Dr. Peter Kappel Theil at Hankkija's webinar: Late gestation feeding of sows and its impact on sow and piglet performance

Dr. Hannele Kettunen, R & D Manager

Adj. Prof. Dr. Peter Kappel Theil from Aarhus University (Foulum, Denmark) addressed in his presentation given at Hankkija's webinar the importance of ensuring enough energy for the sow for parturition and colostrum production.

Check my previous blogs for an overview of the other 2 presentations by our guest speakers:

"The relevance of gut integrity and a hypothesis on how resin acids can strengthen the intestinal barrier: a broiler chicken example" by Dr. Filip Van Immerseel (Ghent University)

"Challenges of large litters and their management" by Dr. Claudio Oliviero (University of Helsinki)

During late gestation, the energy demand of sows stays more or less stable, but increases severalfold for the lactation. The transition period is a very critical time for the reproductive success of the sow, as she undergoes large hormonal changes and needs to adapt to a high energy intake.

During farrowing, energy is needed for nest building activity, uterine contractions and production of colostrum. The energy increase during the nest building phase becomes significant even when the sow does not actually have a possibility to build a nest: the heat production of the sow doubles because she stands a lot during this activity. It has been observed that dietary sugar beet pulp significantly reduces the standing activity and heat production of sows, and may thus reduce the energy requirement of sows during late gestation.

Professor Thiel and his research group have observed that nutrition plays an important role in farrowing success. The last meal before parturition is especially important, and should provide the sow with enough slow-release energy. A fiber-rich last meal is very beneficial for the farrowing sow, because of the slow release of energy in the form of short chain fatty acids by cecal and colonic microbes. The uptake of short chain fatty acids from fiber stays constant for 24 hours, and allows the sow to stay active throughout the farrowing. In contrast, the energy uptake from starch (in the form of glucose) peaks at 30 minutes after the meal and starts to decline rapidly thereafter. If the last meal before farrowing is low in fiber and high in starch, the sow may become energy depleted during farrowing.

The energy reserves of the sow can be monitored by following the blood glucose levels during the parturition. In sows fed with a high-starch, low fiber diet, the blood glucose may decline already during the nest building phase, leaving the sow weak at the onset of farrowing. A low energy status at the start of parturition increases the farrowing duration, the number of stillborn piglets and the need for assistance in labor. Prof. Theil compared farrowing to a marathon: it should be completed before the plasma glucose level drops critically low.

It is noteworthy that the uterus mainly uses glucose to produce the contractions. With enough fiber in feed, the sow can prioritize the plasma glucose for uterine contractions and also for the production of lactose for the colostrum, while allocating short chain fatty acids for other energetic needs such as the production of fat for the colostrum. Unlike previously thought, colostrum is mainly produced after the first piglet is born, so the quantity and quality of colostrum depend on the energy and nutritional status of the sow during parturition.

The impact of colostrum intake on the survival of piglets cannot be emphasized too much. A piglet needs at least 250 grams of colostrum to get enough energy and immunoglobulins for survival, and an increasing amount of colostrum per piglet results in improved piglet performance. In the hyperprolific modern sows, the capacity to produce enough colostrum for all piglets is challenged. The production of colostrum and the fat content of colostrum can both be increased by dietary fiber amendment to the sow. Sugar beet pulp and pectin residues are especially beneficial in this respect. Besides fiber, the colostrum yield can be increased by specific feed materials, such as the resin acid containing Progres®. This was the topic of Dr. Shah Hasan’s presentation later in the webinar.

Have a look at the article describing the impact of resin acids on sow colostrum yield and quality: Hasan, S., Saha, S., Junnikkala, S., Orro, T., Peltoniemi, O., Oliviero, C., (2018). Opens external link in new windowLate gestation diet supplementation of resin acid-enriched composition increases sow colostrum immunoglobulin G content, piglet colostrum intake and improve sow gut Opens external link in new windowmicrobiota. Animal. 1–8.