02 June 2021 – As the production demands on sows in commercial breeding herds have increased in recent decades, there has been an associated interest in extending their often short service cycles. Not only is there a clear economic benefit for the commercial farmer in boosting a sow’s piglet-per-production-lifetime average, this will also help address growing animal welfare concerns from consumers about sow euthanasia in the industry.
The positive role that organic trace minerals can play in extending sow longevity and productivity was the subject of a recent study by Novus International, which featured its MINTREX® chelated minerals range (zinc, copper and manganese). Today the company’s Senior Technical Services Manager for Monogastrics, Bradley Lawrence shares with us the results of that study and how inorganic trace minerals fell short. We also delve into increasing sow mortality rates on farms, the economics of longevity in the sow herd, and the effects of organic trace minerals on the health of progeny.
[Feedinfo] Let’s kick off with sow mortality, which has been a topic of concern for the industry for several years now. Please give us an overview of what the situation currently looks like on modern production farms.
[Bradley Lawrence] Sow mortality includes both sows that are found dead and sows that are euthanised. A focus on animal welfare requiring a cull sow to walk on and off the truck unaided has increased the number of sows euthanised on farm. Records analysis from a Novus commercial sow trial indicated that sow euthanasia represents about 50% of total sow mortality. This number is in-line with conversations we’ve had with our customers. Lameness is typically the cause for at least half of all euthanasia, making it a key factor in total sow mortality.
[Feedinfo] How can the industry go about remedying the situation? What are some of the issues to consider?
[Bradley Lawrence] The challenge with improving sow mortality is to first understand why sows die. Data from Novus sponsored commercial trial collaborations along with customer feedback tells us that the cause of death is unknown for around 80% of sows found dead. There is a need to better understand physiologically the cause of this mortality to make an impactful reduction. This needs to be a joint partnership between veterinarians and nutritionists.
With euthanasia accounting for about 50% of total mortality, focusing on the causes for euthanasia is a good first start. Paying close attention to sows and any challenges they are having is critical. By focusing on the physiology associated with increased incidence of lameness requiring euthanasia we might be able to reduce both lameness-associated euthanasia and sows found dead. We have found that trace mineral nutrition, specifically the source of trace mineral, can have a tremendous impact on supporting joint health.
[Feedinfo] Is there a difference in sow lifetime production rates in the US vs Europe? And if so, what, in your opinion, are the factors behind this?
[Bradley Lawrence] The topic of sow lifetime productivity is hard to generalise. Producers on both continents have highly productive and prolific sows. A recent publication from Spain on about 134,000 sows indicated a lifetime productivity of almost 54 pigs weaned per sow. In the US, available data from PigCHAMP, a benchmarking database, indicates pigs per sow lifetime ranges from around 40 pigs per sow lifetime to almost 50 pigs per sow lifetime.
This productivity is influenced by many factors including genetics, nutrition, management at breeding and farrowing, and health challenges. It is difficult to assign the differences in sow lifetime productivity to any one parameter.
[Feedinfo] In March this year, Novus announced results from a study evaluating the effects of its MINTREX® range of organic trace minerals on sow lifetime productivity. What did this study involve and what were some of the key findings?
[Bradley Lawrence] The information presented at the 2021 American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) meeting was the result of a year-long study. In this study, one sow herd remained on an all inorganic trace mineral programme while in a comparable sow herd a portion of the inorganic trace mineral was removed and replaced with MINTREX® organic trace minerals.
The performance during the 1-year evaluation period was compared with the previous 2-years’ historical data to determine the relative improvement for both farms. The analysis included both herd level and parity comparison. In the sows fed MINTREX®, retention to parities 3 through 6 was improved, as was farrowing rate. The net result was an improvement in pigs weaned per sow lifetime.
[Feedinfo] This is not the first study that compared MINTREX® organic trace minerals to other trace mineral sources. What kinds of differences in terms of sow longevity and productivity did you see? What is the science behind those improvements?
[Bradley Lawrence] Over the last 10 years Novus has collected data involving over 200,000 farrowing events with MINTREX® organic trace minerals in sows compared to other trace mineral sources. One of those data sets was a retrospective data analysis of farms using different trace mineral programmes over a 2-year time period. Those results clearly showed a benefit of feeding sows organic trace minerals. Some parameters also showed MINTREX® outperformed different organic trace mineral sources. This large data evaluation involved 42,000 sows per mineral programme and those results agree with the results published in March at AASV, as well as other MINTREX®-in-sows projects.
Trace minerals are important for many physiological processes including immunity, structural integrity and hormone synthesis for optimal reproductive efficiency. It is the combination of these benefits that likely accounts for the productivity and longevity responses observed in sows fed MINTREX®.
[Feedinfo] Did MINTREX® also have an effect on the piglets born from these sows? Was there an improvement in their health/well-being?
[Bradley Lawrence] Our earliest trial with MINTREX® organic trace minerals followed gilts from development through parity 4. This 2-year study (Zhao et al., 2012) showed sow lifetime productivity was improved over a control group of sows fed all inorganic trace minerals. The researchers observed two key findings; first, litters from sows that received MINTREX® did not see an increase in percent low viability pigs as litter size increased. Second, it was observed that the offspring from sows that received MINTREX® had better nursery to finish productivity. The post-weaning growth of these pigs was particularly affected in the first 10 days post-weaning. Subsequent research at North Carolina State University (Jang et al., 2020) has shown that this may have been occurring through gene regulation mechanisms that allowed for improved muscle development as well as reduced gut inflammation, providing the opportunity for greater muscle growth and the nutrients to achieve it.
[Feedinfo] There is obviously an economic benefit to sows remaining productive for longer. Is this something that your studies addressed?
[Bradley Lawrence] Pork producers have been conditioned to focus on pigs per sow per year. However, if the sow exits the herd after fewer than three parities, her net return has not been optimised and weaned pig cost has not been minimised.
A 2017 report from Iowa State University suggests that the optimal net return per sow and weaned pig cost is achieved at parity 5. Therefore, we need to keep as many sows productive to parity 5 as possible, while simultaneously managing replacement rates and herd parity profiles.
Across our studies we have seen a net return on investment from MINTREX® when compared to inorganic trace minerals. In a field evaluation this year we saw a 4:1 ROI in sows that could best be characterised as having tremendous performance already. In our field evaluation study presented at the AASV meeting in March, the observed improvements resulted in an 18:1 ROI. This appears to highlight the importance of trace minerals in sows, and more specifically trace mineral source.
[Feedinfo] What is next for Novus in the minerals space? Do you believe there is more to be discovered about the applications of MINTREX® organic trace minerals?
[Bradley Lawrence] When it comes to mineral nutrition, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D and sometimes selenium get most of the attention and credit. The importance of zinc, copper, and manganese is underappreciated despite the multitude of ways they impact productivity, structure, and health.
We are seeing a greater focus on nutrition in gilt development and understanding how properly developing the gilt impacts her lifetime productivity. There are still many nutritionists who question whether the investment in something beyond inorganic trace minerals will result in economic return. We accept these challenges and embrace the opportunity to demonstrate that MINTREX® organic trace minerals are right for the sow, are the right economic decision, and are right for sustainably producing pork around the world.
Published in association with Novus International