Three things to feed sows for energy supplementation

With an ever increasing prolificacy in modern sows, what should you be feeding them for energy supplements?

Due to the ever increasing prolificacy of the modern sow (28.6 pigs/sow/year, ePM Top 10% 2014), a major focus of research is now targeting low-birth-weight, weak and unviable piglets, that result in additional management problems and financial loss.

It is well known that to achieve the best start in life, piglets need to suckle within the first few hours after birth.

They receive maternal immunoglobulins and essential metabolites in the colostrum, required to successfully survive in the extra-uterine environment.

In response to this new demand of milk to feed the litter, a sows energy requirement increases substantially between days two and 10 post farrowing to approximately 84 MJ DE, half of which (42.8 MJ/day) is needed for milk production.

To limit weight loss and stress on the sow, energy supplementation is potentially a valuable tool.


Lactose is a sugar found in milk, which provides piglets with energy, aids in the digestion of nutrients and acts like a pre-biotic, ensuring less digestive upsets.

For the sow, lactose concentration in milk continues to rise throughout lactation until weaning.

Supplementation of lactose in sow diets is an understudied area, but it could potentially increase lactation intake due to its palatability, thereby improving overall sow condition and increase lactose concentration in the milk with a resultant increase in piglet weight gain.


Dextrose is also a sugar made up of two molecules of glucose. It works by increasing insulin levels and in turn a hormone known as insulin-like growth factor one.

This is important in the early development of the fetus as it can increase follicle size and as a result larger, more viable embryos form.

Trials with sows fed diets high in dextrose had shorter wean to service intervals and lower within-litter variation in birth weight.

During late gestation and lactation sows that had feed top-dressed with 25g/kg dextrose and 25g/kg lactose a day had an increased number of piglets born alive and increased piglet birth weight.

Treated sows also had larger litters and lower within-litter variation in birth weight in their subsequent farrowing.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s) are essential in swine diets as pigs are unable to make enough themselves.

A common PUFA is Omega 3 found in fish, fish oils and many seeds such as flaxseed and linseed. Swine diets low in PUFA’s have been linked to impaired vision and reduced cognitive development of piglets.

Trials using fish oils such as tuna and salmon as well as Linseed oil have seen improved development of the placenta, reduced farrowing time, increased born alive and increased viability of piglets as they suckled quicker.

The piglets also had increased immunity and could therefore better adapt to the stress of weaning.

By Anna Lavery, Pig Production Department, Teagasc Moorepark