Successful Farrowing Management: From Pigs to People
Managing farrowing units involves several correct decisions. Here are 10 great tips to help farm managers get the best results from sows, piglets, and employees.
Farrowing is one of the most challenging periods in pig production, since it can bring several risks if not well managed (Ruediger and Schulze 2012). For this reason, successful sow managers are committed to finding the best alternatives for improving productivity and profitability in their systems, as sow and litter performance is critical to the pig production chain (Vila and Tummaruk 2016).
The primary purpose of farrowing management is to improve the number and quality of weaned pigs per sow per year; simultaneously, it can allow sows an adequate return to post-weaning estrus. Thus, Kraeling and Webel (2015) highlight that farrowing management includes multiple procedures to ensure that sows and their litters perform well, including nutrition, environment, health, and animal behavior.
The success of all farrowing management depends on the people who are leading and executing the operations mentioned above. This means that high-quality employees are critical, since better results come from motivated and well-trained people.
Considering that farrowing management includes complex and multifactorial activities, this article highlights ten practical points to help farm managers improve overall performance and increase profitability in the farrowing units. Although employee performance has a great influence on the pigs’ results, the topics presented in this article were divided into two groups — pigs and people — to facilitate reading and help producers identify points that are critical in farm protocols.
As Oliviero et al. (2009) highlighted, sows in the farrowing units give birth to many pigs in a relatively short period of time. This indicates that farm protocols must minimize sow health issues and ensure good performance while decreasing piglet mortality and improving the number of pigs per sow per year.
1. Sow’s Body Condition During Gestation and Lactation
It’s not news that avoiding extremes and fluctuations in a gestating sow’s body condition is one of the biggest goals of sow production, as it is related to poor performance (Beyga and Rekiel 2010). During lactation, weight loss is natural since the sow mobilizes energy reserves for milk yield. Wientjes et al. (2013) observed that body condition changes during gestation and that lactation could influence litter uniformity and piglet birth weight, affecting pre-weaning piglet survival.
It is recommended that body condition assessment be conducted regularly and include all sows, which is not always achievable from a practical standpoint. As such, smart feeding systems have played an essential role in keeping the sows in a better body condition, since they consider that each animal is unique and has specific, individual nutritional requirements.
For example, Gestal 3G is a system for gestation sows in groups that individualize sow nutrition by feeding prescribed amounts or even blending multiple diets for each animal. Gestal 3G also tracks feed intake and offers automated and user-friendly reports that help farm managers improve individual sow body condition management and make more accurate decisions.
2. Sow Feeding Management
Sow nutrition during lactation can be challenging, since these animals require a lot of energy to produce milk and consequently wean a greater number of piglets. Therefore, adequate farrowing management must include operations to measure and improve sow feed intake, which is directly linked to milk production and litter performance. Two essential practical strategies include offering full feed Both techniques are well known for improving sow feed intake and maximizing litter growth but require extra labor when done manually. (Lynch 2001; Cools et al. 2014; Peng et al. 2007).
By recognizing the importance of sow feed intake for the farrowing unit’s overall performance, electronic feeders changed the traditional way of measuring animal feeding behavior, which can now be based on data collection and analysis. Like the Gestal smart feeders, high-tech electronic systems allow on-demand and wet-dry feeding that, in addition to improving sow performance, also minimizes feed and water wastage and spoilage (Peterson et al. 2004).