The economic environment has fundamentally changed the perspectives of swine farmers and the profitability of production in the past few years. ASP, COVID-19, sky-rocketing energy prices and increased feed costs have all contributed to the deepening of the crisis. The ban of ZnO, an additive routinely used in piglet feed in the past and the stricter regulation of the preventive use of antibiotics also contributed to the problem.
Based on the past few years of research and development, it is fair to say that we have not yet found an additive that can fully replace ZnO in piglet feed. Different types of feed have been developed by specialists at Bonafarm–Bábolna Takarmány Ltd. and the Swine Division of Bonafarm and used with good results in farms in the past 1–2 years, but we considered it important to develop a comprehensive concept aimed at increasing the number of healthy pigs arriving at the nurseries and fattening units. To achieve this goal, it is vital to wean piglets at larger weights, since we know that lighter piglets are more prone to diarrhoea even under good housing and management conditions.
Depending on genetics and the number of live born piglets, we have to achieve a weaning weight of at least 6.5 to 7 kg at a weaning age of 26 to 28 days!
The farrowing house requires the most attention and the highest number of employees on a swine farm, which is understandable, considering the fact that the requirements of both the sow and the piglets have to be met at the same time. In order to be successful, work has to start before introducing the sows: the rooms have to be repaired, cleaned and disinfected, and all equipment has to be checked. It is common to see that not enough time is allocated for disinfection and down-time, and rooms are disinfected before they are fully dry. Wet floors will decrease the efficiency of disinfection, so it is important to perform disinfection at least 2 to 3 days before moving the sows and only after the room has been heated and allowed to fully dry after cleaning. It is recommended to check the efficacy of disinfection periodically by determining bacterial counts.
Sows and gilts should be moved to the farrowing house 5 to 7 days before the expected farrowing and should be washed and dewormed beforehand. We frequently see that the farrowing rails are not fitted to the size of the sow, although this could prevent piglets from being crushed by the sow in the first days of life and thus reduce piglet mortality.
Ventilation is another frequently underestimated issue. A sow needs 15 m3 of fresh air every hour during farrowing. Many studies have shown that inadequate air supply increases the length of farrowing and as a consequence the number of stillborn piglets. The most challenging periods are the cold winter and the hot summer periods, because it is more difficult to provide both optimal temperature (18-22 oC) and optimal air exchange at the same time. In the winter months lower temperatures may lead to an increased nutritional requirement for maintenance, thus increasing feed costs (+100 g feed for every 1 oC under 18 oC). In the summer heat feed intake drops, causing a drop in milk production and even heart failure in more severe cases. Taking into consideration the weather we experienced in the past few years, we can conclude that cooling of the farrowing houses is of major importance! This can be achieved by using different technologies, such as cooling panels or tunnel ventilation to provide optimum room temperature for the sows.
The photos were taken in the farrowing house of Búzakalász Mg. Szövetkezet in Mélykút.
Temperature requirements of the new-born piglets are significantly higher: 30–32 oC at birth. This can only be achieved by providing additional heat sources. Providing a heat mat, a creep area, a heat lamp or a combination of these will solve the problem. We often see on some farms that these additional heat sources are switched off, because “it’s summer”. Suckling piglets are prone to cold even in summer if the temperature is below the optimum! Temperature can be checked by using infrared thermometers, but the best way to check piglet comfort is to see how the piglets are distributed in the crate!
Nutrition of the breeding animals is a key determinant of weaning weight and health status of the weaned piglets. Sows are fed a ration of 3–4 kg in the last third of gestation, before being moved to the farrowing house. In the farrowing house they are fed lactating sow feed or transition feed in the same amount. Crude fibre content of the latter is high, almost as high as in the dry sow feed, but the crude protein and energy content is closer to that of the lactating sow feed. We recommend using transition sow feed on farms experiencing problems around farrowing, because the high fibre content helps reduce obstipation and the risk of MMA syndrome.
After farrowing the feed intake of the sow should show an increase, following a curve that will provide the nutrients required to support the increase in milk production. A steep curve will result in loss of appetite and low milk production, while not increasing the ration quick enough will result in a loss of condition, shoulder ulcers and involution issues in the sows. In practice this curve can be achieved by increasing the ration of 1.5–2 kg fed on the day of farrowing by 400–500 g every day until the maximum intake for the sow is reached. This shows high individual variability, so continuous checks and modification of the amount fed should be a priority for workers in the farrowing house! Feeding is adequate if a small amount of feed is left in the feeder, it is not “cleaned” by the sow until the next feeding. Daily feed intake can be increased by increasing the number of feedings per day, so from week 2 lactating sows should be fed at least three times per day. Meals should be at least 4 hours apart.
Optimum water supply is vital to maximizing feed intake in lactating sows. Water requirement of the gestating sow is 20–30 L, but can be as high as 40–60 L during lactation. Flow rate at the drinkers should be at least 2–2.5 L per minute. This should be checked before introducing the sows, and checked throughout lactation from time to time. Water quality is also of utmost importance, as poor microbiological status or high pH will contribute to the development of diarrhoea in day-old piglets. We recommend the use of organic acids to acidify drinking water in the farrowing house to achieve a pH of 5–5.5, if possible, as well as the use of a filtering system to reduce unwanted iron and ammonia content.
Among others farrowing management, piglet nutrition and treatment, as well as cross-fostering also play an important role in achieving optimal bodyweight and health status of piglets at weaning. These issues will be addressed in upcoming Farm Info publications.
Senior consultant, swine
Bonafarm-Bábolna Takarmány Ltd.