Heat stress is a major concern in swine production today due to the decrease in sow fertility rates. Farmers have struggled with lower conception rates, subsequently smaller litter sizes, smaller litter gains and overall loss in profit.
Sow comfort is crucial for lactation and pig survival. She milks and raises the litter, which alleviates dehydration and keeps the pigs healthy. The fact is that she's less likely to lay on the piglets and more likely to do her job when optimal temperature is maintained.
Searching for an answer as to why this happens, research from Purdue University has found that the compound betaine can help during heat stress. Purdue researcher and second year PhD student Francisco Cabezon has been leading the research.
Betaine is a powder supplement that holds water, improves intestinal health and helps sows regulate their body heat more efficiently. Easily obtained the supplement is simply sprinkled over the animal's normal diet.
Cabezon found a 6% increase in total sperm production when boars were fed with only a 0.3% of Betaine. Previous trial experiments were completed with 545 sows during Oklahoma summer heat where the average maximum temperatures were in the high 90s. They showed that the stress of the heat is relevant in decreasing sows' feed intake.
In this experiment, an increase in feed intake and a shorter wean to estrus interval, or the time in days a sow needs to return to estrus from weaning, in sows fed with the added betaine supplement was revealed.
In a recent experiment the Purdue research team used 20 sows. Of these 20 sows, 10 were fed a control diet. The other 10 were fed the control diet with the additional supplement of betaine.
A controlled room where the temperature made the sows comfortable was called the thermo-neutral room. The other room was at a heat stressed condition where sows would experience real Indiana summer-like heat stress.
Since lactation is such a sensitive period of time for sows, multiple blood tests were taken from the 20 sows to check for prolactin, homocysteine, insulin and cortisol serum levels. The objective of this trial was to gain a better understanding of the underlying metabolic and physiological changes during heat stress in lactating sows.
In addition the goal was to evaluate the extent to which betaine supplementation can reduce the metabolic and physiological changes produced during heat stress. The experiment found that betaine played a large role in balancing these levels and keeping the sows fertility rates more even. It also helped in increasing litter size and overall productivity, making the farmers' life much easier.