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Developments in sow and piglet nutrition
Leo den Hartog and Coen Smits



Demand for pig meat increased in the past and will also increase in the future. Production per sow and growth rate per growing-finishing pig increased in recent decades with a huge variation between farms. It is known that there are several critical moments in the pig's life that can have a significant impact on technical results. This paper describes those critical moments and the required feeding strategy of sows and piglets.


The sow has an effect on the birth and weaning weight of piglets and therefore on the weight development of the growing-finishing pigs. Sow performance is affected in different stages of the reproductive cycle. On average, only 50 percent of the number of ovulated eggs result in a piglet of 25 kilograms.


Critical phases are the embryonic period (first part of the pregnancy) and the first 24 hours after birth. Over the last three decades, the total number of born piglets per litter has increased but so have losses. The birth weight of piglets is a result of development especially during the fetal period.


A piglet is born with a low amount of body reserves. Therefore it is important that the consumption of colostrum starts very soon after birth. In the beginning, a piglet is suckling nearly every hour.


The sow's nutrition has an effect on milk production and milk composition, with adequate nutrition of the lactating sow playing an important role in strategies that are focused on reducing variation in body weight of piglets at weaning.


In addition to this, other strategies such as cross-fostering or split-weaning and the application of pre-starters may be employed in order to promote the growth of low-birth weight piglets.


Feed intake by the piglets in the first days after weaning is crucial. Registration of individual feed intake of group housed piglets after weaning shows a huge variation among piglets.


Weaning is often followed by a dramatic reduction of feed intake. This results in lack of peristalsis, less secretions, less mucosal nutrition and atrophy of the villi and an increased permeability of the mucosa. Consequently, the intestinal flora is destabilised with a higher risk of infections and post weaning diarrhoea.


Several nutritional tools are available to influence the gut health in a positive way including inhibiting proliferation of pathogenic bacteria, inhibiting attachment of bacteria to the gut wall, competitive exclusion and immune stimulation.


In conclusion, genetic, nutritional and environmental factors influence technical results of pigs.


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Article made possible through the contribution of Nutreco.

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