Optimizing sow body condition is an important strategy in minimizing feed costs and maximizing reproductive efficiency and sow well-being. Most commercial producers visually (subjectively) score sow body condition. However, everyone does not see body condition the same. An objective standard is needed to ensure barn workers are scoring sow body condition consistently.

A study was initiated on three North Carolina farms to investigate the variation in sow body condition between and within sow farms.

A Knauer sow body condition caliper was used to measure the angularity of a sow’s back; 375 sows were measured. The sow caliper technology is based on the premise that as a sow loses muscle and fat, her back becomes more angular. In turn, as a sow gains muscle and fat along her loin edge, her back appears to be wider and flatter when viewed from behind. This concept is commonly used in evaluating dairy cattle body condition.

Variation in sow body condition between and within farms is shown in Table 1 and Figure 1. Table 1 shows the average sow caliper score was substantially different between farms. Farm A and Farm C differed by over two standard deviations. Yet within-farm variation was similar across farms as the coefficients of variation indicate.

Figure 1 depicts the distribution of sow body condition between and within farms. The distribution for each farm has a distinct peak, which further supports substantial differences in body condition between farms exist.

Recognizing the sizeable differences in sow body condition between and within farms, producers should consider using objective tools such as real-time ultrasound or the sow caliper to quantify sow body condition and/or train barn personnel who visually score sow body condition.

Small reductions in daily feed intake can result in sizeable savings. For example, reducing feed intake in gestation by just 4 oz./day could save about $15/sow/year.

Researcher: Mark Knauer, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC. Contact Knauer at (919) 515-8797 or e-mail mtknauer@ncsu.edu.