September 25, 2013

MWSNC Highlight: Outdated sow diets cost big


The nutritional requirements of sows change as their pregnancies advance, but most producers are not adjusting the diets of gestating sows properly.

During the 13th Midwest Swine Nutrition Conference, Dr. Ron Ball, a retired professor from the University of Alberta, presented research about the amino acid requirements of sows during different gestation stages.

Ball said the intensive genetic selection used in the swine industry has changed the underlying biochemistry and metabolism of the pig. This genetic selection has resulted in increased heat production, increased rate of protein turnover and increased requirements for energy and amino acids.

“We’re living with greater costing sow herds than we need to,” said Ball. “That’s because our knowledge of sow nutrition has not kept pace with the rate of changes in sow productivity.”

Research has shown little fetal growth takes place until about 70 or 80 days. In that time the fetal protein requirements increases ten-fold, going from about 20 grams to over 200 grams.

Specifically, the requirements for the amino acids Lysine and Threonine increase from early gestation to late gestation.

“The key message here is because those requirements are so different, you cannot take the same diet you fed in early digestion and feed more of it in late digestion to meet those requirements without a whole lot of waste,” said Ball. “You need a second diet if you are really going to meet the requirements properly without overfeeding.”

Ball mentioned three possible solutions to meet the nutritional needs of pregnant sows.

  1. The optimal solution is to use parity segregated phase feeding. Two diets need to be formulated. One diet should meet the minimum requirements of sows during gestation and the other diet should meet the maximum requirements.  Each sow should receive a blend of the two feeds that meet her specific nutritional needs. This solution is most suitable for operations with electronic feeders with two feed lines.
  2. The second best solution is to formulate a “low diet” and a “high diet.” The low diet should be fed during early gestation. Then, around day 85, the sows should be fed the high diet to minimize overfeeding and underfeeding.
  3. The third solution is to feed a low diet and then top dress with extra feed for the sows in late gestation.

Supplying the correct amount of nutrients for pregnant sows results in better body condition when entering lactation, better rebreeding success after the first litter, increased sow longevity and reduced feed costs – almost $10 per sow per year.

“We need to make the effort and the investment to change our feeding programs for sows,” said Ball.

Ball’s presentation entitled “Stage of Gestation and Sow Age have Dramatic Effects on Amino Acid Requirements” can be watched in full at