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Optimising output per sow

Project Summary

Sow output in Ireland is below that in more efficient pig producing countries. If an Irish 500 sow unit could increase output to that achieved in The Netherlands (26.5 pigs/sow/year), net profit p.a. would increase by €35,650. This would further stimulate growth of the national herd. Welfare and ethical concerns mean that genetic selection for hyper-prolificacy has received negative publicity in other countries where large litters of light, marginally viable pigs are associated with increased mortality. Hence, increases in sow output in Ireland should be achieved in a more sustainable manner. The objective of this project is to increase sow output by:

  1. Improving sow nutrition (feed allowance, L-carnitine, L-arginine, fish oil, vitamin D supplementation, fermentable substrates) to maximise the sows’ genetic potential for large litters while also increasing the viability of the additional piglets born
  2. Improving colostrum quality to reduce piglet mortality
  3. Implementing pre-weaning interventions (nurse sows, rescue decks and energy supplementation) to keep weak piglets alive.

Archived databases from sow nutrition studies will be mined and animal experiments conducted. Best practice guidelines for optimisation of sow output will be prepared and results will be disseminated effectively to enable prompt adoption by stakeholders with the aim of realising Harvest 2020 targets.

 Expected benefits

  • Benchmarking of Ireland compared to other EU countries regarding annual output per sow, and identification of areas where improvements can be made
  • Increasing the number of pigs produced/sow/year using nutritional and management strategies
  • Improving the chances of survival of live-born pigs, maintaining the industry mortality average.
  • image of the Irish pig industry as the project focuses on increasing sow output sustainably, by minimising piglet mortality and maximising health and welfare.
  • Increased profitability in the pig sector.

Publications & Presentations


  1. Schmitt, O., O’Driscoll, K., and Baxter, E. 2018. Exploratory study of the effects of Intra-Uterine-Growth-Retardation and neonatal energy supplementation of low birth-weight piglets on their post-weaning cognitive abilities. Animal Cognition. Accepted.
  2. Schmitt, O., O’Driscoll, K., Baxter, E. and Boyle, L. 2018. Artificial rearing affects the emotional state and reactivity of pigs post-weaning. Animal Welfare. Accepted.
  3. Schmitt, O., O’Driscoll, K., Boyle, L. and Baxter, E. 2018. Artificial rearing affects piglets pre-weaning behaviour, welfare and growth performance. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 210:16-25.
  4. Schmitt, O., Baxter, E., Boyle, L. and O’Driscoll, K. 2018. Nurse sow strategies in the domestic pig (Sus Scrofa): Consequences piglet growth, suckling behaviour, and sow nursing behaviour. Animal. Published online July 2018 https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731118001702
  5. Lavery, A. Lawlor, P.G., Magowan, E., Miller, H.M., O’Driscoll, K. and Berry, D.P. 2018.  An association analysis of sow parity, live-weight and back-fat depth as indicators of sow productivity. Animal. Published online July 2018https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731118001799
  6. Schmitt, O., Baxter, E., Boyle, L. and O’Driscoll, K. 2018 Nurse sow strategies in the domestic pig (Sus Scrofa): Consequences for the selected measures of sow welfare. Animal. Published online July 2018https://doi.org/10.1017/S175173111800160X

Teagasc Personnel

Funding body

  • Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, funded by the Irish Government under the National Development Plan 2007-2013

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