Address sow condition before winter

Winter rationing may not be at the forefront of pig farmers’ minds, but now is the time to start planning winter sow feed curves and addressing body condition in preparation for the winter months, says BPEX knowedge transfer manager, Helen Thoday.

“Building body condition now to prepare a good body reserve for winter is key to preventing condition loss over the cold months,” she says.

“Preparation should begin at the end of August in case we experience a cold October.” Maintenance must also be increased as we go into the winter proper.

It is essential to prepare sows in advance, agrees vet, Jennie Batt, Larkmead Vet Group. “All too often people wait until we are already experiencing bad weather to address sow feeding. However, by this time it is too late – the animal already has low energy reserves.”

The key is to continuously maintain body condition rather than address it once condition has been lost, says Phil Baynes, commercial technical manager for SCA Nutec.

Sows should be body condition score three to three and a half at service, says Miss Batt. “As soon as sows drop below condition score three it is time to address feeding.”

Service is an excellent time to look at condition, as you will be able to assess animals four times in a row, agrees Mrs Thoday.

A good stockman should look at body condition every week as sows go into farrowing and produce a record sheet for their herd, Dr Baynes continues.

“Ideally, sows should have 20mm of back fat at P2 or be condition score 3.5 as they go into farrowing.”

It is impossible to recover sow condition once they have farrowed, says Mrs Thoday. “Sows that go into farrowing in poor condition will go into negative energy balance. Equally sows in poor condition at weaning will have reduced ovulation rates and poor embryo quality.”

As soon as temperatures drop below 16C, a sow’s maintenance requirements increase dramatically and feeding must be addressed accordingly, says Dr Baynes.

“In an ideal world, sows should be raised on three rations – a winter ration, a spring and autumn ration, and a summer ration.”

And rather than reacting to change in temperature, a higher energy winter ration should be introduced automatically in October.

The maintenance requirements for sows kept outdoors or in open sided barn will be much higher when temperatures drop.

To address this, either the quantity or energy levels in the ration must be increased. “Energy can be increased by using a cereal starch or, more traditionally, introducing higher levels of oil,” he says.

“Dry sows have the potential to eat 6-10kg/day. Because they are usually fed on a restricted diet of about 2.5-3kg/day, there is a lot of room to increase intakes.”

However, because lactating sows are commonly fed ad lib, increasing oil levels in the diet may be the answer.

Now is also the time to look at out door feed face management, Mrs Batt continues. “You can increase feed rates, but if the feed face is not up to scratch you will not get adequate intakes.

“Make sure you are not over using one area, so ground is not poached in the lead up to winter – use the whole feed face or alternate half and half.”

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