Organic minerals can be helpful in preventing lameness in sows


ST. PAUL, Minn. — One of the greatest challenges facing swine breeding herd managers today is increasing sow longevity in the herd, especially when gestating sows are group housed.

Today’s females have been bred to produce and support large litters, and this increases the pressure and nutrient drain from their bodies.

University of Minnesota veterinarian John Deen said the lactating sow undertakes more stress on her body as a function of weight than any other animal.

Increase in lameness

The result often is an increase in lameness, due largely to poor foot health. These sows are often culled due to locomotion problems, or at the very least are less productive during lactation since they may consume less feed due to reduction in sow comfort.

This causes poorer litter and subsequent reproductive performance.

How do we go about identifying foot and claw health? Deen suggested inspecting the feet of sows while they are in the farrowing crate — ideally at night with a flashlight when sows are resting.

Examine the claws and the tissue area around them. Identify the presence of cracks and lesions, and whether these are small or more significant.

Can predict future

Cracked claws will mend very slowly, so culling or euthanization may need to be considered. Perhaps more than anything else, poor foot health can predict future productivity success of the sow.

A high level of cracks and lesions may indicate poor flooring, so evaluate this area first.

However, recent European research results indicate that mineral nutrition may also play a part in improving foot soundness.

Organic minerals

Danish data indicates that feeding organic minerals, including copper, zinc and manganese, greatly reduces foot issues compared to providing inorganic sources of the same minerals. Over a two-year period, heel erosion was reduced from 80 percent to 30 percent by switching to organic mineral supplementation.

A follow-up study indicated that sow deaths dropped 50 percent within two months after beginning the organic mineral treatment.

Over half of the losses of sows due to culling or euthanasia in that herd were associated with leg or feet problems.

By evaluating crack and lesion prevalence in lactating sows, one can determine if management changes should be considered.

Continual monitoring

If so, continual monitoring and recording of foot health data will allow producers determine if management changes are providing beneficial results.

If foot health problems are identified, perhaps the best practices that can be implemented are using organic mineral sources in diets, along with evaluation and maintenance of flooring.

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