Through genetic selection and improvement of environment, litter size of sows increases. Increased energy requirement during lactation, increases the risk of excessive mobilization from body stores, with detrimental effects on reproductive performance. Feed intake capacity tends to decrease due to selection towards leaner pigs with a lower feed conversion ratio. However, to facilitate sows to wean large litters extra feed intake, or even better, a higher feed efficiency during lactation would be favourable. The objective of the present study was to describe the dynamics of body composition of sows and piglets during lactation, and to relate these traits to a newly introduced trait called “lactation efficiency”. Energy metabolism of lactating sows was described, based on on-farm observations of weight and backfat of sows before parturition and at weaning, weight of piglets at birth and at weaning and feed intake of sows during lactation. “Lactation efficiency” was defined as energy efficiency of sows, and calculated for individual sows at two different farms. The average lactation efficiency was 68% and 65% for both farms; meaning that 68 and 65% of the metabolisable energy through feed intake or mobilization from body stores, above maintenance of the sow (input), was used for piglet growth and piglet maintenance (output). The association between lactation efficiency and other reproductive traits was studied by estimating the correlations within farms. Sows with a higher lactation efficiency showed lower feed intake (r = - 0.27 and r = - 0.35 for both farms respectively) and smaller fat losses (r = - 0.34 and r = - 0.29, respectively). The energy output of efficient sows was slightly higher (r = 0.23 and r = 0.30). The more efficient sows were the better mothers, as mortality of their piglets was lower (r = - 0.12 and r = - 0.16), piglet growth rate was higher (r = 0.16 and r = 0.23), and at weaning their litters were less variable (r = - 0.08; only available at one farm). Results were remarkably similar for the two farms, despite different feeding strategies. Extra input, by means of feed intake or mobilization from body stores generated extra output by means of litter weight at weaning. This experiment demonstrated that an accurate recording of energy metabolism and relevant reproduction traits with little intervention is possible on commercial farms.
- mammary-gland growth