Nursery Piglets National Pork Board

Lighter pigs take advantage of creep feed

Creep-feeding, the practice of providing highly palatable and easily digestible feed to nursing piglets to supplement sow’s milk, is a strategy intended to alleviate problems at weaning.

By Atta Agyekum and Jennifer Brown, Prairie Swine Centre; and Denise Beaulieu, University of Saskatchewan
Weaned piglets are subjected to a number of nutritional, social and environmental stressors. They are separated from the sow, moved to a new environment, mixed with non-littermates and expected to begin consumption of a novel diet (transitioning from sow’s milk to solid feed). It is difficult to determine how much each stressor contributes to the growth lag often observed immediately post-weaning. However, post-weaning anorexia, coupled with the immature digestive and immune systems of the newly weaned piglet increases disease susceptibility and mortality.

Creep-feeding, the practice of providing highly palatable and easily digestible feed to nursing piglets to supplement sow’s milk, is a strategy intended to alleviate problems at weaning. In theory, creep feeding should result in heavier piglets at weaning, and since the piglets have been accustomed to solid feed, the post-weaning growth lag should be lessened. However, research results on creep feeding are inconclusive and confounded by several factors including litter size and individual variation in creep feed consumption, between and within litters. Therefore, an experiment was designed to determine which piglets consume creep feed in the farrowing room and whether the presence of creep feed improves feed intake and body weight gain post-weaning. A second objective was to determine if piglets consuming creep feed in the farrowing room have improved post-weaning feed intake.

Answers to these questions will provide pork producers with practical information, which could assist with the weaning transition. This, in turn, will decrease pig losses and allow a decreased use of antibiotics while producing piglets, which are heavier at nursery exit.

Study design
This experiment was designed to measure, in a commercial-like setting, which piglets in the farrowing room consume creep feed and whether this consumption provided benefits into the nursery, including consumption of the Phase 1 starter diet. Nine farrowing groups, totaling 115 sows were randomly assigned to one of two treatments (creep or no creep) at farrowing. Cross-fostering of piglets (to equalize litter sizes) was conducted within the first 24 hours after birth. Piglets were weighed at birth and on Day 21 when creep feed (commercial Stage 1 starter) was provided for those piglets on that treatment. The creep feed was supplied in a commercial feeder, similar to that identified by others (Sulabo et al. 2010) as the feeder which maximized creep feed intake and minimized wastage (Figure 1).

Piglets were weaned as per normal production practice on Day 26 post-farrowing. Although different litters were mixed at weaning, the treatment groups (creep or no creep) were maintained in the nursery. Whether a piglet had been designated an “eater” or a “non-eater” (described below) did not affect the nursery designation.

The creep feed and the nursery diets were marked with brilliant blue dye and ferric oxide, respectively. The dye was removed from the creep feed two days prior to weaning to allow the marker time to exit the body.

Prairie Swine Centre-University of Saskatchewan

Figure 1: Piglets in two farrowing pens at creep feeders.

 

Anal swabs were taken from each piglet in the creep-fed groups two days prior to weaning and from all piglets on Day 2 in the nursery to estimate intake of creep feed in the farrowing room and the nursery diet in the nursery during the first 24 hours, respectively.This allowed us to categorize creep-fed piglets into “eaters” and “non-eaters,” and to determine if this correlated to feed intake in the nursery in the first 24 hours post-weaning.

Results

Effect of creep feed provision on pig performance at weaning and nursery exit
Offering creep feed in the farrowing room for one week prior to weaning did not improve overall piglet weaning weight or growth rate from Day 21 to weaning. Also, nursery exit weights were similar regardless of creep feed provision (Table 1). However, average daily gain and average daily feed intake during the nursery phase increased (or tended to increase) in pigs that had been provided creep feed.

Prairie Swine Centre-University of Saskatchewan

Table 1: Effect of creep feed provision from Day 21 to Day 26 in the farrowing room on nursery performance

 

Effect of creep feed consumption
Of piglets from litters that were provided creep feed, nearly 37% were identified as “eaters” of creep feed. Interestingly, piglets identified as “non-eaters” were actually heavier at Day 21 when the creep feed was offered (5.95 versus 5.64 kilograms; Figure 2) and tended to be heavier at weaning (7.72 versus 7.44 kilograms). However, “eaters” were heavier at nursery exit (20.60 versus 19.79 kilograms) due to the increase in ADG of “eaters” in the nursery (0.47 versus 0. 43).

Prairie Swine Centre-University of Saskatchewan

Figure 2: Body weights of piglets offered creep feed in the farrowing room from Day 21 to weaning, classified as either “eaters” or “non-eaters” (piglet is the experimental unit).

Approximately 45 % of piglets had apparently consumed some of the Phase 1 diet in the first 24 hours post-weaning, regardless of creep feed provision (Table 2). This was not affected by birth or weaning weight. It is widely believed that the initial 24 hours post-weaning is crucial for piglets’ later development. Indeed, piglets identified as nursery “eaters” had greater ADG throughout the nursery period, resulting in slightly greater nursery exit weights.

Prairie Swine Centre-University of Saskatchewan

Table 2: The effect of apparent Phase 1 diet consumption (“nursery eater”) during the initial 24 hours post-weaning on the nursery performance of piglets.

 

Finally, of the 37% of piglets designated as creep “eaters,” 54% of these were also “eaters” of the Phase 1 diet (ee), whereas 44% of the piglets designated as creep “non-eaters” had evidence of Phase 1 diet consumption within the first 24 hours post-weaning (ne; Table 3). Therefore, 10% more piglets with evidence of creep feed consumption, consumed Phase 1 diet during the initial hours in the nursery. This percentage is less than we were anticipating. Piglets who were nn (no evidence of either creep feed of Phase 1 diet intake) were the lightest at nursery exit. Piglets with evidence of creep feed and Phase 1 diet consumption had the highest growth rate from weaning to Day 3 post-weaning and throughout the nursery period.

Prairie Swine Centre-University of Saskatchewan

Table 3: Performance of piglets categorized as “eaters” or “non-eaters” in the farrowing room and/or the nursery (~24 hours post-weaning)

 

Conclusion
Overall, the provision of creep feed for five days prior to weaning had no effect on weaning weights or growth rate from Day 21 to weaning, however, modest effects were observed on piglet growth rate in the nursery. Interestingly, within the creep treatment, it was the lighter piglets which took advantage of the creep feed, and this subset of piglets showed an improved growth rate. Therefore, the provision of creep feed in the farrowing room provides benefits to piglets that show evidence of consumption and it is the lighter-weight piglets which benefit most from the provision of creep feed, and thus within litter variability may be reduced.

This project was supported by Government of Saskatchewan and Agriculture Development Fund. Program funding for Prairie Swine Centre from Sask Pork, The Manitoba Pork Council, Alberta Pork and Ontario Pork is gratefully acknowledged

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