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Lactation is a metabolic challenge to the sow. Some high-producing sows can produce as much as 30 lb of milk/ day during peak lactation. Unfortunately, most sows are unable to consume sufficient dietary energy to fuel the processes of milk synthesis and must mobilize body stores of fat and protein. This problem is accentuated as the number of pigs nursed increases (milk production is increased). Therefore, nutritional programs for lactating sows must incorporate strategies to maximize energy intake and avoid excessive weight loss that may contribute to longer rebreeding intervals or increased culling from the sow herd.
Research conducted at the University of Nebraska in the late 1970s and early 1980s examined the relationship between dietary energy intake and sow productivity. These experiments used high fat (tallow; 8 to 10%) additions to create diets that when limit fed would result in different daily energy intakes. Subsequently, the benefits of maximizing energy intake during lactation observed in these studies have been attributed to fat itself. However, because of practical and economic considerations, additions of fat in commercial sow lactation diets are considerably lower than 8% (i.e., 1 to 4%). Therefore, the objective of this study was to examine the effects of practical additions of fat (tallow) on sow energy intake and litter performance during lactation.