Interpretive Summary: Dietary supplement rich in fiber fed to late gestating sows during transition reduces rate of stillborn piglets.
By: Surely Wallace
In a December 2017 study published in the Journal of Animal Science, researchers investigated how dietary fiber (DF) supplemented feed affected sow reproductive performance. It was hypothesized that DF supplementation starting from two weeks before farrowing (including transition) would reduce piglet mortality. The authors reported reduced rates of stillbirths and total piglet mortality in sows fed DF supplemented feed. They also stressed the need for more in-depth studies to understand the mechanism by which DF imparts benefits, and to examine different types of DF.
Dietary fiber has known benefit to feeding behaviors and stereotypes in sows. However, the effects of DF on sow reproductive performance has not been well studied. The potential for nutritional solutions to reduce piglet mortality rates has the potential to improve animal welfare, increase sow productivity, and impart positive economic impacts on commercial farms.
In this study, commercial sows were split into two isocaloric feeding groups consisting of a control diet with the addition of supplemented fiber (334 animals), or a control diet without the addition of a fiber supplement (310 animals). Dietary fiber was sourced from sugar beet pulp, soybean hulls, dehulled sunflower seeds, and wheat. The study period began at day 102 of gestation through farrowing. By 24 hours postpartum, piglets were standardized and cross-fostered. The researchers documented piglet stillbirths, pre-weaning mortality (to 28 days), and total mortality rates.
Results indicated piglet survival was overall improved when sows were fed DF supplemented feed. The lower total mortality rate (22.3% vs 19.9%) was due specifically to reduced stillbirths (8.8% vs 6.6%). There was no difference in the total number of piglets born or in pre-weaning mortality. However, significant reduction in pre-weaning deaths from diarrhea and poor viable piglets was noted. The authors postulated that DF supplemented feed during transition may soften feces or result in more stable postprandial glucose of sows, leading to less stressed piglets from shorter farrowing times.
Overall, this study suggests that nutritional approaches may be a viable way to reduce total piglet mortality on commercial farms. Although more research on the effects of DF in sow feed during gestation and transition needs to be done, this study’s results suggest that piglets born from sows fed DF supplemented feed have increased rates of survival due to reduced stillbirths. Dietary fiber supplemented to sow feed might therefore have the potential for positive economic impacts on commercial farms by increasing production efficiency.