Reduced weight loss in sows and higher weight of the piglets at weaning are the benefits of a new feeding strategy for nursing sows. The idea is to feed the sows according to need with a two-component diet adapted to the changing needs of the sows.

The traditional way of feeding lactating sows does not fully meet their requirements, but a new system, which scientists from Aarhus University are developing in partnership with SEGES – Knowledge Centre for Pig production and DLG, will do so. Instead of using the same feed mixture throughout the nursing period, which is normal practice today, the scientists have fed the sows on a daily basis according to their individual needs with two different feed mixtures. 

“We have fed the sows with two feed mixtures in a so-called two-component feeding strategy. The aim with the experiment was to examine whether this feeding strategy in comparison with a standard fed mixture could minimize the weight loss in sows and improve their milk yield and thus the growth rate of the piglets,” explained Peter Kappel Theil, senior scientist from the department of animal science at Aarhus University. 

The results look very promising, because the sows lost less weight at the beginning of the nursing period and the piglets had a higher growth rate until weaning when the sows were fed according to need with two different feed mixtures throughout the nursing period. 

The traditional way of feeding sows using the same feed mixture throughout the nursing period does not adequately cover their requirements. The nutrient requirements of the sows will alter a lot in the time around and following farrowing. As an example, their lysine requirement increases more than their protein and energy requirement. 

“It is not possible to satisfy the changing requirements optimally in the nursing period by simply giving them a feed mixture with a fixed nutrient ratio,” said Kappel Theil. 

The new feeding strategy means you can feed a more dynamic feed ration to the sows, which is tailored to the animals’ daily lysine and energy requirement in the nursing period. Feeding according to need also means that the sows are allotted more feed in the first half of the nursing period and less in the later half compared with a traditional feeding strategy. 

Seen over the entire nursing period, the sows were given the same amount of feed. There was no difference in the total weight loss between groups. The weight loss in the early lactation was eliminated for the sows on the two-component diet, which on the other hand lost weight in weeks three and four because they had higher milk production than expected. The sows fed the two-component diet had piglets at weaning that weighed 700 g more than those fed only a common lactation diet throughout the nursing period.

“The experiment shows that it is possible to get sows to produce more milk with the same amount of feed, provided that the feed composition and daily allocation match the needs of the sows. It is also possible to reduce their weight loss to less than 10 kg and maybe completely avoid weight loss in the nursing period,” Kappel Theil said.

The results suggest that weight loss in sows is not a prerequisite for a high milk production, but that weight loss in modern high-yielding sows is rather a consequence of the feeding not being optimized. To get the full benefit of a two-component diet, there is a need for more knowledge on the essential amino acid and crude protein requirements of the sows.