Recognising that pregnant sows are increasingly being managed in group housing systems, the CRC for High Integrity Australian Pork (Pork CRC ) has driven the production of a manual, ‘Feeding Pregnant Sows in Group Housing Systems’.
Launched by Pork CRC CEO, Dr Roger Campbell at the 2013 Victorian Pig Fair in Bendigo, it was produced with considerable producer input and in conjunction with Australian Pork Limited (APL).
“The manual incorporates much of the information which emerged from earlier Pork CRC research, which effectively turned on its head what we previously thought.
“We now have solid evidence that increasing feed intake of gestating sows in early pregnancy can increase reproduction and that by increasing feed, less dominant sows get adequate nutrition. This is very important with highly competitive group housed sows.
“Conversely, Pork CRC research showed increasing feed in late gestation, even for sows with big litters, had little or no effect, so it seems consistent, early feeding is the trick,” Dr Campbell said.
The manual can be viewed on the Pork CRC website, and hard copies were mailed to Australian pork producers.
Recent findings tended to invalidate the long-held theory that sows, particularly younger parity sows, should be fed at a low level immediately after mating.
Pork CRC supported research by Pieter Langendijk and Rebecca Athorn showed that higher feeding levels in early gestation tended to reduce circulating progesterone levels, but there was adequate supply from the ovaries to maintain pregnancy.
“The breakthrough came from some very intensive and innovative R&D and has been validated commercially. Indeed, their research and other R&D suggest higher feeding levels in early pregnancy may improve subsequent reproduction,” Dr Campbell said.
The results have particular relevance to group housed sows where aggression after mixing can result in the more submissive animals not receiving adequate feed and this has subsequent adverse effects on litter size, according to research by Paul Hemsworth and his group at the University of Melbourne’s Animal Welfare Science Centre.
The launch of the sow feeding manual followed successful sow housing solutions workshops at Toowoomba, Queensland and Melbourne, Victoria, in October 2012.
At the workshops, producers who had transitioned from stall to group housing revealed that group housing could be made to work but there was no ‘best’ way of doing it.
There were, however, factors identified as crucial to success, including ensuring sows had adequate space, reducing aggression and stress in the period immediately after mixing, ensuring sows had adequate nutrition in the first two to four weeks after mixing and, above all, good stockmanship, appropriate supervision and smart management.
According to Dr Campbell, these factors are clearly interrelated and are being investigated in more detail in current Pork CRC projects.
“The good news is several Pork CRC participants are achieving excellent reproduction figures with group housed sows and we hope the new sow feeding manual will assist and inspire those who are only now operating in the group housed sow space,” he said.