In order to realize the full productivity potential of today’s sows you may need to plan on feeding more than you have in the past, according to Dr. Gawain Willis, director of nutritional services, Land O’Lakes Purina Feed.

Willis points out that improvements in sow genetics over the past five years have resulted in a total increase of around 2.5 pigs per sow per year, or about a half pig per year. Many sow genetics options have that potential today, Willis says. However, management and nutrition are vital to allow the sow to express that potential.

“I estimate that we need to be feeding sows somewhere between 200 pounds and 300 pounds more feed annually than we were five years ago to support that level of productivity,” Willis says. “Producers have to ask themselves are they really doing that.”

One nutrition area that is crucial in achieving the full potential of today’s sows is lactation. According to Willis, full feed (ad libitum) during lactation is critical for top sow productivity. Willis emphasizes the need for the sow to receive full feed from the day of farrowing all the way through weaning until breeding.

To achieve a sow’s potential also requires good farrowing management skills with close attention to piglet survivability. Willis stresses the need for attended farrowing to ensure each piglet receives appropriate colostrum levels. Split-suckling techniques come into play as well as stimulating newborn piglets to improve their survivability, Willis says. “Picking up the newborn piglet and drying it off well with a towel can help stimulate the pig,” Willis says. “Just the rubbing action can improve the survivability of newborn piglets.”

Don’t neglect your record-keeping. Benchmarking is an important step to confirm that what you are doing is actually paying off in increased sow productivity. “One of the keys is determining where you’re starting from,” Willis says. “You have to know where you are (in a sow’s productivity records) to tell if you’re making improvement or not.”