Nutritionists have been examining the health benefits of specific fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids, in pets and humans for several years. Now, Duane Reese, University of Nebraska swine nutritionist, reviewed the topic in the 2004 Nebraska Swine Report.

The omega-3 fatty acids are linolenic; eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA).  Linseed or flaxseed are the most abundant source’s of linolenic acid, canola oil is the next best source. Negligible amounts are found in the other sources of fats and oils. In contrast, fish oils are the only sources of the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.

In his review, Reese found that increasing the omega-3 fatty acid content of sow diets appears to improve litter size, although the response is highly variable. That trend appears to be due to the source, level and timing of feeding omega-3 fatty acids.

He believes it’s possible for producers to improve the profitability of pork production by supplementing sow diets with omega-3 fatty acids. However, Reese advises producers to use some caution before implementing this technology, because of its cost and lack of testing in multiple production systems.