You are on page 1of 6

Vol. 22, No.

9 September 2000

CE Refereed Peer Review

Feeding Management
★ Management can use a simple
During Sow Lactation
method to prevent energy
Kansas State University
deficiency in lactating sows.
Steve S. Dritz, DVM, PhD
Mike D. Tokach, PhD
KEY FACTS Robert D. Goodband, PhD
Jim L. Nelssen, PhD
■ Energy intake during lactation
affects subsequent fertility in
early-weaned sows. ABSTRACT: The scientific evidence is clear that the energy intake of sows should be maxi-
mized during lactation. However, swine farm personnel often do not provide enough dietary
■ A lactating sow’s need for dietary energy to lactating sows. This article briefly reviews the scientific evidence, provides case
lysine depends on energy intake. studies in support of maximizing energy intake during lactation, and describes a simple way to
ensure that energy intake is maximized during this period.
■ The best way to increase energy
intake is to increase the total feed

intake. he optimum feeding patterns for lactating sows continue to be debated
among veterinarians. However, research clearly shows that restricting
■ The feed intake of lactating feed, protein, or energy intake during any period of lactation will reduce
sows can be verified from milk production, decrease litter weaning weight, and impair subsequent repro-
feed deliveries. ductive performance.1–5 The adverse influence on reproduction is particularly ev-
ident during summer months and can contribute to seasonal infertility.
■ Simple methods can be followed Energy intake during lactation is especially important for subsequent fertility
to increase the feed intake of in early-weaned sows. With the implementation of early-weaning strategies, the
lactating sows. litter weaning weight has also become more important because pigs weaned at
heavier weights are easier to manage in the nursery.
Many commercial swine farms fail to provide sufficient dietary energy to their
lactating sows. This article briefly reviews the scientific evidence for maximizing
feed intake during lactation and provides practical suggestions for implementing
feeding programs in the farrowing house.


Amino acid and energy intakes are important in influencing lactation and the
reproductive performance of lactating sows. Veterinarians’ understanding of the
protein and amino acid requirements of lactating sows has grown considerably
in recent years. Sows need more lysine to minimize muscle loss and improve
subsequent reproductive performance than is required for milk production.6 In
addition, amino acids other than lysine, including the branched-chain amino
acids valine and isoleucine, are more important for maximum milk production
than was previously believed.7–10 Studies determining amino acid requirements
Compendium September 2000 Food Animal

35 — 16.5 0.4 — 16.5

Mean Luteinizing
Hormone (ng/ml)
Milk Yield (lb)

30 —
11.5 0.3 —
25 — 11.5
0.2 —
20 — 6.5
0.1 — 6.5
15 —

9 15 21 27 33 39 45
9 15 21 27 33 39 45
Lysine Intake (g/day)
Lysine Intake (g/day)

Figure 1—Influence of lysine and energy (Mcal/day of metab- Figure 2—Influence of lysine and energy (Mcal/day of metab-
olizable energy) intakes on milk yield. (From Tokach MD, olizable energy) intakes on luteinizing hormone secretion.
Pettigrew JE, Crooker BA, et al: Quantitative influence of ly- (From Tokach MD, Pettigrew JE, Dial GD, et al: Character-
sine and energy intake on yield of milk components in the ization of luteinizing hormone secretion in the primiparous
primiparous sow. J Anim Sci 70:1865, 1992; modified with lactation sow: Relationship to blood metabolites and return-
permission) to-estrus interval. J Anim Sci 70:2199, 1992; modified with

for sows of modern, high-producing, lean genotypes

have been reviewed.11–14
Farrowing Rate (%)

Although this article focuses on the energy require- 95 –

ments of lactating sows, veterinarians should under-
90 – Higha
stand that the lysine requirement during lactation is in-
fluenced by energy intake (Figure 1). At low energy Meda,b
85 –
intake (6.5 Mcal/day), increasing lysine intake from 9
to 45 g/day has little effect on milk yield.15 However, as 80 – Lowb
energy intake increases to 16.5 Mcal/day, the response
to greater lysine intake increases markedly. These re-

10 13 16 19 22
sults reveal that milk yield depends on lysine and ener-
Weaning Age (days)
gy intakes because the response to one is contingent on
the intake of the other. Thus energy intake must be Figure 3—Influence of three lactation-feed intakes on subse-
considered when recommending lysine for lactating quent farrowing rate. Lines lacking a common superscript
sows. letter differ (P < .05). (From Koketsu Y, Dial GD, King VL:
Energy and lysine intakes also interactively influence Influence of factors on farrowing rate on farms using early
the secretion of reproductive hormones and subsequent weaning. J Anim Sci 75:2582, 1997; with permission)
reproductive performance (Figure 2).5 At low energy in-
take (6.5 Mcal/day of metabolizable energy), increased
lysine intake has little influence on the mean secretion and minimizes the loss of body stores of energy and
of luteinizing hormone (LH). The influence of lysine protein.17
intake on LH secretion increases as energy intake in- The impact of feed intake during lactation on subse-
creases. Thus LH secretion, like milk production, is re- quent reproduction increases as weaning age decreases.1
duced by the restricted intake of lysine or energy. Con- As weaning age is reduced, increased feed intake during
sequently, if energy intake is limited, increased dietary lactation is associated with a greater improvement in
lysine has little effect unless energy or feed intake is in- farrowing rates (Figure 3). The use of high dietary fat
creased simultaneously. levels during lactation to increase dietary energy can
Sows of modern, high-producing genotypes usually improve litter weaning weights but may actually impair
need more energy than is provided by spontaneous subsequent reproductive performance by reducing the
food intake.16 Therefore, these sows typically must mo- number of LH peaks in early lactation.18 Nevertheless,
bilize body reserves during lactation. To maximize the fat intake must not be limited during lactation. The
longevity of these sows, management must use a feed- most practical method of increasing energy intake is to
ing strategy that maximizes feed intake during lactation increase total food consumption.

Food Animal Compendium September 2000
Average Pig Weight (lb)

13 – 12.6 130 – 118

Litter Weight (lb)

12 –
11 – 10.5 110 –
9.7 10
10 – 9.2 9.4 9.3 9.4 89
90 – 85 85 84
9 – 8.4 8.4
7.9 77
8– 70 73 72 74
70 – 65
5 50

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Farm Farm

Figure 4A Figure 4B
Figure 4—Average (A) pig and litter (B) weaning weights (day 16) at 11 farms; farm 11 feeds its sows several times a day.


Relative Frequency (%)

Although most nutritionists and veterinarians agree 50 –
9 lb
on the goal of maximum feed intake throughout lacta- 40 – 12 lb
tion, there is considerable debate on how to achieve it.
How quickly should feed intake be increased in early 30 –
lactation? Some veterinarians advocate feeding extreme- 20 –
ly low levels of feed (2 lb or less) before and immediate-
ly after farrowing. However, field experience shows that 10 –
extremely low intake during this period limits the pro- 0 –

ducer’s ability to increase feed intake rapidly during 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
early lactation. In extreme cases, ulcers can result from
the extended period of low intake around farrowing. Pig Weight (lb)
Figure 5—Distribution of pig weights at two average weaning
The sows go off feed or have a noticeable dip in feed weights.
After the long period without feed, sows often over-
eat if given free access to feed. However, instead of cor- ter weaning weight on farm 11 also was increased (Fig-
recting the cause (i.e., the extended period of little or ure 4). Thus the increased average pig weight was not
no feed intake before and immediately after farrowing) due to having fewer pigs weaned per litter. The litter
of this problem, many producers try to resolve it by weaning weight of farm 11 is nearly 30 lb greater than
limiting the feeding times and amounts of sows that fail that of the best of the first 10 farms.
to feed. Sows should always have access to fresh feed to Why are the weights so much greater at farm 11?
maximize milk production and subsequent reproduc- The employees on farm 11 made a commitment to
tive performance. Therefore, before farrowing and after keep feed in the feeder at all times. They feed multiple
sows have been moved to farrowing stalls, we recom- times per day and readily determine the reason a sow
mend feeding 4 to 6 lb of feed per day. fails to eat. We also believe that providing frequent
feedings of smaller amounts of feed prevents sows from
FEEDING PRACTICES gorging or refusing feed.
Case 1: Effect on Litter Weaning Weight What are the implications of the difference in average
One study tracked the average pig weaning weights pig weaning weights on these farms? Figure 5 illustrates
for the first 20 weeks of production on 11 farms (Fig- the normal distribution of pig weights for two farms
ure 4). All farms have the same sow genotypes and nu- with 9- and 12-lb average pig weaning weights. For the
tritional programs. The average weaning age was 16 ± 1 farm with the 9-lb average pig weight, approximately
days. The average pig weaning weight from the first 10 70% of the pigs weigh less than 10 lb. However, for the
farms was 9.2 lb, with the best farm averaging 10.5 lb. farm with a 12-lb average weight, only 20% of the pigs
The average pig weight from farm 11 is 3.4 lb greater weigh less than 10 lb. Pigs from that farm will be much
than the average of the first 10 farms or 2.1 lb greater easier to manage in the nursery than will be pigs from
than the best of the first 10 farms. In addition, the lit- the farm with a 9-lb average weight.


Compendium September 2000 Food Animal

The extra lactation feed that yielded the increased litter tation feed intake has to be somewhere between 10.2 lb
weaning weight in farm 11 compared with the other farms and 12.2 lb. Thus the cards overestimated the daily
is approximately 4 lb/day. Actual feed deliveries confirmed feed intake.
that lactation feed use was 4 lb more at farm 11. In addition, average litter and pig weaning weights
were examined in the modified rooms with the gesta-
Case 2: Accuracy of Daily Feed-Intake Cards tion feed drops and compared with the overall average.
Another study of a 3000-sow farm with 450 farrow- The litter weaning weight was 111 lb in the rooms with
ing crates illustrates some problems with estimating feed drops compared with the 101-lb farm average.
feed intake during lactation. During a 6-month period, The average pig weight was 12.3 lb in the rooms with
3615 litters were weaned, with an average litter wean- feed drops compared with the 11.2-lb farm average.
ing weight of 101 lb at 19 days of age. In addition, dur- We have found that daily feed intake by individual
ing this 6-month period, 419 tons of lactation feed sows as recorded on feed cards is inaccurate on many
were delivered to the farm. Meticulous feed-intake farms and may lead to a false sense that lactation intake
records were kept, and scoops were weighed periodical- is being maximized. On many farms, we see lactating
ly to ensure accuracy. sows with empty feeders by midmorning after an early-
Two nurseries with feed lines already installed were morning feeding, but farm personnel are reluctant to
converted to farrowing-house rooms. The feed lines provide another feeding because of labor constraints.
were fitted with automatic gestation feed drops over the Eliminating the time used for filling out inaccurate feed
farrowing crates. Multiple times per day, farrowing cards can provide extra time for additional feedings.
house personnel would trip the drops to provide lacta-
The average daily feed intake (14.4 lb/day) during MAXIMIZING FEED INTAKE
lactation was calculated from several hundred of the Various feeding methods can be used to maximize in-
sows’ feed-intake cards. Further calculations were made take. The most important facet of any feeding method
from the amount of milk energy output to support the is to ensure that sows always have access to feed. The
observed litter gain of approximately 70 lb and the simplest method we advocate is to put feed in the feed-
amount of energy intake per day according to the 14.4 er when it is empty. However, many producers are con-
lb/day feed intake. These calculations indicated that the cerned about the ability to detect when sows refuse to
average sow should have been gaining approximately 50 feed. Therefore, we recommend a simple procedure
lb during lactation or litters should have been 30 lb that can be introduced to a variety of personnel with a
heavier. Visual appraisal of the weaned sows indicated minimum amount of training and can ensure the early
that they failed to gain weight during lactation. detection of sows that are off feed.
Lactation feed use was therefore calculated using two Lactating sows should be fed three or four times per
other methods. The first was based on the number of day to ensure that feed is always available. We suggest
crate days according to the following formula: using the following procedure to maximize sow feed in-
take (Table I): Sows should be fed zero, one, or two
Total feed = 419 Tons × 2000 lb = 10.2 lb/day scoops at each of three feedings during the day. If the
Crates × Days 450 Crates × 182 Days feeder contains feed from the previous meal, no feed
should be added. If a small amount of feed remains,
The second method was based on the number of lactat- one scoop should be added. If the feeder is empty, two
ing days: scoops should be added. The only deviation from this
pattern is for days 0 to 2 after farrowing. During that
Total feed = 419 Tons × 2000 lb/ton = 12.2 lb/day time, the producer should decide whether to provide
Litters × 3615 × 19 Days no feed or one scoop at each meal. The sows should
Lactation length not receive two scoops at a single feeding during this
period. The following example depicts the decision
The first method underestimates the average feed in- process at each feeding. A key is to develop a healthy
take during lactation because of the number of days line of communication among employees and thus be
that crates are empty or contain sows that have not far- able to gauge each sow’s appetite for the previous two
rowed but are eating lactation feed. The second or three meals and determine how long sows may have
method overestimates the feed intake because the feed refused feed. Various methods of recording feed intake
given to sows that have not farrowed is counted as feed can be followed, including keeping daily written
provided to lactating sows. However, the true daily lac- records, clipping clothespins on feeders, or rotating far-


Food Animal Compendium September 2000

Recommended Feeding Method to Contribution No. 00-45-J from the Agricultural Exper-
Maximize Intake During Lactation iment Station, Kansas State University, Manhattan,
Amount of Feed Number of 4-lb Scoops to Feed
in Feeder (lb) Morning Noon Evening
Days 0 to 2 1. Koketsu Y, Dial GD, King VL: Influence of factors on far-
None 1 NA 1 rowing rate on farms using early weaning. J Anim Sci 75:
<2 0 NA 0.5 2580–2587, 1997.
2. King RH, Martin GB: Relationships between protein intake
>2 0 NA 0 during lactation, LH levels and oestrus activity in first-litter
sows. Anim Reprod Sci 19:283–292, 1989.
Day 2 to weaning 3. Neil M: Effects of Ad Libitum Feeding in Lactation and the
None 2 2 2 Timing of its Introduction on Sow Performance, report 237.
<2 1 1 2 Uppsala, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 1996.
>2 0 0 1 4. Koketsu Y, Dial GD: Factors associated with average pig
weight at weaning on farms using early weaning. Anim Sci
NA = not applicable. 66:247–253,1998.
5. Tokach MD, Pettigrew JE, Dial GD, et al: Characterization
of luteinizing hormone secretion in the primiparous, lacta-
rowing cards to indicate poor appetite during previous tion sow: Relationship to blood metabolites and return-to-
meals. estrus interval. J Anim Sci 70:2195–2201, 1992.
6. Tritton SM, King RH, Campbell RG, et al: The effects of
dietary protein on the lactation performance of first-litter
Morning Feeding sows, in Batterham EJ (ed): Manipulating Pig Production IV.
All sows should be fed one 4-lb scoop if a small Werribbee, Australia, Australiasian Pig Science Association,
amount of feed remains in the feeder and two 4-lb 1993, p 265.
scoops (i.e., 8 lb) if the feeder is empty. 7. Richert BT, Tokach MD, Goodband RD, et al: Valine re-
quirement of the high-producing lactating sow. J Anim Sci
74:1307–1313, 1996.
Late Morning Feeding 8. Richert BT, Goodband RD, Tokach MD, et al:The effect of
A second feeding should be offered later in the morn- dietary lysine and valine fed during lactation on sow and lit-
ing or immediately after lunch using the same scheme ter lactation performance. J Anim Sci 75:1853–1860, 1997.
of one scoop if a small amount of feed remains and two 9. Richert BT, Goodband RD, Tokach MD, et al: Increasing
valine, isoleucine, and total branched-chain amino acids for
scoops if the feeder is empty. If no feed has been con- lactating sows. J Anim Sci 75:2117–2128, 1997.
sumed since the morning feeding, the sow should be 10. Moser SA, Tokach MD, Dritz SS, et al: The effects of
examined to determine whether it has a fever, retained branched chain amino acids on sow and litter performance. J
pig, or other detectable reason for being off feed. Anim Sci 77:1853,1999.
11. Richert BT, Tokach MD, Goodband RD, et al: Amino acid
requirements for lactating sows: New developments. Com-
Evening Feeding pend Contin Educ Pract Vet 18(4):S127–S143, 1998.
A similar scheme should be followed for the evening 12. Pettigrew JE: Lactation requirements for the sow. Biokyowa
feeding; however, some judgment will have to be used Tech Rev 5:1993.
if some feed is left in the feeder. The sows with good 13. Kerr BJ: Amino acid nutrition of lactating sows. Biokyowa
appetites throughout the day should receive two Tech Rev 10:1998.
14. NRC: Nutrient Requirements of Swine, ed 10. Washington, DC,
scoops, even if some feed remains. One scoop should National Academy Press, 1998.
be fed if feed remains in the feeder but the sow has 15. Tokach MD, Pettigrew JE, Crooker BA, et al: Quantitative
consumed a small amount since the last feeding. Again, influence of lysine and energy intake on yield of milk com-
if the feed has not been touched since the last feeding, ponents in the primiparous sow. J Anim Sci 70:1864–1872,
affected sows should be examined. 1992.
16. Noblet J, Dourmad JY, Etienne M: Energy utilization in preg-
nant and lactating sows: Modeling of energy requirements. J
CONCLUSION Anim Sci 68:562–572, 1990.
The scientific literature shows that lactation feeding 17. Dourmad JY, Etienne M, Prunier A, et al: The effect of en-
impacts litter weaning weights and subsequent repro- ergy and protein intake of sows on their longevity: A review.
ductive performance. Implementing a simple feeding Livest Prod Sci 40:87–97, 1994.
18. Kemp B, Soede NM, Helmond FA, et al: Effects of energy
management procedure can alleviate problems attribut- source in the diet on reproductive hormones and insulin
ed to management-induced energy deficiency during during lactation and subsequent estrus in multiparous sows.
lactation. J Anim Sci 73:3022–3029, 1995.


Compendium September 2000 Food Animal

About the Authors

Dr. Dritz is affiliated with the Food Animal Health and Management Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Drs. Tokach,
Goodband, and Nelssen with the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, Kansas State University, Manhattan.