As young pigs transition from sow to the nursery, they are at a vulnerable stage, and a healthy head start can prevent problems down the road. Providing a robust start for your weaned pigs can greatly increase the chances of maintaining improved growth rates throughout their growth cycle. Proper feed intake also can dramatically reduce the risk of enteric disease developing in the nursery phase. Certainly with today’s rising feed costs, now is a good time to review your nursery feeding strategies.
Research has shown a linear improvement in growth performance and mortality rates when weaning age increases from 12 days to 21 days. However, if you are weaning earlier than 21 days, a higher percentage of the piglets may weigh less than 8 pounds entering the nursery and may require a specialized diet.
“Feeding a more complex ‘intensive care’ diet can help improve feed intake for these small pigs,” says Robert Goodband, swine nutritionist, Kansas State University. Lactose, spray-dried animal plasma and other highly palatable ingredients will help increase weaned pigs’ feed intake. However, because of the young pig’s limited ability to digest sucrose at birth, sugar should not be used in diets for pigs younger than 10 days of age.
Studies show that increasing animal plasma in Phase 1 diets also increases daily gain. Most nutritionists include 4 percent to 7 percent animal plasma in the Phase 1 diet, depending on the other protein source combinations included. Since feed intake drives growth performance, watch pigs closely to identify those that are not eating within 48 hours after weaning. Pigs that are consuming feed will begin to have round abdomens; pigs that have not begun to eat will be gaunt.
Providing creep feeding a week prior to weaning can help acclimate pigs to solid feed in the nursery. Creep feeding needs to be done on a daily basis with fresh feed that has been stored in a cool, dry environment. According to Kansas State research, creep feed can provide an alternative nutritional source to small, less competitive piglets and improve litter weaning weights and survivability. The research also shows that creep-feed acceptance depends more on the piglets’ maturity rather than age at which creep feeding is initiated. The same diet used for creep feeding can be used for the first few days after weaning, Goodband says.
Despite your best efforts to get weaned pigs to eat, you may still have to teach a few proper feeding behavior. Identify and mark pigs that are not eating within 36 to 60 hours after weaning. “Each pig not consuming feed should be hand-fed by carefully placing a small amount of wet, pelleted feed in the pig’s mouth,” Goodband says. “Then, gently put the pig down next to a feeder so the pig associates the feeder with the food it’s eating.”