Segregated early weaning’s disease-control benefits have helped it grow into a prominent and popular management strategy.

But early weaning isn’t without a downside. Subsequent rebreeding of sows tends to be more difficult. Sows weaned early – 18 days or earlier – tend to return to estrus later, post lower farrowing rates and have smaller subsequent litters. (See the accompanying tables below.)

PigChamp records, collected by veterinarian Gary Dial at the University of Minnesota, show the trend toward poorer reproductive performance. However, because of increased throughput, you may still get more pigs per sow per year by weaning early than you would at 21 days or later. Dial also offers data showing that longer lactation lengths may relate to fewer pigs per sow per year.

Each operation varies on the number of pigs a sow can produce per year, regardless of lactation length, notes Don Levis, University of Nebraska extension swine specialist.

Good management can boost your odds of improving reproductive performance out of early-weaned sows. Levis suggests one critical factor is getting feed into lactating sows soon after farrowing. The better the feed intake, the better the sow’s chance of returning to estrus after weaning.

He adds that feeding twice a day seems to help enhance that lactation feed intake. And though it takes some time and effort, it pays to get sows up and on their feet soon after farrowing.

So although SEW can present challenges in the breeding herd, you can overcome those with attention to management. And, of course, you’re providing some key health and growth benefits to the piglets the sows produce.