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Strategies to optimise gilt lifetime performance

Project Summary 

Efficient and profitable pig farming is hugely dependent on the lifetime performance of breeding sows. A sow becomes profitable after her 3rd litter, but currently 32% of Irish sows are culled before this point. In fact, Irish sow longevity is declining. Thus efforts to improve sow lifetime performance should focus on longevity, as well as factors such as the numbers of piglets sold per sow per year, and kilos of pigmeat produced. Nutrition of the developing gilt (a sow before her first litter) plays a significant role in lifetime performance. Irish replacement sows are commonly reared with finishing animals, and thus provided with an ad libitum, energy rich diet. The high growth rate and good body condition associated with this type of diet during development is associated with large litters, reduced age at puberty and age at first estrus, as well as high milk production. However, high developmental growth rates also cause limb weakness that predisposes the sow to lameness and culling, and can cause pain and stress, further negatively affecting performance of the sow and her offspring. This study will identify nutritional strategies to optimise development and longevity of replacement gilts, focusing on mammary development and limb health.

Expected benefits

  • Identification of the most common and successful gilt rearing strategies currently in use in Ireland
  • Determine whether addition of minerals to the diet can reduce limb problems in mixed sex groups
  • Investigate the effect of social stress and rearing with makes on female development
  • Identify an optimum rearing strategy with regard to optimising mammary development while minimising risk of limb disorders
  • Determine whether piglets from healthy sows perform better than those from sub-optimal sows.


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