Although improved genetics and housing technologies may compensate to some degree, the modern pig remains the highest physiologically stresses production animal. This, as well as high density housing conditions produces a situation where animals may be very susceptible to even the smallest of disturbances. Therefore, it is critical to control the environment to maintain high standards of sanitation and welfare.
With warm temperatures, moist conditions, and high bacterial loads, the farrowing area of the farrowing crates provides optimal conditions for the development and transmission of pathogens, predisposing piglets to bacterial and immune challenges.
Under optimum conditions, the modern pig is a highly efficient producer. Optimization of all aspects is needed to fully access the performance that modern genetics offers. Nutrition, including digestive welfare and feed efficiency impact on the intakes and performances of pigs and remain the primary focus for producers. As feed costs make up a major components of one’s budgets, maximizing the nutrients harnessed by the pigs from the diet is a fundamental aspect to improve upon. Improved welfare and feed efficiencies are critical to this and will affect the pig’s lifetime performance.
Reduced gastric motility (constipation) and feed intakes in the sow are common consequences of poor digestive welfare resulting from the many peri-partum stressors including reduced intra-abdominal capacity, movements to new housing, the onset of lactation, changes in ration composition and allowances, and the physiological and hormonal changes. This reduced digestive welfare of the sow will significantly reduce piglet vitality through poorer colostrum production, a lengthened parturition process, and increase bacterial load at receiving area where piglets are born. Growth retardation, heterogeneity and low litter weights at weaning are consequences that can be expected.
Furthermore, despite their natural heathy appetite, guaranteeing a consistent feed intake remains an elusive aspect in swine nutrition. Since pigs are highly stressed, any deviations result in an acute stress, which directly inhibits appetite stimuli. Providing a palatable and highly digestible feed may compensate for this to an extent, however, regardless of feed properties, pigs will refuse to eat during acute stress periods.
Often in pigs, the South African climate results in acute heat stress during the midday period. As pigs are confined, and cannot seek shelter, they succumb to this stress and compensate by ingesting larger meals during the cooler periods of the day. This directly results in fluctuating gastric conditions, with subsequent fluctuations in performance output, including fertility and growth.
Herd health is one of the most critical areas of any production system. Sub-optimal herd health will lead to suboptimal growth performances and poor feed efficiencies as well as over-usage of pharmaceuticals and hence exorbitant veterinary expenses. Under all circumstances, it is beneficial to assume a pro-active approach and prevent illnesses.
In high biosecurity herds and assuming management on housing and hygiene factors are addressed, illnesses can also stem from the ration. The most prevalent is in the form of mycotoxins which result from polycontamination due to the use of several ration ingredients sourced from a variety of regions, with differing field conditions as well as lengths and conditions of storage.
Different mycotoxins have different target organs and effects in the animal ranging from fertility related effects (e.g. abortions, poor litter sizes, splayed legs in piglets etc.) to immune and digestive disruptions. Being a high-intensity producer, even a trace contamination can lead to significant economic losses in pigs in all stages of production.
With advances in genetics and semen production, modern gilts and sows have a high fercundity. Both high litter numbers and birth weights are pertinent production parameters that drive pig production entities.
There are a number of factors that may influence these, ranging from nutrition to management. Regardless, it is critical to eliminate any factor restricting reproduction parameters.
Mycotoxins: Zearelenone has a direct impact on reproduction and is typically found in grains like maize and wheat. It may lead to fertility complications including hypoestrogenism, poor fertility, abortions, reduced litter sizes, reduced sperm quality and quantity, swollen vulvas, splayed legs, prolapses, and embryonic mortalities.
A number of solutions are offered; mycotoxin risk control, stress, feed intakes, nutritional uptake and hygiene of piglets.