk production and the suckling behaviour of the piglet.