Lactation is a complex issue, affected by the appetites of the litter, their frequency of feeding, and the emotional state of the sow. Milk production changes throughout the lifespan of the piglets, adjusting to growth spurts and changes in feeding habits. Sometimes, it’s easy to blame a lack of milk on the sow when the piglets are simply too anxious to feed normally, so the first step towards an increase in milk production lies in ensuring your housing and conditions are as wholesome and stress-free as possible. Milk supply naturally drops with the age of piglets, and if you intend on pushing weaning back to allow your litter to gain more weight, you’ll need to meet additional challenges. Low milk supply can be affected by the sow’s nutritional intake and diet, so it’s important not only to provide excellent feed, but also manage feeding schedules well to keep up with milk production’s supply and demand. Your creep feeding process will help you to achieve this later on. In addition, short nursing lengths can interfere with that cycle.
Diagnosing Low Milk Production
Decreased milk production tends to retard growth and cause diarrhea. You’ll also see more runts in your litter and experience more deaths. There are three common causes: Mastitis, metritis, and agalactia, which are often attributed to calcium deficiency. The problem can’t be solved simply by increasing calcium intake because malabsorption is often caused by calcium metabolism, not calcium intake. Delayed farrowing is one of its most common causes. Calcium levels in feed for pregnant sows has decreased in recent years, particularly in certain countries. You should be providing feed that provides 8 grams of calcium per kilogram, along with phosphorus to further encourage health at every stage of reproduction.
Periparturient Hypogalactia Syndrome (PHS)
Premature drying up of milk production causes weight loss and death in piglets. It often occurs due to overfeeding during the last stage of pregnancy. You might notice oedema due to low fibre levels, which cause E.coli overgrowths. Sows tend to retain water in an effort to water down toxins, and it takes a few days for that oedema to resolve after birth. At this point, milk production stops and piglets starve. The problem can be addressed by providing plenty of raw fibre in feed and by feeding your sows gradually more during the first week of lactation. Most herds present with mastitis in a few sows, and the presence of bacteria is a risk for the entire population.
Metritis is relatively rare but can occur. Mammogenesis is more common and occurs during the first days of milking. It can be reduced by providing all the right nutrients and high-quality feed. Infections can be managed by not reducing wet feed quantities, which sows often use as their main source of fluids. Simply providing plenty of extra water can improve the parturition phase significantly.
Commercial situations rely on milk production that exceeds 11kg a day. This creates a dire need for calories, amino acids, and lysine. Feed should consist of 1.35% lysine. Because sows often lose over 10% of their body weight during lactation, all major amino acids are needed. Methionine, tryptophan, and valine are critical. To keep litter growth at healthy levels, bump feeding is only recommended if your sows are in good condition. This has proven to raise piglet birth rates, giving your litter its best chance of success. Fat is important, not only to boost weight, but to encourage the absorption of other nutrients. Animal vegetable blends provide a natural source of fat, which should be maintained long after weaning. Sow weight loss also reduces the lactation needed to support future litters, making fat one of the most effective ways to improve long-term performance.
Phytogenic additives can support this process, giving sows the genetics to produce enough milk. This way, your pre-weaning stage will come with not only a good quantity of milk, but excellent quality as well. When the gestation and lactation stages are poorly managed, piglet mortality can rise to as much as 30%, so investing in the health of your animals will come with real financial returns.