ESR9: Improving the survival and growth of piglets from large litters: manipulation of colostrum and milk, and provision of supplemental milk


Increased litter size in sows is linked with decreased piglet birth weight (BtW) and reduced neonatal survival. The number of underdeveloped piglets born to these large litters is increased, resulting in some piglets showing signs of Intra-Uterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). Low BtW and particularly IUGR piglets have reduced vitality at birth and are more prone to morbidity and early postnatal mortality. The objective of this project is to identify and evaluate nutritional strategies for pregnant sows and piglets that improve pre- and post-weaning survival, growth and intestinal development. Strategies to be assessed will include; (1) nutritional interventions (e.g. probiotics, prebiotics, and other feed additives) in sows during late gestation and lactation to improve colostrum/milk yield and quality and; (2) the automatic provision of supplementary milk and/or liquid feed to suckling and newly weaned piglets.


  1. Identify and evaluate nutritional strategies for pregnant sows and piglets that improve post-natal survival, growth and GIT development.

  2. Improve colostrum yield and quality.

  3. Improve post-weaning growth and GIT development.


  • Monitoring growth, feed intake, feed conversion efficiency, mortality, diarrhoea incidence and antibiotic use from birth to slaughter.

  • Assess colostrum quality and quantity produced, gut microbiome composition, enzyme gene expression and intestinal histology.

  • With piglet nutritional strategies, identify eaters and non-eaters within each group using observation of feeding behaviour and by adding an inert colour marker to the feed and visually inspecting the colour of rectal swabs.

Expected results

  1. Piglet BtW, vitality, within litter uniformity in piglet BtW and pre- and post-weaning growth will be improved with both strategies.

  2. Sow nutritional interventions will alter the sow and piglet microbiome and improve the growth and development of the maternal mammary gland leading to enhanced piglet vitality, colostrum yield and quality (D2.12).

  3. Provision of supplemental milk and/or liquid feed to suckling and newly weaned piglets from large litters will improve piglet survival, health and growth to target slaughter weight (D1.5).

Planned secondments

  • At: Kiernan Milling (1 mo); Experience in milk replacer formulation for piglets;
  • At: WBF-A (3 mo); Test sow nutritional strategy with different conditions (different breed, different management conditions and/or ETEC challenge)

Enrolment in Doctoral degree:

ESR9 will be enrolled at the at the School of Science, Waterford Institute of Technology.


Peadar Lawlor (TEAGASC), Giuseppe Bee (Agroscope), Keelin O’Driscoll (TEAGASC), Gillian Gardiner (WIT)