Establishing the weaned pig

Establishing your weaned pigs early will minimise the impact of the many challenges they face at weaning.
Back to: Weaning and small pig management

At weaning, the piglet experiences multiple challenges, including: the stress of being taken from the sow, being mixed with other pigs and establishing a new 'pecking order', a new environment, a change of diet and a health challenge. As a result, daily liveweight gain, which can be about 300 g/day the week prior to weaning (assuming weaning at 28 days), can be reduced by up to 200 g/day.

There is evidence that growth rate during the first few weeks post-weaning is positively correlated with subsequent lifetime performance. It is, therefore, important to establish the weaner immediately post-weaning to maintain growth rates, reduce pen variation and lessen the amount of ‘tail-enders’ at point of sale.

Key considerations pre-weaning

  • A good weaning weight (e.g. 7.5 kg at 26 days) is critical
    • Research has shown that heavier piglets at weaning have better lifetime performance than lighter piglets
    • Weaning weight is a more accurate indication of post-weaning growth than either birth weight or age
  • Optimise gut development, pre-weaning growth and weaning weight through creep feeding
  • Appropriately feed and water the lactating sow for maximum milk yield

Managing the environment of weaned pigs

Environmental conditions and piglet behaviour should be monitored regularly and carefully. For example:

  • Lying habits: Look out for huddling, which may indicate chilling
  • Vices: They may indicate draughts, stocking density problems, or insufficient access to feed and water
  • Noise: High levels of noise may be indicative of stress
  • Dunging in lying area could be the result of chilling

Ensure there is adequate dry bedding, or, if using slatted floored pens, heat the house to the correct temperature before introducing piglets. Avoid temperature fluctuations and check the min/max temperatures at least daily. Exclude all draughts and control airflow to prevent chilling but maintain air quality.

Run weaner accommodation on an all-in all-out basis – clean, disinfect and dry between batches.

Ensure there is adequate lighting for piglets to find feed and water; ideally, fit timers to control the daily pattern of light and dark.

Move and handle piglets calmly, keeping stress to a minimum and keep mixing to a minimum. Where litters are mixed, sort piglets by size to enable correct feeding and minimise future variation. Remember, where piglets are weaned at varying ages, the younger pigs will be less mature and less able to adapt to the stresses of weaning.

For further guidance on the legal environment requirements for piglets, refer to Defra's Code of practice for the welfare of pigs

Managing the health of weaned pigs

Weaning occurs as the piglet’s passive immunity, derived from the sow, is declining and before the piglet’s own immunity is fully established.

  • Minimise health challenges as far as possible (e.g. from the environment or other pigs)
  • Promptly identify poor performers or sick pigs, and treat appropriately
  • Stream smalls into a cosy environment for specialist feeding
  • Review hygiene protocols in relation to the challenges
  • Where possible, keep sources separate, ideally, by site or building, but at least by pen
  • Review farm health plans with your herd vet, e.g. breeding herd vaccination protocols

Weaned pig nutrition

See our weaned pig nutrition pages, written in collaboration with ABN, Primary Diets and Premier Nutrition, for detailed guidance on weaner nutrition.

Feeding the weaned pig

Weaning generally involves a major dietary change – both feed form and temperature. Establishing both feed and water intake as soon as possible after weaning is critical to rehydrate the piglets, provide a readily available energy source and maintain body temperature and to promote gut health and stability.

If creep feeding, use the same diet for the first 24–48 hours post-weaning. Presentation and positioning are critical, fresh feed must be readily visible and accessible. Initially, provide extra space with additional troughs/trays to enable all the piglets to feed at the same time.

Piglets will be used to being ‘called’ to feed by the sow, so call them three or four times a day for the first couple of days, to ensure they are all feeding.

Use ad-lib hoppers, once piglets are eating well, and adjust to maintain intakes but minimise wastage. Clean them daily to minimise fouling – reducing the risk of disease and encouraging intake.

Any diet changes should be planned and appropriate for the stage, growth and appetite of the piglets, in combination with the cost of the diet – consult your nutritional adviser and feed supplier.

Remember, water should be readily avaiable and checked at least daily. Consider position, height, different types of drinker, ease of operation and flow rates. Clean the water line between batches and drinkers regularly (daily in the event of fouling). Provide extra drinkers, with obvious water availability, e.g. bowls or turkey drinkers, to encourage water intake during the first few days. 

Monitor feeding and drinking habits – queuing and/or fighting may indicate insufficient access.

See our water guidance for pig farmers pages for more information on water requirements for pigs.

Water guidance for pig farmers

Post-weaning performance

Maintaining performance can be achieved by optimising water and feed intake, and closely regulating temperature, ventilation and stocking density.

At weaning, the piglet experiences multiple challenges and, as a result, daily liveweight gain can be reduced by up to 200 g/day. There is evidence that growth rate during the first few weeks post-weaning is positively correlated with subsequent lifetime performance; it is, therefore, important to establish the weaner immediately to maintain growth rates and reduce pen variation

Considerations for successful post-weaning performance

  • Split piglets into large boars, small boars and gilts at weaning
  • Construct an additional farrowing annex so piglets can remain in their original pen with the sow throughout this period. This reduces pre-weaning disruption, maximising weaning weights and minimising variation
  • Ensure optimal temperature, ventilation and stocking density
    • Set the temperature at 29°C. Decrease by 1.6°C a week for five weeks
    • Set cross-flow ventilation at 15% min
  • Provide plenty of light to encourage rooting and investigation, use supplementary lighting where and when it is needed
  • Clean and disinfect header tanks and water pipes between each batch
  • Provide water via nipple drinkers and large turkey drinkers (one nipple drinker per 10 pigs)
  • Supply feed where all pigs can access it – use extra feeding spaces after weaning to enable all pigs to feed at the same time (e.g. in an Osbourne Wheel and/or extra troughs
  • Don’t feed for up to two hours post-weaning while pigs are exploring their new surroundings
  • Leave feeders empty for up to two hours after weaning. Introduce compound feed when pigs weigh 16 kg