Tuesday 13 February 2018

In the double nursing strategy every week one or more sows nurse two litters simultaneously from birth to weaning.

Hyper-prolific sows produce more piglets than they can suckle, as the number of milk producing teats of the sow is lower (twelve to sixteen) than the number of live born piglets per litter. Farmers and farm workers are struggling to feed this surplus of piglets. To minimize suckling piglet mortality, litter size at 24 hours after parturition should not exceed the number of functional teats of the sow. Strategies to adequately nurse or feed the surplus of piglets after 24 hours are limited and mostly restricted to either fostering piglets by other sows, supplying milk replacers (formula) or early weaning and rearing on formula.

In this case report we describe the design and application of a so called "double nursing" (DN) strategy, for which one sow simultaneously nurses two litters from birth to weaning.

Double nursing sows (DNS) nurse two matched groups of piglets from approximately 12 to 24 hours after parturition until weaning. The two groups are matched by age and number of piglets. One group consists of the litter born from the DNS and the other group consists of an entire litter from one other so called donor sow. The donor sow is then available as foster sow for the surplus piglets of the same farrowing batch. During lactation the DNS are housed in standard farrowing pens. Double nursing will start after the piglets of both litters have drunk colostrum of their own mother. One group is housed in the farrowing crate with the DNS, whereas the other group is housed separately in a small pen with a heater, a drinking nipple and milk formula in a feeding trough. Twice a day, preferably every 12 hours, both groups are exchanged.

Piglet mortality and reproductive parameters of sows that have nursed two litters are compared, over a three year period, with those that nursed one litter.

In this herd, the double nursing strategy appeared to be a successful strategy. Double nursing sows experienced a lower piglet mortality, despite the double nursing strategy. The negative effects on reproduction proved to be limited, there was a negative effect on litter size in subsequent litters, but no significant effect on the interval weaning to next conception. It has to be noted though that not all characteristics on which double nursing selection takes place, could be taken into account during statistical analyses.


Manon A. M. Houben, Tijs J. Tobias and Manon M. C. Holstege
Porcine Health Management 2017 3:2. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40813-016-0050-1