Piglets and sow suckling© Tim Scrivener

Additional margins of up to £338 can be achieved by increasing UK sow litter sizes to 21 piglets, research has revealed.

Using findings taken from a peer-reviewed study (Variation of piglets’ birth weight and consequences on subsequent performance, Livestock Production Science), which looked into the variation of piglet birthweight and overall performance, Steve Jagger, pig nutritionist at feed company ABN, and his team calculated the optimum economic margin for UK sow litter sizes.

Calculations were based on:

  • The number of piglets weaned
  • Growth rates over a 23-week period
  • The value of the whole litter at 23 weeks

This helped to identify the total margin per litter, and additional margin per sow, explains Dr Jagger.  

The results show that the best margin can be achieved by producing 21 piglets per litter, with typical mortality levels (download a table outlining the most economic litter size [PDF] ).

“This can result in an additional margin per sow of £337.65, when calculated from a baseline of nine piglets.

“This offers a real opportunity for producers, particularly with the volatility in commodity and pig prices to contend with,” he adds. 

Balancing risk

Dr Jagger explains there is the associated risk that increasing litter sizes results in small piglets with a reduced chance of survival.

Improving the viability of piglets from larger litters is clearly an area where further developments are required from a genetics and nutrition point of view, he adds.

In conjunction with the University of Leeds, ABN and nutrition company AB Neo are undertaking a four-year PhD research project looking into the effect of maternal nutrition on piglet viability.

It is hoped the work will help create a diet that is optimum for the modern sow, supporting them during gestation, as well as piglets at the point of birth.

“With the research that we are carrying out, we hope this will go hand-in-hand to help increase piglet welfare and survival rates, and make these margins realistic on-farm,” says Dr Jagger.