Short remarks about sow’s lactation.

Pavel Trefilov, Swine Specialist, Genesus Inc.


If you search the internet «sows do not produce milk» or «sows do not produce enough milk» you will find multiple articles, trials, recommendations and expert’s opinions; that often contradict each other.

We all still have a lot of questions related to sows’ lactation, especially in the first few days after farrowing.  Why are these questions relevant? Because many producers often have issues with sows in lactation and there is no universal solution for all farms; as there are not two identical farms in the world, even if they are build the same, have the same genetic, health status and SOP.

Here are a few simple feeding rules, which might be universal for all of producers: 

  • Challenge information

Don’t think that after you read an article or listened to an expert presentation, and implemented all recommendations at your farm, you would be able to solve the issues. The result of change might be the opposite than expected, and you should not feel resentment towards the author or consultant who recommended these solutions; they just not match your farm conditions.

  • There is no “magic pill”

Feed additive market offers a huge selection of different additives for sows in lactation, and all of them promise to increase milk production, weaning weight or solving different kind of problems encountered in lactation


Some of them deserve attention (for example a group of digestaromes), but most of them are just adding cost to the production. Before you start to use any additive, it is recommended to have to have few opinions from independent professionals.

  • Continuity of the diets and ingredients in the diet

Dry sow diet and nurse sow diet are completely different in both nutrients and ingredients. Usually the sow is moved from gestation to lactation area 1 to 3 days before farrowing and immediately she is introduced to lactation diet.  Along with the rapid transition in nutrients; higher protein and energy level, lower fiber level; very often lactation diet has often entirely different ingredients from dry sow’s diets. This sharp transition will lead often to digestive tract stress, imbalanced gut flora, that will influence gut health and milk production (gut health has straight correlation with the milk productivity). Also, quick change from one macro ingredient to another can cause feed stress in any period of lactation, for example 100% replacement of wheat to corn. One option to this problem is to use transition diet

  • Quality and quantity of new born piglets.

Acute scouring first days after farrowing can have direct negative impact for lactation and affects the strategy of sow feeding.

 If litter is strong, number of piglets’ match number of nipples and sow doesn’t have a hard udder, sow can and must be fed full feed from day one.

 If piglets in the litter are low vibe or they damaged by scouring, you should consider feed restriction for sow.

Because of excess milk and no suckling, this will lead to hard udder, slowing milk production and as a result, complete dry udder or drying of last nipples.

  • Sows condition at gestation

The foundation of good milk production and no problems at farrowing begins in gestation. Overfeeding between day 70 to day 90 can lead to replacement of the glandular tissues with fat tissues.

A fat sow is a major problem at lactation!

  • Feed ingredients quality and quantity

Many producers use byproducts in diets to reduce cost of production. Such products can and must be used, but always should be taken into consideration that high inclusion rate might reduce palatability respectively feed intake; other products have higher mycotoxins level (wheat, corn DDGS). 5-7% – is a safe inclusion level for most of the by-products but can be dangerous to increase this level.

  • Gilt development

A sow can stay in the production approximately 2.5 years and first parity management is crucial for future milk production. It is critical to match number of piglets and nipples on a first parity sow.  

  • Litter management.

Unnecessary piglet’s manipulation will result to lower milk production. Piglets will fight and bit sow’s nipples; as results, sow will lay on the belly, especially the gilts. Minimize piglet movement

Processing piglets on day 1 (castration, tail docking, tattooing) will stress them and they won’t milk that intensive as unprocessed piglets.

  • Diets nutrients recommendations

Very important to follow genetic companies’ nutrition recommendations. Most of the genetic companies have their own research farms, where they are testing sow feed intake, milk production, fat and protein loss during lactation. As a results genetic companies have better experience in feeding of their own genetic, than just regular feed companies. 

Nobody except producer will be able to fix the problem with lactation, as nobody knows production better than the producer himself. It is necessary to analyze all available information, get experts opinion and suggestions, talk with colleagues and after all that create your own strategy. A simple check mark list will help you find out where the problem is coming from and what the best solution is for it


Aherne, F. X. 2007. Feeding the Lactating Sow. Accessed August 10th, 2007.Aherne. 1998. Feeding lactating primiparous sows to establish three divergent metabolic states: III. milk production and pig growth. J. Anim.Sci. 76:1165-1171.Boyd, R.D., M.E. Johnston, and G. Castro. 2002. Nutrition and Management of the Sow to Maximize Lifetime Productivity. Advances in Pork Production, Volume 13..Pluske, J. R., I. W. Williams, L. J. Zak, E. J. Clowes, A. C. Cegielski, and F. X. Shelton, N.W., J.M. DeRouchey, C.R. Neill, M.D. Tokach, S.S. Dritz, R.D. Goodband and J.L. Nelssen. 2009. Effects of Increasing Feeding Level During Late Gestation on Sow and Litter Performance. Kansas State University Swine Day 2009, Report of Progress 1020, p38- 50.Srichana, J.L. Usry., C.D. Knight, L. Greiner, and G. L. Allee. ASAS Midwest Proceedings, 2007. Abstract 180.Srichana, J.L. Usry., C.D. Knight, L. Greiner, and G. L. Allee. ASAS Midwest Proceedings, 2007. Abstract 182.Williams, N, R. Kummer, J. Pinilla, J. Piva and C. Neill. 2007. Milk production and nutritional requirements in modern sows. ABRAVES. Association of Brazilian Veterinarians.


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This post was written by Genesus