A review of factors influencing litter size in Irish sows
Teagasc, Pig Production Development Unit, Moorepark Research Centre, Fermoy, Co. Cork
Irish Veterinary Journal 2007, 60:359-366 doi:10.1186/2046-0481-60-6-359Published: 1 June 2007
Many factors influence litter size. These include genetics, gilt management, lactation length, parity distribution, disease, stress and boar fertility. In the past 20 years, litter size in Irish sows has increased by only one pig. Born alive figures now average at 11.2 pigs per litter. In this regard, Ireland is falling behind our European competitors who have made significant advances over this time. Denmark, for example, has an average figure of 12.7 pigs born alive per litter and France an average of 12.5. The single area that could be improved immediately is sow feeding. It is important that sows are fed correctly throughout pregnancy. If over-fed during pregnancy, sows will have depressed appetite during lactation. If underfed in pregnancy, sows will be too thin at farrowing. The correct way to feed a pregnant sow is to match her feed allocation to her requirement for maintenance, body growth and growth of her developing foetuses. During lactation, sows should be given as much feed as they can eat to prevent excessive loss of body condition. Liquid-feed curves should be such that lactating sows are provided with a minimum mean daily feed supply of 6.2 kg. A small proportion of sows will eat more and this could be given as supplementary dry feed. Where dry feeding is practised in the farrowing house, it is difficult to hand-feed sows to match their appetite. Ideally ad libitum wet/dry feeders should be used. From weaning to service, sows should once again be fed ad libitum. If liquid feeding, this means giving at least 60 MJ DE (digestible energy) per day during this period. If dry feeding, at least 4 kg of lactation diet should be fed daily. The effort spent perfecting sow feeding management on units should yield high dividends in the form of increased pigs born alive per litter.