Get challenged nursery pigs off to a great start

Nursing challenged weaned pigs to health is hard work. It is taxing both physically and emotionally to the teams providing the day-to-day care.

April 29, 2020

6 Min Read
Piglets eating out of a gruel feeder
National Pork Board

Weaned pigs are arguably the most labor-intensive age group of the herd. They've just come off the sow so they're loudly squawking because they don't know what's going on. Immediately following arrival, they go off feed for a couple days, require warmer temperatures than are comfortable to most humans, sometimes using brooders or heat lamps. There's also sorting, grueling, mat feeding, escape artists, vaccinating and a plethora of common diseases to keep an eye out for.

When nursery teams hear the words "you'll be receiving challenged pigs" veteran swine technicians know that it translates to even more work. Nursery and wean-to-finish teams are prepared for labor-intensive projects; however, they may not be expecting just how physically and mentally exhausting "hard-to-start" nursery pigs are. In this article we'll explore different ideas on how to start and maintain the most challenged weaned pigs.

To begin let's clarify the definition of "challenged pigs." For the purpose of this article it means any pig that is for any reason not considered a healthy, thriving pig. Examples would be forced early weans or any disease event that is ailing your pigs. It is inevitable that at some point you'll witness a respiratory disease and/or scours in your herd. Therefore, our focus is to provide suggestions for every team for any challenged pig. This is not disease specific, as you should always turn to your supervising veterinarian for appropriate treatment recommendation. The following are the four guidelines to share while preparing your teams for the imminent plight.

The first rule of thumb with challenged pigs is convince them to hydrate. If you can get a pig to drink you've won the most important battle. Hydration is vital for life; in challenged pigs it literally means survival or death in a matter of hours. Using hydration supplements, milk replacer, water flavoring, electrolytes and/or any combination thereof will assist you in getting these pigs to hydrate. Maximize every visit to the drinker and gruel pan.

You may see little interest in feed consumption at this time. For this reason, grueling is a successful tool to use. Simply mix pellets with water several times daily in the gruel pan and let them drink up. Many of the vitamins and minerals provided in the feed are water soluble. They won't be immediately gaining; however they will be getting what's essential for survival. A trick if you find yourself in a situation without hydration supplements is to temporarily use cherry gelatin.

Besides being a sweet treat, many brands have ascorbic acid, aka vitamin C, in it. Vitamin C is thought to play a significant role in the functionality of the immune system. During periods of stress, naturally stored vitamin C reserves are depleted, and high concentrations are excreted in urine. Pigs are able to synthesize vitamin C as early as 7 days of age. Weaning imposes an immense stress on healthy pigs, so it's no surprise that it would have a negative impact on challenged pigs. Plasma concentration of vitamin C drops drastically in pigs shortly after weaning. This suggests that extra vitamin C during this time may be beneficial to boost the immune system. The goal of cherry gelatin is to make a Kool-Aid. It is an effective short-term solution to convince your pigs to drink, drink, drink.

Swine formulated supplements should have the appropriate levels included in them, however, it's recommended to work with a veterinarian or nutritionist to see if you should be supplementing vitamins and trace minerals.

The second rule is to keep them warm and dry. A solution may prove difficult, especially when you have a scouring group of pigs. Mats keep your pigs warm, but they also trap moisture and become breeding grounds for microorganisms. Keeping the room warm at the pig level means room temps may need to be set between 90 degrees F and 92 degrees F but also move air for humidity control.

If your buildings have the capability, brooders or heat lamps are effective if they are all maintained properly. These can be a hassle and must be watched closely to ensure the pigs can escape the heat if needed. One of the more successful ways to provide a warm, dry environment is the use mats sprinkled with a drying, absorbent agent. Experience has proven that a combination effort of course lime powder (calcium carbonate) and wood chips sprinkled on the mat is successful.

Wood chips absorb large amounts of liquid such as urine. They should be swept out and replaced every 24 hours once used. Lime is an excellent, economical choice for quick drying and is safe to use topically on the animals. Keep a bucket of it with your treating station. You may dip their sore, red bottoms right in it as you treat. It has the similar effect to baby powder or corn starch on babies with diaper rash.

The third rule to follow is use the appropriate Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship-approved treatment. The key to administering proper treatment is diagnosis. Experienced swine technicians are able to spot the symptoms of certain diseases, as well as, treat them. Veterinary confirmation should be sought to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment protocols are laid out from the beginning for best possible treatment success.

During a disease event, your veterinarian will be able to give the best nutritional, environmental and medicinal recommendations specific to your herd's needs. Producers are encouraged to keep an emergency supply of their most commonly used drugs, drying agents and hydration supplements on hand. You'd rather have them and not need them than need them but not have them. Remember to follow the first in-first out method in your storage area to ensure all medications are being used by their expiration date.

The final rule to follow is get them up every few hours, at least for the first week post-weaning. This is likely the most laborious part to consistently follow. The teams we've mentored get their pigs up every time they turn the hose on to gruel — up to six times during the day. This trains the piglets to get up on their own when they hear the water turn on. The good news is around Day 5 your pigs will have learned this behavior. They'll equate it to a sow's call to suckle. Hopefully, they'll run to the feeder/gruel pan to get their chow on. Getting them up will assist in analyzing the overall condition of each pig, their environment and provide timely treatment on an individual basis.

Following these four guidelines from the beginning of the event gives your team the best chance for a successful outcome. Nursing challenged weaned pigs to health is hard work. It is taxing both physically and emotionally to the teams providing the day-to-day care. Morale may wane with high mortality rates and long hours. Leaders must acknowledge the team's effort by showing appreciation for the work they've put into these pigs. They are the superheroes who took pigs merely surviving and turned them into thriving market hogs. Pretty spectacular, don't you think?

Source: Samantha Marais, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.

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