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Jun 22, 2022

Top tips on reducing sow stress at farrowing

Jun 22, 2022

When it comes to sow comfort, it is often clear if external factors, such as heat are causing sow stress. However, stress associated with internal factors, such as reduced gut health are much harder to recognise and are often missed.

Hannah Elliott, monogastric technical manager at Lallemand Animal Nutrition explains the benefits of promoting a healthy gut ahead of farrowing.

Digestive discomfort around farrowing can really unsettle sows at a vital time, so ensuring they receive the correct nutrition is crucial to farrowing success.

“During this time, the priority is to ensure that sows have enough energy for farrowing and can produce sufficient volumes of high-quality colostrum to get the piglets off to the best start. Good nutrition and gut health play a pivotal role in achieving both goals,” she says.

A recent trial published in the Journal of Animal Science and Technology has investigated the benefits of feeding a probiotic yeast pre-farrowing to stabilise the gut microbiota and maximise digestive comfort.

Miss Elliott explains that the results indicate that inclusion of the live yeast Levucell SB within sow diets can result in many benefits, including:

  • Reduced farrowing duration
  • Decreased backfat losses
  • Minimised sow and piglet stress
  • Improved colostrum quality

Reducing farrowing duration

The energy the sow has available to utilise is known to impact farrowing duration, with farrowing fatigue typically occurring when there’s a prolonged period between farrowing and the sow’s last feed.

While feeding a higher fibre diet split into three meals a day during late gestation can provide a slow release of energy to sustain the sow during the farrowing process, Miss Elliott explains that inclusion of a probiotic yeast can encourage feed intake to further help avoid an energy deficit.

The trial, which involved 96 sows, found that feed consumption significantly increased when the live yeast Levucell SB was incorporated into the diet. This indicates that the sows were more likely to be receiving the energy required for farrowing and led to reduced backfat loss during lactation.

“A 30% decrease in farrowing time was observed in the same group, with sows also appearing to be in less discomfort and pain, not as nervous, and requiring less human intervention,” adds Miss Elliott.

Increasing colostrum quality

Miss Elliott explains that piglets without the correct quality and quantity of colostrum will always underperform, and increased mortality is typically seen.

“When piglets are born, they have very little energy to maintain their body temperature and therefore rely on colostrum. It’s proven that good quality colostrum favours piglet vitality and immune system maturation, reducing their requirements for antibiotics later down the line.

“Good sow nutrition is a key part of the jigsaw to produce good quality colostrum,” Miss Elliott says.

To better understand the benefits of feeding a probiotic yeast on colostrum quality, the level of immunoglobulins in the colostrum of the control group was compared against the group of sows that had been fed Levucell SB.

“A 6.2% improvement in colostrum quality was seen in sows receiving the yeast, with the average colostrum quality going from 24.18 IgG mg/ml to 25.69 IgG mg/ml,” she explains.

This is demonstrated in figure one, which shows the percentage of colostrum samples ranked poor through to very good quality, comparing the trial sows versus the control group.

Improving piglet performance

As a result of better sow comfort and colostrum quality, Miss Elliott explains that the trial highlighted the associated improvements in piglet health and performance.
“A significant drop in the use of oxytocin to support milk let down was observed, reducing from 66% in the control group to 14% in sows fed Levucell SB.

“This 52% difference in use is significant and highlights that reduced stress at farrowing cuts the requirement for intervention and helps with milk let down. This enables piglets to suckle much sooner, helping to ensure they receive the colostrum required within the crucial six-hour window.”

In addition, the long-term performance benefits of this were clear to see, despite there being slightly less piglets born per sow in the group receiving Levucell SB we saw:

  • A greater number of weaned piglets
  • Lower mortality rates
  • Higher weaning weights

“The benefits of feeding a diet that meets the sows’ nutritional requirements and optimises gut health, can really pay dividends with fundamental improvements in sow and piglet performance seen,” she concludes.


Reference: Sun, H. et al. (2021) Effect of Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii on sows’ farrowing duration and reproductive performance, and weanling piglets’ performance and IgG concentration, Journal of Animal Science and Technology, 64(1), 1-00.