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Matt Grimm, wean-to-finish operation manager with Cactus Family Farms, stresses the importance of making the transition for weaned pigs as comfortable as possible, so that they can hit peak performance. National Hog Farmer/Kevin Schulz
Matt Grimm, wean-to-finish operation manager with Cactus Family Farms, stresses the importance of making the transition for weaned pigs as comfortable as possible, so that they can hit peak performance.

Keys to easing weaned pig transition

Planning ahead, communication get pigs off to good start.

Much has been made of the importance of Day 1 care in the farrowing room, taking extreme measures to get newborn piglets off to the best start possible.

Equally important is transitioning weaned pigs between weaning and grow-finish. Matt Grimm, wean-to-finish operations manager at Cactus Family Farms, Osceola, Iowa, says helping the pigs make an easy transition should begin before the pigs are even in their new home.

“One of the things that I like to try to do, if at all possible, is all-in, all-out production,” he says. “Get all the pigs off the site, get the barns cleaned and get it inspected before I bring new pigs back into the facilities, to reduce the risk of having disease or bacteria brought into the new groups of pigs.”

Going to all-in, all-out can be a challenge, and Grimm says Cactus Family Farms has been able to “right-size our facilities so that we can do that cost-effectively to ensure we don’t eat up a lot of space cost in that process. … This time of year, we’re tight on space. Sometimes we have to make some decisions that don’t necessarily fit this perfect[ly], but we have tried to do everything we can to mitigate the risk throughout that process.”

Clean is clean
Grimm says second in line after going to all-in, all-out production is making sure that the facility is clean for the incoming pigs.

“One of the most overlooked things that I see in the industry is, we get pigs to market, we know pigs are coming in and we’ve got all these other things that are going on in between point A and point B — and we forget to go out and make sure that we have all the matter picked up, the facilities clean and we’re ready for new pigs,” he says. “Obviously there’s a high risk with market trucks that were at that facility prior to new pig placement that, whether we wash them or don’t wash them, puts risk on new groups of pigs. … So, at the end of the day, I would say ‘clean is clean.’ Clean isn’t having a couple crumbs on the ground.”

Other items often overlooked, in Grimm’s eyes, for cleanliness are the controllers, light switches, door knobs, door handles and medicine bottles left over from a previous group. “What’s the first thing you do when you go into the barn? You go to the controller to check that all the settings are right, put your fingers on the controller, and then you go in and start working with the pigs,” he says.

Grimm cannot stress cleanliness and sanitation enough, as he admits he once had a power-washing crew return to the barn nine times to rewash “because it was that important. Don’t get me wrong, it was a pain, but at the end of the day we got what we wanted.” A side benefit to that example was that the power washing crew did a lot better the subsequent times they were called into service. “We have high expectations, and we hold people accountable,” he says.

Check equipment
Making sure all equipment is working once new pigs arrive is too late. “Let’s make sure all our equipment is working before we have pigs show up,” Grimm says. “Check the inlets for proper airflow and airspeed, and that the inlets are working properly. Check your facilities for areas of infiltration. We need to get that fixed before pigs come in. It’s better on your energy costs, and it’s better for the environment for the pigs. It’s just a more efficient and suitable way to start pigs.”

Some equipment that may need special attention includes those fixtures that are not in constant use, such as heaters, brooders and minimum ventilation fans.

Pre-pig placement plan
Grimm says communication with the sow farm can go a long way in getting the weaned pigs off to the best start possible, “you need to know what the heck you’re getting,” he says. “I want to know what’s coming in, what’s the age? Do I have the right nutrition to feed these pigs? Did I pull them ahead because they had a PED [porcine epidemic diarrhea] break, or are they 21 or 22 days [of age]? Are they seeing any flu or PRRS [porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome] viremia to ensure that I’ve got the right diet and environment for the pigs?”

In addition to making sure the receiving barn can provide the proper diet and environment for the incoming pigs, he says a simple, but sometimes overlooked, aspect is a simple head count. “How many do I have coming in?” he says. “There have been times that I’ve seen a truck show up and drop off 100 extra pigs in the barn. Now all of a sudden, I’m 8% more pigs in that facility than I expected, and that is another management issue that I’ve got to work through. … I’ve got to potentially move the pigs — which is a disaster when you start thinking about biosecurity and the risk associated with that.”

While communicating with the sow farm, Grimm says it’s imperative to understand the flow trends, with a firm understanding of the health challenges of the incoming pigs. “Let’s make sure we were prepared for it. Do we have the proper antibiotics on the site that are needed? Whether it’s injectable or water meds, do we have the right volume, but not too much? All the little factors that are really, really key to make sure that we could do things timely in the face of a challenge when pigs need it.”

Complete understanding of the vaccination schedule is also important, knowing if the pigs are coming in vaccinated from the sow farm or if that will need to be done post-arrival.

Proper placement of incoming pigs can get them off to a good start. If possible, he likes to place them in the center of the barn, but not under forced-air heaters or under a sensor probe, “because that sensor probe is going to read cooler, and that may negatively impact the average temperature in the barn.”

Speaking of temperature, Grimm says it is important to get the barn environment set at the level that they will be living in when they first arrive at the farm. “Preheat the barn before they get there,” he says. “Let’s make sure we’ve got that environment warmed up. The pigs are ready, the barn is ready for pigs to come in. Let’s not add any more challenges to the pigs than we already have.” He suggests starting to preheat the barn 12 to 24 hours before the pigs are scheduled to arrive.

Every barn is different
Part of establishing an optimum environment for the weaned pigs is having a full understanding of the facility, as well as all the factors that come into play: Is it a nursery facility? Ventilation type? Flooring type? Facility size? Brooders versus heat lamps? Mat or no mats?

He admits that each operation and each barn present different management specifics for desired pig comfort. “Personally, I’m a guy who likes to drive that temperature as low as I can. I want it cool,” he says. “I want to stimulate feed intake.”

Once the pigs do come into the barn, Grimm sorts out the bottom 10%, and they are placed in designated sort pens and are fed gruel for three days. “They are used to a liquid diet from Mom,” he says. “If I’m going to force-feed them to eat something that they’re not used to, and they’re already stressed and challenged, it’s less likely that they’re going to overcome that.”

He suggests grueling a minimum of three to four times a day. “The more, the merrier,” he says. “I like to have the gruel gone in about a half-hour.” Since the pigs are used to a liquid diet of sow’s milk, he suggests starting with a mix of 75% water and 25% feed and “graduating” the pigs after three days, because of the reality that they will need to ultimately get to a diet of dry feed and water.

Pig care, of course, doesn’t end once they have been placed in the wean-finish barn, and Grimm says it’s important to “let the pigs tell you the rest of the story. … At the end of the day, they are going to tell you what you need to do.”

Grimm gave a presentation on successful weaned pig transition at Iowa Swine Day on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames at the end of June.

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