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Getting Weaned Pigs to Eat

Article-Getting Weaned Pigs to Eat

Under most commercial situations, weaned pigs experience some degree of appetite depression. This temporary eating slump increases production cost and hampers pig performance through finishing. Here are 10 keys to remember when starting newly weaned pigs.

Before weaning, a sow nurses her litter at frequent intervals. After weaning, the piglets are faced with the decision of when and how much to feed themselves. Naturally, sow’s milk provided liquid and nutrients, but after weaning, the pig needs to distinguish between thirst and hunger and also to realize that these needs must be satisfied via separate media.

Pigs that barely maintain their weaning weight during the first week may take an extra 10 to 20 days to reach market weight, compared to pigs that grow at their preweaning gain rates during the same period, according to research conducted at Kansas State University.

Early weaned pigs require about 300 g./day of dry feed during the first week postweaning to maintain their pre-weaning growth rate. Actual feed intakes, however, rarely exceed 200 g./day.
Here are 10 keys to get weaned pigs to start eating quickly and increase feed intake:

1. Management. Increased biosecurity, an aggressive farm-specific disease prevention program, improved pig/human flow, and continuous staff training are essential parts of a professional nursery site.

2. Diet digestibility. Feed intake generally increases with improving digestibility of the diet. This is why most nursery diets are fortified with cooked cereals, milk proteins, fish meal, and simple sugars. Although such diets are more expensive than simple diets (based on corn and soybean meal), the benefits are improved performance and health.

3. Specialty ingredients. Antimicrobial agents at growth promoting levels, zinc oxide and copper sulfate at pharmacological doses (2,000-3,000 ppm for zinc and 200-250 ppm for copper), certain organic acids, and animal plasma improve post-weaning feed intake and growth.

Generally, these ingredients are more efficacious when health, facilities, and management are sub-optimal.

4. Balanced budget. Even though high-quality starter diets promote growth performance, their advantages can be easily lost if they are fed for too long or at the wrong amount for each weight class of weaner pigs.
Here’s a quick reference for pig weights and amount of starter feed budgeted to each weight class:

  • Under 10 lb. - 4 lb.
  • 10 to 12 lb. - 3 lb.
  • 12 to 14 lb. - 2 lb.
  • More than 14 lb. – 1 lb.

Since producers are more likely to sort pigs by eye, they should have an estimate on their average weaning weight.

A small portion, about half a pound, of starter feed can be spread on mats to enhance appetite, and the rest in feeders. Ideally, all phase 1 feed could be fed on mats, but this could lead to waste as high as feed intake, I have found in my research on mat feeding.

A common mistake is to disregard the fact that heavy pigs are accustomed to consume large quantities of milk and thus, they tend to take longer than lightweight pigs to adapt to dry diets. Therefore, budget a small allotment of the first diet even for the heaviest pigs.

5. Appetizers. These are commercial products that entice piglets to explore and ingest solid feed based on aroma and texture. At SCA Nutrition we have an appetizer (Primistart) that enhances the development of early feed intake, especially in lightweight pigs. It is a sticky meal diet that is composed of milk and fish proteins, oats, citric acid, and it is fortified with designer flavors and digestive enhancers. Other appetizers are available to encourage feed consumption.

6. Mat-feeding. This is probably the most cost-effective way to increase feed intake, according to my research at the University of Illinois.

Spread a small quantity of feed on floor-mats or on solid floors to encourage pigs to rut and ingest solid feed as early as the first day post-weaning.

On mats without a rim, pigs like to roll and push pellets instead of picking them up. Placing the mat near the feeder seems to encourage pigs to consume more feed from the feeder. Pigs require two to three days of floor feeding before they become accustomed eating from feeders.

Frequent feeding stimulates pigs to eat more and prevents wastage of uneaten portions. However, based on our own research, feeding more than three times daily is not advised because pigs become too fond of mat-feeding.

7. Milk replacers. Nursery pigs will readily consume a warm liquid milk replacer of the proper temperature and composition.

However, pigs reared solely on a liquid diet may fail to relate to dry feed unless the milk replacer is combined with a high quality starter diet or milk pellets. Good sanitation and frequent feeding are essential to prevent spoilage and attract pigs to eat.

8. Liquid diets. Offering a soup of water or a liquid dairy product and dry feed can dramatically increase (up to 300%) the intake of dry matter during the first week postweaning.

Although a ratio close to 3:1 water to dry feed is usually recommended for most automatic pipeline feeding systems, nursery pigs can utilize efficiently even more dilute mixtures (up to 5:1), according to research at the University of Plymouth, UK.

9. Gruel feeding. In farms where pigs are fed dry diets on a regular basis, a warm gruel (50:50) of feed and water (or a liquid milk co-product) can be offered to weaned pigs in special bowl-type feeders during the first 2 to 3 days postweaning.

Unless the gruel is gradually thickened (70:30), some piglets may fail to adapt to dry feed.

10. Water nutrition. A new area of nutrition is water application of nutrients and feed additives. Citric acid offered via drinking water greatly reduces scouring and enhances feed intake and growth rates. A blend of soluble plasma and lactose is also available for water application. These practices tend to reduce variability in growth rates, especially among the most underprivileged piglets.