When moved to the weaning facility, one of the first things a pig should do is look for water and take a drink. Unfortunately, the stress of movement, new surroundings and new pen mates can delay adequate hydration. Without prevention or support, this dehydration can delay performance and cause significant setbacks in young pigs.
Dan McManus, DVM, swine specialist for Purina Animal Nutrition, points to dehydration as one of the largest challenges young pigs face at weaning. A lack of water consumption is clear when looking at the numbers. In fact, estimates show only 51% of newly weaned pigs consume water in the first 25 hours post-weaning.
“The young pig is made up of about 70% water, so keeping him hydrated is very important in getting him started,” McManus says. “At weaning, we need to do everything we can to get pigs drinking and eating.”
“Feed intake the first few days post-weaning is highly correlated to water intake,” he adds. “The faster we get them eating and drinking, the better the performance is going to be in that first 40 days post-weaning – and beyond.”
Following are three tips to help keep pigs hydrated pre- and post-weaning to set the stage for a successful finish.
Provide adequate water space and flow.
A target water consumption for weaned pigs is 0.3 gallons of water per pound of feed consumed, equating to 0.7 gallons of water per day throughout the weaning period. To allow pigs adequate access to water, provide one waterer for every 10 pigs.
Test the water quality, temperature and flow rate prior to introducing pigs to the facility.
“We need to provide plenty of water space and plenty of water availability,” McManus says. “I like to see a flow rate of about 1 pint per minute through the waterers in the nursery and grow phase and about 1 quart per minute in the finishing phase.”
Provide support at weaning
Due to new surroundings, pen mates and transport, stressed pigs will often drink low amounts of water during the weaning transition. Hydration support can help minimize the stress by providing essential nutrients and lessen performance lag during the transition.
Before the transition, add electrolytes to the waterers through a water medicator. To help transition onto solid feed, provide gel and highly-palatable starter feeds both pre- and post-weaning.
“Electrolyte solutions and gel can help keep pigs hydrated and performing well in that first week post-weaning,” McManus says. “Look for a product that provides sodium, chloride, magnesium, vitamins and pH acidifiers. These nutrients help balance the gut and keep the pig drinking and eating.”
The added nutrients and palatability of electrolytes have proven effective. In a study evaluating the first three days post-weaning, early weaned pigs drank four times more water with electrolytes (3.748 L/pig/24h) compared to untreated tap water (836 mL/pig/24h). Similarly, feeding gel has led to higher feed consumption the first four to seven days post-weaning.
“I typically encourage producers to provide electrolytes to pigs the first five to seven days after weaning and during times of stress; and to mat-feed gel two days pre-weaning and five days post-weaning,” McManus says. “This early hydration is critical in creating eaters and promoting long-term performance.”
Provide support through challenges
Dehydration is also likely during health challenges or other times of stress. Critical times in the pig production cycle include: transport, disease and vaccination.
“A sign of stress in pigs is diarrhea. If a pig has diarrhea, he’s losing electrolytes and the water balance in the pigs can reach critical levels. This imbalance can damage the villi in the pig’s digestive tract, resulting in decreased nutrient absorption long-term.”
“I’ve had really good luck with gel and electrolytes when pigs have diarrhea, because of the added nutrients gel and electrolytes provide,” McManus says. “These tools are a very good adjunct to help pigs through challenges and help set them up for long-term performance. Through all phases, hydration is critical.”
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 Almond, Glen. “North Carolina Healthy Hogs Seminar.” North Carolina State University. www.ncsu.edu/project/swine_extension/healthyhogs/book1995/almond.htm. 23 April 2015.
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