The easiest way to improve Ca-metabolism

The easiest way to improve Ca-metabolism - How dEB management can improve the sow production cycle

How dEB management can improve the sow production cycle


Modern production sows are burdened with an enormous task. Giving birth to and suckling a bunch of piglets already takes a lot out of them, but then modern animal husbandry ups the ante with improved genetics resulting in an increased number of piglets per partus. And we are not stopping there! In addition to optimizing the number of piglets per farrowing we are also looking for ways to improve the number of partusses per sow per year. One tool that we can use to make our sow’s life a little bit easier is making sure that gestation and lactation feeds have optimized dietary electrolyte balance (dEB) to ensure optimal calcium availability.

About one week before farrowing a sow will receive lactation feed in preparation for the birth. At the time of birth feed intake is lower and therefore less calcium is absorbed. Calcium is needed for colostrum production and for uterus contractions. After the partus sows have to produce colostrum which immediately results in a strong increased need for calcium. An ever-increasing number of piglets per litter also means that farrowing takes longer and more calcium is needed for the uterus contractions. It is thought that a calcium shortage in the blood can result in a longer partus and a delayed start of milk production. This negatively affects piglet survivability.

Feeding strategy
A balanced composition of the gestation and lactation feed establishes an easier transition towards the lactation period. The gestation feed should contain more fiber and the lactation feed should contain more protein. In practice both of the feeds show about the same ratio of raw materials. This not only results in unbalanced protein, fat and fiber composition, but also in a negative or too small difference in dietary electrolyte balance of the feeds (gestation vs lactation).

Dietary electrolyte balance
A lower dEB in lactation feed compared to gestation feed results in a higher bone mobilization of calcium in favor of partus and milk production. The dEB is the balance between the anions and the cations in the feed. The optimal difference in dEB is 50-100 mEq; gestation feed should have a higher dEB compared to lactation feed.

  • Gestating sows need to store calcium in their bones. Gestation feed should contain more cations than anions, therefore the pH of the blood wants to rise. However. blood pH is always between 7,3-7,4 and can only move minimally. An increase or decrease of the blood outside these levels can cause death. The pituitary gland reacts by stimulating uptake of calcium into the bones.
  • Lactation sows need to mobilize calcium from their bones. The lactation feed should contain less cations than anions, therefore the pH of the blood wants to drop. The pituitary gland reacts by stimulating mobilization of calcium from the bones.

The correct balance is important for the farrowing process; milk production starts better and oxytocine works more effectively, resulting in improved piglet survivability.

Optimizing dEB
The dEB can be influenced by your choice of raw materials. Sugar beet and soy bean based products are high in dEB. Raw materials from wheat are generally low in dEB. Raw materials that are high in dEB are best used in gestation feed.

Another way to further optimize the dEB is the use of feed additives. Sodium formate for example contains sodium and no chloride (unlike salt). Sodium formate increases the dEB with about 15 mEq for each kilogram added to feed. For comparison: 50 kg sugar beet pulp only increases the dEB with about 20 mEq/ton of feed.

Stay tuned
Keep an eye out for the next issue of ‘The Difference’, in which we will show you the results of a number of successful field trials we did on farms with MMA problems in Germany. In these trials we optimized the dEB of the feeds by adding ProPhorce™ AC 299 (sodium formate) on top of the diet and monitored piglet survivability.