Too lean or too fat. Research suggests that 33% to 50% of sows are not in optimal condition. This has a negative impact not only on the sow’s welfare, lifespan and reproduction, but also on the wallet of the sow farmer. An enterprise with 1,000 sows can easily face financial losses of as much as €23,000. It’s time to act!

A sow that is too lean has a poorer reproductive performance

The physical condition of a sow is rated on a scale of 1 to 5. A score of 1 is too lean, while a score of 5 is too fat. It is important to bear in mind that a sow’s condition and its weight are two different issues. While parity and production phase are taken into account in the modern, meat-rich sow, weight is a good indicator of the animal’s condition. A sow with a condition score of 1 is essentially in survival mode: its body is not geared towards reproduction, it produces fewer fertile eggs, and there is a greater risk in terms of return. If such a sow should nevertheless conceive, its offspring are typically smaller and milk production is less than optimal. If this happens as early as the first litter, the sow is likely to be harmed for the rest of her life. A sow that is too lean will yield €65 less per year due to poorer reproduction figures.

Sows that are too fat represent the highest cost item

A sow with a condition score of 5 is too fat and can incur double the costs. A sow that is too fat can experience problems in the farrowing pen. The birth process is slower, because the oxytocin (the hormone that triggers birth) is distributed over more kilograms of body weight, and contractions are therefore weaker. The result is a decrease of 0.5 live-born piglets. Since she cannot regulate her heat, feed intake in the farrowing pen decreases. Milk production worsens, and the piglets get too little colostrum and milk. On the other hand, a sow that is too fat during gestation has eaten too much feed, which has increased her feed costs. In total, sows that are too fat cost an extra €75 per sow per year. In an enterprise with 1,000 sows, where 33% of sows are too lean or too fat, this means 333 sows * €70 = €23,310 loss of income on an annual basis.

Need-based feeding

Keeping a sow in top condition is easier said than done, since feeding based on needs requires skill and labour. As a pig farmer, there are various aspects that you can control:

  1. Hand feeding: this allows you to assess the condition of the sows every day and to adjust the feed curve individually. This is a labour-intensive task that must always be carried out by the same person in order to avoid differences in assessment.
  2. Feeding from a feeding station: at the start of gestation, you determine the condition of the sow and place her on a matching feed curve. At the next condition assessment (usually after 60 days of gestation), you will know whether the feeding schedule has had the desired effect. If not, it will be difficult to make adjustments during the second phase of gestation.
  3. Measuring the thickness of fat by hand: every few weeks, you measure the thickness of the sow’s fat. The feed curve can then be adapted, based on the absolute value and the increase in fat thickness. One disadvantage, of course, is that this is very labour intensive. Besides, modern sows are rich in meat and the absolute value of the fat thickness is not a determining factor in terms of their condition.
  4. Manual weighing: you weigh all the sows once every two to three weeks on a weighing scale. The feed curve is then adjusted, based on an objective measurement of weight gain.
  5. Automatic weight monitoring: the sows are automatically weighed on a daily basis at the feeding station. Animals with insufficient weight gain are placed on a monitoring list, so that you can immediately adjust the feed curve for these sows. This ensures that your sows are in the appropriate condition at 60 days of gestation. In future, it may even be possible for the feed computer to optimise the feed rations itself.

Automation is profitable

The importance of need-based feeding is growing. We demand top performance from the sow, and that includes a top (sport) condition. At the same time, skilled personnel are scarce. Process automation helps you to achieve good results with limited labour. This allows you to keep your enterprise in a good technical and financial condition.

Getting started

Would you like to learn more about the automated solutions available from Nedap, such as Weight Monitoring or Electronic Sow Feeding? Then contact your local Nedap distributor.

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