The animal Article of the Month for July is entitled ‘Neonatal piglet survival: impact of sow nutrition around parturition on fetal glycogen deposition and production and composition of colostrum and transient milk’.

The prolificacy of sows has been enhanced pronouncedly by genetic improvements during the past 2 decades but piglet mortality that is particularly high around birth due to stillbirth and due to preweaning mortality has also increased at the same time. These changes are illustrated for Denmark and France in the figures below.

The great loss of piglets is of major economical concern for the farmers and of ethical concern for the consumers. The preweaning mortality is high because newborn piglets have a high requirement for energy. Concomitantly, newborn piglets have only scarce amounts of body energy that could be used as early nutrition.

As a consequence, piglet intake of colostrum is crucial to avoid neonatal death, because colostrum must ensure an adequate supply of energy at the day of birth. Some sows produce insufficient amounts of colostrum, and this becomes fatal for the piglets as they must consume adequate amounts of colostrum to survive until milk secretion begins.

Even in sows with sufficient colostrum production, some piglets ingest inadequate amounts of colostrum, because the sow colostrum is not distributed evenly among the littermates. Intake of colostrum is therefore necessary to avoid neonatal death in the short term (due to lack of energy) but insufficient colostrum intake may also be important for piglet survival in the long run due to the impact on the immune status of the piglets.

Theoretically, energy status of neonatal piglets may be improved by one of four traits which potentially could be affected by sow nutrition: increasing energy depots at birth, increased colostrum production, decreased time until milk production begins or increased milk yield when milk production begins.

This review presents the current knowledge on how sow nutrition affects these four traits. It reveals that energy depots at birth hardly can be changed by sow feeding and, at present, it is questionable whether sow nutrition may affect the time when milk production begins or the milk yield right after.

We concluded that altered nutrition of late gestating sows seemed to be a promising way of increasing the energy supply and the short term piglet survival, and that the mode of action involved increased colostrum production and, to a lesser extent, altered colostrum composition.

Pig mortality in France

Pig mortality in Denmark

Access the full paper here

Authors: P. K. Theil, C. Lauridsen and H. Quesnel

The animal Article of the Month is selected by the Editor-in-Chief and is freely available for one month

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