Feeding strategies to enhance gilt reproduction and subsequent longevity and productivity in the breeding herd

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Virginia Tech


The shift to group-housing of the breeding herd makes it difficult to manage animals individually. To maximize sow longevity and reproductive performance, gilts must be bred on second heat weighing between 135 and 160 kg. As gilts are typically fed ad libitum (AD), they often exceed targeted breeding weights, leading to structural and other problems resulting in culling at early parities. Thus, utilization of an electronic sow feeder (ESF) enables caretakers to manage animals individually in group-housing situations, by allotting predetermined amounts of feed. The specific objectives of this study were to: 1) to determine the effects of AD or restricted (RS) feeding bases (FB) on growth and sexual development in replacement gilts using an ESF; 2) to determine the growth and reproductive responses to gonadotropins in gilts fed on either AD or RS feeding bases using an ESF; and 3) to ascertain the effects of short-term increases in feed allowances on growth and sexual development in previously feed-restricted gilts using an ESF. Gilts employed in all studies were acclimated to an ESF (ACCUTEAM, Osborne Industries, Osborne, KS) beginning at 150 d of age, during a 10-d training period. Across all experiments, treatments were assigned at 160 d of age. In experiments 1 and 2, gilts received feed on either AD (5.00 kg/d) or RS (2.72 kg/d) bases. In the first study, estrus detection began at 160 d of age. In experiment 2, gilts assigned to receive gonadotropins were treated at 170 d of age, with estrus detection beginning the next d. Gilts fed on the RS basis were observed to have improved feed conversion efficiency compared to AD-fed gilts in experiments 1 and 2 (both P < 0.01); and flushed gilts in experiment 3 had G: F similar to RS gilts. Average daily gain was not affected by FB in the first and third experiments, however AD-fed gilts gained weight at a faster rate (P = 0.02) than RS gilts in experiment 2. Gilts fed AD consumed their allotments across more meals than those fed RS. Age at puberty onset was not affected by FB in any of the experiments. Further, P.G. 600 did not hasten the onset of puberty, irrespective of FB in experiment 2. In experiment 3, ovulation rate was numerically greatest for flushed gilts, and was significantly greater than RS gilts (P = 0.05). The ovulation rate for flushed gilts was similar to AD gilts. Across all experiments, feed disappearance was observed to decrease as AD-fed gilts approached estrus. In this series of experiments, FB did not alter puberty onset, however ovulation rate was increased when gilts were allocated short-term increases in feed allowances. Further, utilizing an ESF may augment current industry estrus detection methods by monitoring feeding behavior.



Electronic sow feeder, puberty, flushing, gonadotropins, gilts