Don't shortchange your sows. Too often, producers think they can skimp early on and make it up later.

“What you do now is going to affect how she performs later,” reminds Lee Johnston, swine researcher at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center at Morris. “If you cheat her now, she will cover for you, but she is going to get you later,” he says.

Remember, there are no magic bullets to improving sow reproductive performance. It's more a case of “putting the pieces of the puzzle together and making sure you do all the basics well,” he points out.

Johnston's top 10 list of getting more pigs from your sows assumes that the nutritional requirements of the sows are being met. Presented at World Pork Expo, they include:

  1. Maintain proper gilt development. There are very few controlled studies on gilt development with modern genotypes. Based on a few feeding regimens that Johnston reviewed, his recommendation is to start early on a gilt development program, feeding those young females very much like the breeding herd.

    “That means feeding elevated levels of calcium, phosphorus, vitamins and trace minerals in that gilt development diet, then restricting gilts once they are selected for the breeding herd,” says Johnston. “We want to keep them growing, developing lean and fat tissue, but at a more moderate rate.”

    Flush gilts to get them back to a normal level of ovulation. Flushing increases energy intake 150-200% and should be implemented about 14 days prior to anticipated breeding.

  2. Manage post-mating feeding levels to increase embryo survival and litter size. Johnston stresses that Canadian research shows feeding levels should be returned to normal, with 4.5-5 lb. of a corn-soy diet, within one day of mating. The trials report an 85% embryo survival rate. Waiting three days after breeding to drop feeding levels cuts embryo survival rate by 10%.

  3. Encourage mammary development. The key period is the last 75 days of gestation when most mammary growth occurs. Avoid excessive energy levels in the diet which inhibit growth of the mammary gland. Restricting energy intake helps increase milk yield in the next lactation.

  4. Control weight gain during gestation to improve sow longevity. Since most fetal growth occurs in late gestation, it is important to feed sows the proper nutrients. But controlling weight gain improves sow longevity and encourages higher feed intake during lactation. University of Nebraska research during the last 40 days of gestation compares ad-lib feeding to a 4 lb. corn-soy diet. Feed intake of sows fed very liberally in late gestation lagged throughout lactation.

  5. Encourage high feed intake throughout lactation. University of Minnesota research compared feeding 11 lb./day of a corn-soy diet to 5 lb./day, during a three-week lactation period. Sows on the high level diet bred back in 7-8 days. Sows on the low feeding levels took more than 20 days to breed back. Even when sows were only fed the restricted diet the first week of lactation, they never recovered and still lagged in time to breed back.

  6. Wean sows in good condition. When sow weights are maintained, they are in better body condition and the wean-to-estrus interval drops.

  7. Control heat stress. For every one degree increase in temperature above 65° F, sow feed intake is depressed 0.2 lb. Try wet feeding or feeding smaller meals more often. Keep feeders clean. Provide the proper water flow rates. Keep sows healthy.

  8. Increase nutrient density of feed. If efforts to increase feed intake are not successful, feed up to 10% added fat, but watch for rancidity problems. In 16 of 19 studies, added fat depressed feed intake but increased energy intake.

  9. Use feed additives to boost performance. Data has shown adding 200 ppb of chromium increases litter size, reduces sow death and improves rebreeding.

  10. Feed fiber to gestating sows. Early work points to improved litter size, lactation feed intake and possibly health and welfare advantages.