Feeding added energy to gilts prior to service could help boost fertility, as Sarah Trickett finds out
Flushing livestock prior to breeding may be a familiar practice in the sheep breeding world, but it's a less common practice when it comes to getting gilts cycling.
However, the extra cost of feeding gilts a high-energy ration in the run-up to service could easily pay dividends by the extra pigs born alive.
Two Northern Irish farmers doing just that are Jonathan Cuddy and Gary Anderson of County Tyrone. Both have been flushing gilts and then serving on the third heat and both have seen an increase in number of pigs born alive.
Mr Cuddy has been top dressing gilts' feed with 0.25kg of powdered glucose in the run-up to service. The added glucose is given every day until gilts show second heat, when it is then stopped until five days before the third heat, when gilts receive the added glucose again.
"When we were just feeding a dry sow diet to gilts we were seeing the first heat, but they were slow to come on to heat," explains Mr Cuddy.
"We haven't got the facilities to be feeding a specialist gilt diet, but the added glucose has helped gilts cycle and they now show a definite strong heat."
Mr Cuddy started feeding the extra glucose this summer and at the same time also started serving gilts on the third heat. A combination of both these factors has seen the number of liveborn piglets shoot up from 11.3 to 12.1 in the last couple of months.
"The 0.8 extra pig more than pays for the added glucose - it is a good return on investment. I also believe that the better performance you get out of gilts, the better performance you will see throughout their lives," he says.
Mr Anderson has also been flushing his gilts prior to service as well as serving on the third heat. However, he flushes by feeding gilts a lactation diet.
"When gilts were just on a dry sow diet we couldn't get the backfat on them. Feeding a lactation diet and taking gilts a to heavier weight means we are now weaning more than 12.8 pigs a crate with an average 13.8 born alive."
Eight weeks prior to being moved to the service area, gilts are fed an ad lib lactation diet consisting of 17% protein with amino acids added and 14.4% energy, with feed reduced to once a day feeding in the last week before being moved to the service area.
The lactation diet costs £30/t more than the dry sow diet, but even so, Mr Anderson believes it is still worth the extra cost. "Feeding the lactation diet has not only increased the number of pigs born alive, but the gilts also milk better and can rear 14 or 15 piglets. You need a strong gilt to rear more born alive," he says.
Mark Hawe, pig technologist for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Northern Ireland, says deciding whether to flush gilts very much depends on the individual unit.
"When gilts are producing 12-12.5 piglets born alive on a regular basis or you have not got such prolific genetics in your herd then the potential may not be there to increase numbers born alive by flushing gilts.
"However, when you have got gilts producing litter sizes of 10 and these are from more prolific genetic lines then the potential is there for an extra 1.5 pigs a gilt, so it would be worth trying to flush them," says Mr Hawe.
However, Mr Hawe does express some caution with flushing and feeding heavy amounts around service.
"You have got to control intake throughout gestation and make sure you have good flesh, but not excessive flesh. In-pig gilts are probably the one area we have forgotten about in the breeding herd; you have got to make sure the condition is right at farrowing."
Mr Hawe says it is cost effective to flush gilts. "Assuming the existing 11 piglets pays for the sow then the additional pig is profit," he says.
Sarah Trickett on G+
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