How to Improve Swine Herd Performance through Promoting Sow Lactation Feed Intake

With low feed intake in lactation, sows may utilize their fat and protein reserves and exhibit a decrease in body weight. If severe, this will have a significant impact on reproductive performance and sow longevity. It has been shown that sows which lose 10-12% of their protein mass during lactation will have longer wean to estrus intervals, poorer farrowing rates, and lower subsequent litter sizes (Clowes et al, 1999).

The quality of feed management is likely one of the largest influencers of daily and overall lactation feed intake. In some cases, farms may implement a form of feed restriction in early lactation as a means to avoid udder congestion, hypergalactia, piglet scours, sow constipation, and to prevent sows from “going off feed” in late lactation.

Although care must be taken to not upset the sow, this type of restriction is unwarranted. Sow feed intake lost in early lactation can never be recovered — setting pigs on a path upon which they will be unable to reach peak performance.

Objective: Promote lactating sow feed intake

It is well known that maximizing feed intake of the lactating sow is an effective method to improve overall performance of the sow herd. Day to day feed management remains one of the most critical factors to meeting the nutritional needs of the sow during this phase. Therefore, employing various methods to maximize sow feed intake should be the main objective of any sow lactation feeding program.

Ten ways to increase sow lactation feed intake

Understanding of the various factors affecting sow feed intake is critical to reaching peak consumption levels. Multiple factors may influence feed intake during lactation, such as genotype, lactation length, parity, and litter size. In the following, we provide some practical tips to improve the feed intake of lactating sows.

1. Avoid over-conditioned sows by monitoring gestation feed intake

It is well documented that over-conditioned sows (generally due to high gestation feed intake) will exhibit a reduction in lactation feed intake (Dourmad, 1991; Noblet 1998). Over-conditioned sows will also tend to have more difficulty at farrowing, be slower to recuperate, and have an increase in pre-wean mortality due to crushed piglets.

2. Maintain farrow room temperature of 20℃ to 22℃

The temperature of the farrowing room is often overlooked as a cause of intake problems. With temperatures above 22℃, sows will exhibit a significant reduction in feed intake (Quiniou et al., 2000). It is estimated that for every degree above 20℃, daily feed intake will be decreased by 0.15kg. Though difficult to maintain such optimal farrowing room temperature in tropical regions, all efforts should be made to reduce or alleviate effects of heat stress.

3. Provide an adequate, accessible, clean, and fresh supply of water

Flow rates should be monitored and calibrated to at least 2 L/minute. Nipple waterers should be positioned for full and free access. Water quality should be monitored on a regular basis for chemical and biological components. The use of acidifiers such as Biotronic® Liquid may be a consideration to maintain cleanliness of water lines and promote water intake.

4. Train staff on proper stockmanship and feeding management practices

Labour can be the greatest asset or liability within a swine feeding operation. The human resources working on farm will have a major impact on overall feed intake in a sow production system and should not be underestimated. Staff should be highly trained on observation of sow behavior and the proper way to feed lactating sows.

5. Consider shifting feed form

Pelleted feed will promote higher feed intake versus mash feeds. Control and manage the feed manufacturing process to ensure good quality pellets with a limited amount of fines are delivered and provided on farm.

6. Increase frequency of feeding within properly designed feeders

Feeding smaller amounts of feed over multiple periods will ensure that feed is fresh and readily consumed. If able, feed as many times as possible throughout the day all the while keeping full feed in front of the sow. Monitor feeders throughout the day such that no feed restriction is being observed.

7. Use a target feed curve to monitor intake

Employ a method to monitor the amount of feed provided in comparison to a targeted daily feed amount through the use of lactation feed cards. The use of a target feed curve will assist staff to feed to the required level and is a valuable method to monitor, promote and ensure proper feed intake.

8. Implement an effective mycotoxin risk management program

Pigs are sensitive to mycotoxins, whose negative effects include a range of reproductive and performance problems along with decreased feed intake. A robust mycotoxin risk management program includes regular testing of feed ingredients for mycotoxin contamination and the addition of a mycotoxin deactivator such as Mycofix® Plus to the lactation diet.

9. Ensure adequate nutrition to meet animals’ needs

The content and quality of ration will have an impact on potential feed intake. Diets formulated with the proper energy, balanced amino acids, optimal mineral and vitamin levels will ensure adequate nutrition for the lactating sow to meet her demanding metabolic requirements. Raw materials should be good quality and highly palatable to promote feed intake.

10. Use a phytogenic feed additive

Studies have illustrated that the use of phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) may be an effective method to increase sow feed intake and improve piglet performance. In one such study from Universidad Mayor in Chile, 80 cross-bred (PIC male 337 x Camborough 22) sows were assigned to two dietary treatments with 40 sows per group.

A gestation diet was fed at normal restriction rate (3 kg/d) from day 15 to day 3 before farrowing. Subsequently, a lactation diet was offered ad libitum until weaning. The aforementioned diets were provided as control (no PFA additive) or supplemented with a phytogenic feed additive (Digestarom®, BIOMIN).

It has been shown that certain phytogenics may increase palatability of diets and thus stimulate voluntary feed consumption in pigs (Zhong et al., 2011; Sousa, 2010). As shown in Figure 1, addition of PFA to the diets substantially increased feed intake in the lactation period. The average feed intake in lactation amounted to 6.41 and 7.05 kg for the control and PFA group, respectively.

Figure 1. Increased feed intake during lactation. Source: BIOMIN
Figure 1. Increased feed intake during lactation. Source: BIOMIN

A higher feed intake in lactation combined with improved digestion should result in an increased supply of nutrients for the piglets via the milk. As illustrated in Figure 2, litter performance was supported and a subsequent increase in litter weaning weight was observed. Compared to the control group, PFA improved growth performance of piglets, resulting in 4.2% higher body weight of piglets at weaning.

Figure 2. Increased piglet body weight at weaning. Source: BIOMIN
Figure 2. Increased piglet body weight at weaning. Source: BIOMIN

Table 1 summarizes some of the performance parameters as influenced by supplementation of the diets with PFA.




Piglets born alive per litter



Body weight of piglets at birth (kg)

1.27 1.33

Litter weight at birth (kg)

14.93 15.52

Piglets weaned per litter

10.5 10.7

Litter weight at weaning (kg)

61.83 65.81

Table 1. Phytogenic supplementation improved piglet performance parameters. Source: BIOMIN


In conclusion, maximizing feed intake during lactation is an important component to optimizing sow and piglet performance. Supplementation of a PFA for gestating and lactating sows may increase lactation sow feed intake and overall piglet body weight at weaning, thereby improving the overall performance of sow production operations. It is without doubt that paying strict attention to the sow’s needs and maximizing feed intake in lactation will provide the adequate fuel to drive a profitable swine production system.

References available upon request
This article originally appeared in Asian Pork.