Sow lameness in the US pig industry accounts for the culling of more gilts and first-parity sows - up to 50 percent of the sow herd according to some estimates - than all other production factors combined. Producers can help prevent sow lameness by monitoring and treating lame sows and preventing problems through proper nutrition programs.

In addition to higher culling rates, lameness can affect joint, muscle and skeletal development and its stress on the sow is shown to influence reproduction through longer wean-to-estrus intervals, more non-productive sow days, smaller litter size, fewer pigs weaned and poor fertility Decreased feed consumption caused by lameness can also lead to issues due to decreased body condition scores.

Early cases of lameness may be illustrated through: shortened stride, uneven steps and stiff joints; obvious head bobbing while walking; swaggering of the hindquarters; arched back while walking; reduced weight bearing on affected limbs or reluctance to move.

Claw lesions are commonly found on 15 to 40 percent of developing gilts. Inflammatory lesions cause pain and stress, directly impacting the animal's performance. Though there are treatment options, preventing sow lameness before it occurs is a producer's best bet-sow nutrition plays a large role in a lameness prevention program.

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"Research has demonstrated that feeding amino acid complexes helps to improve horn quality, decrease claw lesions and prevent a decline in reproductive response among young sows," says Mark Wilson, Ph.D., reproductive physiologist at Zinpro Corp. "Feeding a combination of zinc, manganese and copper as amino acid complexes helps foot health and reproductive performance of gilts and sows."

Zinc is responsible for corium health, wound healing and sole, heel and wall horn strength and elasticity. Manganese strengthens density of joints, tendons and bones. Copper is important for connective tissue, white line health and sole, heel and wall horn strength and elasticity.

"Growth and reproduction are physiological processes that are innately intertwined with the immune system," says Wilson. "Adding zinc, manganese and copper as amino acid complexes to the diet decreases the duration of damaging inflammatory responses, and the result is a positive change in herd feed conversion and improved piglet growth and performance."