According to the Kansas State University Applied Nutrition team, feed intake, feeder management and hygiene are among the more important factors in helping a piglet transition into the nursery. Provide a warm, draft-free environment, an overall herd-health program and pig flow that minimizes disease exposure, and you will increase your chances for success.

Accessable drinking-water fixtures and an unlimited, clean water supply are essential. Also critical is having a dedicated workforce that is tuned in to recognizing the signs of a “starve-out” pig. Since some pigs are reluctant to begin eating after weaning, an alert crew can teach pigs where and how to eat. Using mats or individual feeding options help set the tone.

Some conditions to recognize in a starve-out pig include:

  • Depressed activities or mental alertness
  • Thin body condition
  • Gaunt abdominal shape
  • Fuzzy skin/hair appearance
  • Poor appetite
  • Signs of dehydration or sunken eyes

“An important factor in maximizing feed intake in the nursery is allowing ad libitum access to feed,” says Joel DeRouchey, Kansas State swine nutritionist. ”Keeping feed present in the trough throughout the entire nursery phase increases feed intake and exit weights.”

However, too much feed left in the feeder can decrease growth rate due to build-up of old feed that the pig simply doesn’t want to eat. Of course, not presenting enough feed can limit growth. So, it’s important to adjust feeders as the pig adapts and grows. “The feed-gate in all feeders should be closed before the first pellets are placed in them,” DeRouchey says. “Then open the feed gate so that the feed is visible in the pan.” The point behind this is that it prompts curiousity.

Approximately 50 percent of the feeding pan should be covered with feed throughout the nursery period without feed accumulating in the corners. Test feed agitators frequently in order to ensure that  build-up of fines does not interfere with their proper function.

Keep the focus on nursery hygiene practices. The primary objective is to reduce pathogens that can be transmitted from the environment. Basic principles of good hygiene include:

  • Use of materials that are easy to clean. Smooth, non-porous surfaces are easy to clean and quick to dry.
  • Remove feces and waste before
    beginning more thorough cleaning procedures.
  • Use disinfectants. Pay attention to proper surface preparation, dilution rates and contact time.
  • Allow for proper downtime and drying.

Be aware of internal and external climate conditions that can impact drying times. You don’t want to place young pigs in nurseries with moist surfaces and humid environments. “Observations from our group indicate there is a seasonal nature to enteric problems in the nursery,” DeRouchey notes. Thorough facility drying after cleaning and disinfection can help prevent enteric problems.