Pieter Langendijk, senior research scientist with Trouw Nutrition, speaks to The Pig Site about sow management and its impact on stillborn piglets. Langendijk has worked for Trouw Nutrition for seven years focusing on sow R&D, specifically looking at how nutrition can improve sow performance.
Global picture of perinatal mortality
“If you look around the world, the numbers will vary, but on average from each litter born, we are losing around 20% to 25% of the piglets, that's from birth up to the point of weaning, and most is due to perinatal mortality,” said Langendijk. “Those piglets that die during the farrowing process is around 7% to 8%, then we lose another 10% to 20% during the first week of life. Altogether losses add up 20% to 25% mortality.”
This is a challenging period in terms of managing the sow, but there are several things producers can do in terms of general management but specifically nutrition to reduce preweaning mortality.
“This is the transition period, but interestingly, not many people have a transition concept or plan in place. There are transition diets but no more than 10% of producers actually use transition diets for sows, leaving a big gap but an opportunity to improve those numbers,” he explained.
“For example, a typical transition diet would have high fiber content - much higher than in a typical lactation diet, which is interesting because when we move sows from the gestation unit to the lactation unit, we switched them from the gestation diet - high in fiber - to a lactation diet, which is typically low in fiber. That's something we shouldn't be doing because we know that fiber helps to prevent constipation.”
Fiber also supports transit of the feed through the gut and when a compromised transit of feed occurs through the gut, it can cause endotoxemia which can result in problems with milk production like mammary edema.
Another example is calcium management. When sows go into the farrowing process, blood calcium levels typically drop because of the requirement for colostrum production and due to uterine contractions. When sows cannot manage this drop in calcium, the farrowing process will be compromised. The consequence is that sows will experience a longer farrowing process with increased stillborn piglets. Calcium management through nutrition is an aspect that producers can tackle with transition diets.
“We know from the dairy industry that you can manage calcium levels in cows, in their case, by regulating calcium levels and by reducing the electrolyte balance in the diet,” he said. “We need to spend time on researching those kinds of concepts and see how they can be applied in sow nutrition as well.”
Barriers to implementing a transition diet include the added investment of additional equipment as an extra feed line may need to be added through the barn and a silo added to store the transition diet.
“We can gain a lot when we focus more on this transition period because you're not only weaning piglets, but we're also weaning vitality,” he noted. “By improving the transition period, we win more piglets that are born alive, but we also gain quality of the piglets, so we are dealing with a better pig by the time they're weaned.”