Performance and longevity in your gilt herd: a nutritional point of view

Written by: WJ Steyn, SwiNE Nutrition Management

“The livestock feed industry is facing a lack of supply of vitamins A and E due to 2 recent incidents, warns the Agricultural Industries Confederation. Fefac, the European trade body for animal feed has warned that as stocks are not sufficient to offset the deficit of production, feed manufacturers globally will have no choice but to reduce the inclusion rates in feed. (All about Feed, 2017-12-15)

“Around the world, we see that demand is not being sufficiently met because of a lack of shipping availability, increased cost of available freight, and the looming Chinese holiday. (All about Feed, 2021-01-27)


Livestock production will increasingly be affected by external factors. These include surging demands for animal products and struggling supplies of feed raw materials, resulting from the competition for natural resources and trade barriers. Optimization of productivity and efficiency within such constraints are important objectives, as well as maximization of the profit for all stakeholders.

It may be expected that volatility in food and feed commodity prices and even struggling supplies due to scarcity will continue in the coming years and, as a consequence, affect livestock production.

Productivity and efficiency in livestock production have increased tremendously in the last decades. In the Netherlands, for instance, milk production per cow has increased by over 65%; the number of piglets raised per sow per year increased by more than 65%; the feed conversion ratio of fattening pigs improved by 20% (Hartog, 2013).

Over the last 10 years, Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) in maternal genetic lines has improved between 8 – 10% and growth rates are up more than 20% (personal correspondence with major genetic companies). In simple terms, our rearing/replacement gilts are eating less and less, and growing faster while doing so. With this in mind, and focusing particularly on the micro portion of the diet (vitamins and micro minerals), we have not seen any major adjustments in the daily recommendations at this level. In other words, are our rearing or replacement gilts receiving adequate levels of these nutrients per day to achieve optimal lifetime production, given the lower feed intake with the genetic improvements made, and secondly, would we have ample and continuous supply of those key components in our diets, considering the challenges we are experiencing in worldwide supply?

The gilt herd

Substantial evidence supports successful management of gilts as an absolutely necessary component of breeding herd management and the pivotal starting point for the future fertility and longevity of the breeding herd. Good gilt management can largely resolve the existing gap between excellent genetic potential and the more modest sow lifetime productivity typically achieved.

Gilt development is essential for sustaining a productive herd. Your gilt herd is the future production facility on the farm, and, in order to ensure that the animals reach the desired weight-at-age targets, various management protocols should be in place. 

Whether you breed your own gilts, or buy them in from your genetic company, there are three major points that should be addressed in order to reach the desired outcome of producing gilts that will continue on to be successful sows in the herd:

  1. Feed to Need:  What is the potential of the gilt?  Are we meeting this with the nutrients we supply?
  2. Farm specifics:  All farms and conditions will vary, and it is important to ensure that the gilt nutrition is customized to each farm’s individual situation.
  3. Reducing / understanding the variation in major raw materials:  Understanding and knowing the raw materials available on the farm is key to reaching maximum performance.

Feed to Need

The mineral and vitamin requirements of developing gilts are higher than those of finishing (market) pigs of similar age. This is because bone development in gilts is required to reach the maximum potential for building lifelong mineral reserves. This is very important not only for skeletal development, but also for fetal development and sufficient milk yield. Therefore, a deficiency in any mineral or vitamin early in life will result in impaired bone mineralization, reduced bone strength, and overall compromised performance.

I am sure most nutritionists are fully aware of this, and would like to feed the future sow the best we can give her to achieve the best outcomes for her and for the producer.

So what are you then using as your reference – or which minimum mineral and vitamin values do you use – to ensure that you are complying with the daily needs of this high-demand, fast-developing, and genetically-superior super female? Is this reference expressed in need per kilogram of final feed, daily requirements per day or even need per kilogram lean growth? Is this reference making consideration for farm conditions, health status of the animals, and, most importantly, the genetic improvements made over the last few years?

The genetic improvement in our pig herd over the years must be taken into account when we consider their mineral and vitamin requirements. FCR has not only improved in grow-finish pigs, but also in the breeding herd.  How do we compensate for this?

When we look at the table below, we see the general recommendation of some minerals and vitamins and the difference when taking into account a 10% improved FCR. All levels need to be adjusted upwards to compensate for this improvement. No further adjustments were made for health status and unfavourable farm conditions.  With this in mind, the general recommendation used as my starting point is enough to start a good debate and discussion between nutritionists.  

In my dealings with different premix companies around the world, I have realized that only a few (minority of them) made upward changes over the last few years in the gilt/breeder premixes they supply. With recent trade and supply challenges, and because of the competitive nature of the business, some even made downward changes to their mixes. One can see the disconnect between the genetic improvements made and the supply of some key elements needed to improve longevity and lifetime performance in our breeding gilts.

Adapting programs and nutrient levels to match farm conditions better and understanding the variation in major raw materials are all points that merit their own interpretations.

Pigs are changing and, as such, so are their nutritional needs, including their mineral and vitamin requirements. Higher output per kilogram of feed consumed already justifies an increase in all the essential components of a diet. A better understanding of their true needs for minerals and vitamins, and even more importantly, a better way to express this, will help to resolve the existing gap between excellent genetic potential and the more modest sow lifetime productivity typically achieved.

Food Insecurity in my backyard.

By: Casey L. Bradley, Ph.D.

For years I have listened to numerous professionals discuss food security for the growing population, all while focusing on the problems of the future rather than the problems of today. If today’s problems are discussed they focus on third world countries and food waste, rather than their own communities.  For myself, I have even been naïve as my entire career ambition has been around creating sustainable animal agriculture systems through research, education, and service. Before COVID I was busy traveling the USA, Canada and even the world, not having the time or energy to focus on my own community.

But all of that has changed for me. A victim of corporate downsizing left me an opportunity to rebrand myself and think of my own ideas and potential outreach programs for my community. I knew my community had several food banks and that my hometown meat company, Tyson Foods, donates millions of pounds of meat and food each year locally, helping our community.

But nothing prepared me for what I witnessed on a Saturday morning at the Iglesia fe y Poder en Jesus Church in Springdale, AR. I was there volunteering and helping Derek Van Voast run his historic campaign for Springdale City Council. It was a Back-to-School Backpack giveaway that was organized by the church, a few local businesses, and The NWA Food Bank. It was a mixture of emotions for me, from feeling blessed to help support my community in a small way, to fighting back tears when we ran out of backpacks and food. The disappointment and need on the families we could not support were evident. We gave away over 230 backpacks and a van and truck full of chicken, ham, milk, and dry goods. But it was not enough.

My income may have been cut in half since the beginning of COVID, but my family can still pay all its bills and put food on the table, but that is not the case for everyone in my community. Thus, my priorities have changed. I am no longer thinking of 2050 and how we are going to feed the world, but I have refocused to how we can feed the community around us today.

I have had ideas of building community gardens and urban agriculture in the past, but I cannot dream or brainstorm any longer because the need is today. I know it does not take much land to feed a family of 6, as my childhood is self-evident. But what it does take is a community working together to make it possible. Let us take my childhood as an example. My parents had a decent size garden in which we canned and froze several types of vegetables. My mother’s cousins had an apple orchard and we canned enough applesauce to make me not such a fan today. My father worked on a pig farm and we never ran out of pork. But between my father, uncles, and brothers we also had a freezer full of venison and fish. When I was young, a birthday party at McDonald’s was a special thing and I use to love the turkey legs my mother bought on sale as an alternative to our pot roast Sunday dinners.

Today I drive by empty lots or pastures waiting to be sold for millions of dollars as my area is in a massive growth cycle thanks to the success of corporate giants, such as Walmart, JB Hunt and Tyson Foods.  We have massive factories or warehouse sitting empty due the shift from blue collar to white collar work in our area.  COVID may even leave us with empty office buildings and parking lots. Many of us may see the landscape as eye sores, but I see them as untapped potential to change our world and I am not talking thousands of miles away, but right here within a mile radius. Imagine if we planted gardens in those empty lots awaiting the next subdivision. What if we planted apple trees along our roads instead of Bradford Pears? We still get the beautiful blooms in the spring but a harvest of food for our community as well. Those empty warehouses and factories can easily be converted into community canning areas. Let us not rule out livestock farms either, as we have the technology to make them smell better than the current poultry processing facilities in our cities.

I know many of you think I am still naive and dreaming, but I am only dreaming of a better tomorrow than a 2050. If we start now, start small, and dream big there is nothing that will stop us from having the ability to feed the world in 2050. Who is with me? It is time roll up our sleeves and take back our communities and stop pretending the problems are not in our backyards.

How I can bring food security to my community

By: Wuraola Adebola, M.S.

I believe food security is having a consistent access to safe, locally, culturally acceptable, and affordable food all year round. Growing up as a child in my community, most families did and do not even have the hope of where their next meal is coming from. This is a result of that most families live from hand to hand and depend on other rich relatives living and working in urban settings. The majority of farmers today in Nigeria communities are faced with so many challenges, such as droughts, extreme temperature, livestock health related issues and socio-economic crises. As a result, they are abandoning farming in search for jobs cities, while leaving the women to cater and source for the needs of the family. Yet, the bulk of the agricultural produce comes from the rural communities in my country, which are then transported to the urban centers to be marketed for their means of income. But lack of adequate knowledge on improved farming techniques has discouraged continuity in local and rural farming. For example, in regards to animal agriculture there has been low supply of animal protein among our rural dwellers and community due to frequent mortality of the flocks that plague most producers. Thus, resulting in the majority of household diets are being composed of starchy or carbohydrate-rich foods and consequently leading to malnutrition in children and women in the community.

Since most rural men are abandoning agricultural businesses to other businesses such as transportation, construction or factory jobs that can fetch them daily or weekly pay, I now see the reason why we should encourage our women to take up the challenge of backyard farming. This will ensure secure food and availability of animal-based protein to themselves and their children all year round. Due to this shift of female only households, I realized that it will be of a great importance if the status of women in our communities can be raised. For instance, I have seen instances where a woman was able to cater for the needs of her family and her children’s school fees from the minimal income, she makes from her egg farming business. Most women play vital and important roles in the production and food availability in their homes, but their efforts are often underestimated in majority of our communities but their contribution to household food production is huge and cannot be overlook. I believe that if women can become empowered if they are provided with some basic training in livestock husbandry, nutrition, and health. It is also vital for them to develop a mixed agriculture system consisting of gardening, crops, and rearing of small ruminant animals and other livestock. It is critical that they also have access locally available feed ingredients to not only support livestock production to stop protein deficient diets and malnutrition in their communities. Ultimately resulting in a better livelihood for themselves and ensuring food security for their families and their communities.

My mission and future goal are to one day have access to financial resources to help the hardworking women in my country to become food secure. I want to explore the area where micro credit provision can utilize to establish self-help groups to promote animal agriculture, while providing proper trainings to ensure sustainable livestock production. But ultimately to help my fellow women and future generations to thrive in Nigeria and end malnutrition once and for all.

Editor’s Note: Wuraola is a bright and talented young lady. We all talk about food security for 2050 but Wuraola wants to change the narrative for her people today. She cannot do it alone, so please consider sponsoring her doctorate program in animal nutrition. If you can support her dream of a better tomorrow, please reach out to The Sunswine Group.

Student Spotlight – Yussif Abdulai

How I can bring food security to my community

Food insecurity is of global concern due to the increasing human population. It is our mandate to increase the production and supply of quality agricultural produce. If care is not taken, then man will be left in a situation where we can no longer have access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. Children, pregnant women, and lactating women are the most vulnerable in our community during an extreme food insecurity situation.

In 2018 over 37 million Americans including 11 million children were considered food insecure. This awareness strikes the minds of many nations to craft strategies to help address challenges that impede the process of attaining food security.

Before the advent of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, low productions of agriculture produce, food riots, increase in prices of commodities, climate change and growth of the human population were among the major causes of food insecurity especially in my country Ghana.

At the early phase of the pandemic with the increasing total number of the daily death toll and our limited comprehension of the mode of spread of the novel disease, countries were forced to go into total lockdown; shops, market centres, schools, transport network, factories were all closed. The level of food insecurity for every person in the world increased drastically on a daily basis with no exemption to Ghanaians. Philanthropies tried to reach out to every household, especially the needy, with the supply of daily meal and food produces to avert the situation. The lessons from this kind-hearted work showed that it was not a sustainable approach should the pandemic continue. It was now clear that the lives of men were in our very own hands (how do we find nutritious food to eat?).

The boredom associated with the lockdown strategy to mitigate the spread of the novel virus and the struggle for food led some Ghanaians to get involved in backyard farming. Mankind has been left with the lesson of the importance of farming. The spirit of our great fathers; ‘Operation Feed Yourself’ begins to inspire us.  

As people went into farming, they also sought out technical advice, and this is where I found myself in the story. I received a countless call from people seeking technical support in livestock farming. I was also invited to join the Rising Farmers Association WhatsApp group and I was so happy to share my experiences with the group. Through my network, I was able to help some farmers to market their products such as spent layers, eggs, and broiler chickens.  Through this outreach initiative, I am mentoring five start-up farms. The capacity of these farms’ ranges from 550 – 10,000 layers. I never felt I could be so helpful to my community to fight food insecurity until now. The lessons from this period has shown me that we need to spend quality time in solving the challenges of our community and this can go a long way to address a global issue.

How I can bring food security to my community

Student Spotlight – Marissa LaRosae

Food insecurity is a growing issue as the world population steadily increases. The agricultural industry as a whole is using innovative techniques to improve the efficiency and quality of the products that we are producing. This is in the hope that we will be able to sufficiently feed a population of 9 billion by 2050. As a young professional in the swine industry, I am eager to play a small role in meaningful improvements to make safe, affordable, and abundant pork a reality for the years to come. The year 2050 has been emphasized greatly, so much that we need to step back from the “bigger picture” and dive headfirst into issues happening here and now in our communities.

Looking back on my childhood, I now realize how fortunate I was to never have to worry about when my next meal was going to be or where it was coming from. In today’s world, children are burdened by the stress of food insecurity when, in reality, that should be the least of their worries. I grew up in Tippecanoe County, Indiana where the food insecurity rate is 13.1%; that is approximately 24,800 people that lack access to enough food to adequately support all household members. One of the primary issues for the food insecure in Tippecanoe County is the limited access to nutritionally adequate foods. Tippecanoe County has resources such as food banks, backpack programs at local schools, soup kitchens, etc. These are all ways to reduce food insecurity; however, there is still a need for more support in order to supply fresh produce and animal protein to ensure nutritional needs are met.

Before I packed up my belongings and moved halfway across the country to South Dakota, I was able to participate in one last activity with the Tippecanoe County Farm Bureau Young Farmers. One of the major focuses of the organization is community outreach and ways we can directly give back to our community. We were able to partner with Prairie Farms and give away 250 gallons of milk to local community members in a high poverty area. I was in complete awe of how thankful people were for something as simple as a gallon of milk. This was the turning point for me.

There is no single way to solve food insecurity in my community; however, a few hours of handing out gallons of milk was a small step in the right direction. I have made it my mission to help chip away at the issue that is food insecurity in Tippecanoe County. I plan to do this by staying active in the Tippecanoe County Young Farmers, even from 800 miles away. In the future, I would like to diversify the products that we are able to give away such as ham, bacon, eggs, cheese, and fresh produce. My goal is to be able to form relationships with local producers and businesses to sponsor or donate to the giveaways. I hope that through these actions, and with support from other community members, that we can work together to reduce food insecurity in our backyard.

Student Spotlight – Bernard Abeiku Sam

How I can bring food security to my community

The issue of food security has been life-threatening in many parts of the world. In many countries’ individuals are facing food crisis and as a result it is also devasting for their local economies. Food security has become a global challenge with many dimensions.

What then is Food Security?  Food security refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation.

According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been growing substantially for the past several decades. The ultimate objective of food security should be to ensure that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to food that they need. Food Security has three basic aims: ensuring production of adequate food supplies, maximizing stability in the flow of supplies, and ensuring access to available supplies on the part of those who need them.

At the global level, Hunger results from political and economic inequality, environmental degradation, unjust trade policies, inappropriate technology, and other factors depending on local context. Weaknesses in the variables of access, availability, and proper utilization of food leads to what individuals and households experience as hunger. In my country Ghana, most roads leading to rural areas of food production are in bad shape, which limit the transportation of food from those areas to the urban centres. In addition, the storage and processing technologies used to store and process this food are not well established leading to waste of fresh food produce. Furthermore, pursing agriculture related programs are seen as programs that are pursued by poor people and much attention are not paid to them.

The desire and intense passion in me to address these issues carved out my career path into the field of study of swine nutrition.  In addressing the situation, I can create an awareness through teaching and extension services. For instance, extension agents need to be well trained and equipped with adequate knowledge and information (workshops, in-service training etc.) on effective and efficient farming practices to convey the message to peasant farmers who might be depending solely on traditional or conventional knowledge. To modify their farming activities in order to achieve the desired results and goals using modern farming practices, this knowledge and information must be available to them through appropriate channels (phone calls, SMS, etc.). Also, the roads connecting the rural areas to the urban centres needs to be well established and fixed to ensure easy access of food from the rural areas to the urban centres.

The need for backyard farming by households must be encouraged to facilitate easy access to fresh produce food and meat to majority of the populace. Moreover, providing educational opportunities for community members to learn more about food production and food waste which is focused on proper nutrition and more effective farming practices assist in supporting income generation and healthy lifestyles and keeping an eye on and adjusting the way that food is purchased, prepared and distributed is important in reducing food waste, and building on global food security.

Contributing towards women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector by helping them access capital through the right sources (cooperate organizations, microfinance, etc) is also a way to strengthen the agricultural workforce. In fact, the UN reports that if women had the same access to farming resources as men, we could prevent 150 million people from living in hunger.

Finally, volunteering with various organizations as agricultural researcher has enabled me to facilitate nutritional workshops, assist in setting up community food gardens, and contribute towards establishing sustainable farming practices. Education-focused community projects also build on a community’s food security foundation, and work to address the social causes of food insecurity.

Thus, it is my mission to bring food security to my community, Ghana.

Editor’s note: Bernard Abeiku Sam is one of those people that never gives up on his dreams. He desperately wanted to pursue a doctorate degree in swine nutrition. That is why I am so excited to announce that he will be attending The University of Arkansas starting in January to fulfil his dream. His project is being jointly funded by DSM, PIC and JBS. It will focus on gilt development nutrition and he will continue my work in sow longevity. He is truly an inspiration how a little thing of connecting our students to our professional networks can lead to big things and allowing their dreams to fly. Thank you all for the continued support.

One of the first things I will need to teach Bernard is how to call the hogs! Woo Pig Sooie!

animal black and white pig wild animal
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