In today’s environment of volatility, areas of consistency can be maximized for added value. Though swine producers may not always be able to predict input prices or market values, sow rations should be formulated and body condition scoring protocols implemented, so body condition scores (BCS) remain steady through the production cycle.  

Mike Hemann, Great Lakes region swine nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition LLC, encourages producers to maintain a BCS of 2.9 to 3.0 on a scale of 1 to 5 within their sow herds. Sows with a BCS of 3 will have backfat measurements of 0.59 to 0.86 inches and the sow’s ribs, hips and backbone will be able to be felt with firm pressure but not observed visually.

Hemann points to nutrition as one of the most significant influencers of BCS and recommends that the herd’s baseline ration be formulated so that sows can maintain the ideal BCS of 2.9 to 3.0.

“Nutrition comes into play in a big way when we look at herd health and sow longevity,” he says. “Feeding sows so they have consistent, healthy body condition scores can improve longevity and help the sow become capable of producing 30 full potential pigs in one year.”

Along with the potential for improved birth weights and higher productivity in lactation, Hemann says that sows in ideal body condition may return to estrus quicker post-weaning. Reducing the days between weaning and estrus can then influence efficiency within the herd by helping the sow move onto her next litter quicker.

“We want to try to reduce the days to return to estrus as much as possible and get that number as close together in the group of sows as we can,” Hemann says. “Keeping that number low and individual body condition scores steady come from managing nutritional intake during lactation and then making sure sows are not under-conditioned going into the breeding barn.”

Hemann says that the most efficient sows will return to estrus in 4.5 to 5 days on average post-weaning. In addition to proper nutrition, routine body condition scoring protocol can promote consistent condition. Herds that have consistent BCS typically have one or two people trained in the process whose focus is routine BCS evaluation. These employees are responsible for adjusting feed drops in gestation and managing feed intake in order to promote and maintain ideal BCS. 

“A good way to manage this is to divide the herd into four groups,” Hemann says. “Each week one group is evaluated for BCS, allowing all sows in the herd to be evaluated on a monthly basis for BCS by the assigned employees.”

Hemann encourages managers to post a list of the sows to be evaluated in the farm office on a weekly basis to keep the process top of mind. After evaluating the condition of the sows, rations can be adjusted accordingly so ideal BCS is maintained through all production stages.

“The key to consistent productivity is to maintain adequate body condition in gestation, to return sows to ideal body condition as soon as possible after breeding and then to maximize intake during lactation,” Hemann says. “One way to promote and help maintain consistent BCS is to have fresh feed in front of sows at all times and then to stimulate them to eat several times per day during the lactation period.

“Properly conditioned sows are better able to care for their litters, will come out of lactation in better condition and may return to estrus quicker,” he says, adding that properly conditioned sows are typically healthier overall.

Swine producers, veterinarians and nutritionists can learn more about the Feeding for 30 Program and access nutritional resources clicking here.   Management tips also may be received by texting “FF30” to 31256.