Kansas State University resear- chers have found a way to help you take the guesswork out of feeding pregnant sows.

The findings, they say, could help producers save $6 or more per sow annually. Depending on the operation’s size, that could add up to several thousand dollars in feed savings.

“What we’ve done,” says graduate student Malachy Young, who led the Kansas State trials, “is develop an objective way to feed gestation sows based on backfat thickness and weight.”

The researchers are using ultrasound to measure a sow's backfat, determined by the distance to lean muscle behind the sow’s last rib. The sow’s gestation feeding level is set according to that initial measurement.

That’s similar to how it has been done, but most producers trust their eyes to determine body condition and how the sow should be fed. The key is using ultrasound to measure the sow’s backfat, Kansas State researchers have increased the percentage of sows that have ideal body condition at farrowing, compared to visual scoring.

Young says ultrasound backfat measurements also save time. Once the feeding program is established, the trials show it’s not necessary to re-adjust the sow’s feeding level.

“We might do a visual feed inspection at seven weeks,” says Young.

An added benefit is that ultrasound can help curb high sow turnover on farms. “Modern sows are younger and leaner at mating. They have poorer appetites, are more fertile and produce more milk than sows five or 10 years ago,” Young says. “Our challenge is to develop feeding programs that support this new performance level.”

The ultrasound that Kansas State researchers use costs between $400 to $500, and requires “a few hours of training,” says Young. The researchers also are developing a chart that will outline specific guidelines for feeding pregnant sows based on backfat measurements.

For more information, interested persons may contact Kansas State University, go to www.ksu/edu or call (785) 532-6131 for more information.