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Oct 12, 2021

Top tips on maximising sow comfort

Oct 12, 2021

Inadequate sow conditions can result in long farrowing times, which can be detrimental to sow and piglet health and therefore business profitability. With this in mind, Mark McFarland explains what producers can do to maximise sow comfort and achieve a successful farrowing.

Sow comfort is a key factor which influences colostrum quality, piglet vitality and farrowing times. All of which are fundamental to herd performance.

“Producers should prioritise sow comfort as it’s paramount to achieving healthy, high performing pigs, and there are practical steps that can be taken to achieve this.”

Internal factors influencing sow comfort

Nutrition is the main internal factor which influences sow comfort, but there are many components within this to consider.

Farrowing fatigue

No feed remaining a good sign of sow comfort

“Farrowing fatigue is the term used for when sows farrow for a long time, and this is usually caused by a lack of energy.”

Farrowing fatigue usually occurs because of a prolonged period between farrowing and the sow’s last feed. To help avoid this, feed three meals a day in late gestation and a higher fibre diet.

“Making sure the diet is high in fibre, especially around gestation, is important as it provides a slow-release energy that sustains the sow during the farrowing process. A high fibre diet also helps reduce the risk of constipation and MMA (Mastitis, Metritis and Agalactia),” he adds.

Digestive system function

The actual function of the digestive system has a major impact on sow comfort.

“Sows with digestive discomfort or constipation will be more unsettled and less likely to exhibit normal lying behaviour. This means the piglets will not be able to suckle properly, increasing the chance of crushing,” he adds.

Feeding a probiotic live yeast, such as Levucell SB has many benefits:

  • Stabilises the gut microbiota, helping to maximise digestive comfort
  • Helps increase sow feed intakes pre and post farrowing, which will maximise colostrum and milk production
    • Benefits also extend from sow to piglet. The positive sow gut microbiota is transferred from mother to new-born via the manure. This means piglets will have a more developed gut from the outset, better able to digest nutrients and more robust to pathogenic challenges

External factors influencing sow comfort

There are several external factors that influence sow comfort, such as lying space, nesting capability and water accessibility. These are all factors that producers can manage and change.

Sow signals

The sow signals guide can help producers visually assess sow comfort, by reviewing:

  • Faeces consistency
  • Lying behaviour
  • Feed intakes
  • Milk let down
  • Piglet suckling

 Sow lying behaviour

Lying behaviour is one of the most important factors which influences sow comfort.

Ideal relaxed lying behaviour

“24 to 48 hours before farrowing, sows tend to nest, paw and root and then once they get closer to farrowing, they need to be able to lie down in a lateral position so they can paw and paddle. Without the capability to undertake natural behaviour, sows become stressed, which is an increased risk for the newborn piglet’s survival,” says Mr McFarland.


“If sows don’t exhibit good lying down behaviour it can also reduce piglets access to milk and colostrum, which is vital for their immune system and growth,” he adds.

Birthing interval

A good indicator that a sow is struggling during farrowing is the birthing interval.

“The interval between piglets being born should be 10-20 minutes. Anything over 20 minutes increases the risk of stillborn or compromised pigs.”

Water consumption

Water consumption is another factor for producers to consider.

“Sows need free access to good quality water at all times during farrowing. Placing a small bucket of cold water in the farrowing pen can be a good option, as this also allows the sow to dip her nose and mouth in it,” says Mr McFarland

Heat stress

“Ensure the farrowing houses have adequate ventilation during the summer months, as heat stress can extend farrowing duration, increasing the health risks to sow and piglets,” he adds.

“Maximising sow comfort is key to achieving top level performance. It influences crucial parameters including piglet survival, growth and overall herd productivity and should, therefore, be regularly reviewed on farm,” concludes Mr McFarland.

CLICK HERE to download a copy of our Sow comfort signals guide