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Solving milk-production issues at hog farms

March 16, 2018

At many modern hog operations, producers breed pigs whose genetic lines may cause them to give birth to more piglets than they have teats. When this happens, sows can't make enough milk to ensure that all of their piglets grow properly. Compounding the situation, a number of sows who have not yet given birth (known as "gilts") may have a weight problem that affects how their mammary glands develop, and, in turn, how much milk they will make—and this can also have an adverse effect on piglet growth.

Dr. Chantal Farmer, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Research and Development Centre in Sherbrooke, Quebec, recently led a research project to study mammary gland development among sows. Carried out under the pork science cluster, "Swine Innovation Porc", in collaboration with Hypor (an international swine genetics company) and the Centre d'insémination porcine du Québec, her project led to an important discovery for hog producers.

Dr. Farmer discovered that among gilts, the thickness of the fat on their backs influences how their mammary glands develop. Too little or too much fat toward the end of a pregnancy can lead to under-developed mammary glands—and insufficient milk for the litter.

The optimal fat thickness depends on the type of pig. For example, gilts that are Yorkshire crossed with Landrace should have a backfat thickness of 17 millimetre to 26 millimetre late in their pregnancies for maximum mammary development and milk production.

This discovery will benefit farms that specialize in breeding sows. Producers will be able to use this information to figure out which sows need help. Ultimately, the goal is to increase piglets' growth rate.

This is just one example of how scientific research carried out by AAFC is helping to boost profits at Canadian hog farms.

More information on Dr. Farmer’s research can be found in Chapter 4 of The Gestating and Lactating Sow.

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