Feeding the weaned pig

Ensuring your piglets receive a good quality diet will help them overcome the challenges they face at weaning. Our information will help you to manage feeding at this important time.

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Weaning is one of the most stressful times in the piglet’s life, as they are exposed to numerous changes, such as removal from the sow and littermates, abrupt transition from milk to a solid feed and a new environment. As a result, it is common to see a period of low and variable feed intake post-weaning, often resulting in a growth check that can last for 7–10 days.

These stressors can also cause physiological changes to the gastrointestinal tract, leaving pigs susceptible to post-weaning diarrhoea, which can further affect performance. The effect of weaning, if not overcome, can have a long-term effect on both growth and mortality.

Creep feed

To help the newly weaned piglet overcome these challenges, pre-weaning nutrition (creep feed) and management should be optimised and a good quality diet should be provided at weaning. 

Tips for successful creep feeding

Starter diets

It is important to consider both nutrients and raw materials to prevent sudden changes that can further exacerbate stress in the pig. Complex starter diets containing many highly digestible ingredients, such as milk products, fish and processed cereals, have been shown to better facilitate the weaning process and increase post-weaning intake than simple starter diets.

Gut health

Attention should also be paid to developing pigs’ gut health to ensure long-term health and performance. Increasing weaning age can be beneficial for optimising post-weaning growth. Older pigs have a better developed gastrointestinal system that can cope better with the stress of weaning and also spend longer suckling from the sow and consume creep feed for longer, which is known to stimulate gut development.

Water intake

Water intake is crucial for pigs post-weaning. In the first day or two post-weaning, weaner pigs will drink to satiate hunger. Feed intake also correlates with water intake, so if pigs have limited access to water, this can limit feed intake.

Read more water guidance for pig farmers

Nutrient recommendations for weaned pigs

Table 1 gives typical feed specifications for the weaned pig.

These feed specifications should be used as a guide. They are based on what nutritionists consider appropriate. Consult your nutritionist for further recommendations.

 Table 1. Nutrient recommendations for weaner pigs

Nutrients

Weaner pig

(6–13 kg)

Net energy (MJ/kg)

10.0–10.7

Crude protein (%)

19–22

Crude Fibre (%)

2.0–3.5

Standardised ileal digestible amino acids

Lysine (%)

1.2–1.5

Methionine (ratio)1

0.3–0.4

Methionine + cysteine (ratio)

0.58–0.65

Threonine (ratio)

0.65–0.70

Tryptophan (ratio)

0.18–0.22

Valine (ratio)

0.65–0.70

Isoleucine (ratio)

0.55–0.60

Histidine (ratio)

0.35–0.45

Minerals

Calcium (%)

0.70–0.80

Digestible phosphorus (%)2

0.40–0.50

Sodium (%)

0.20–0.30

Copper (mg/kg)3

100-150

Vitamins

Vitamin E (IU/kg)4

150–300

1Amino acids are presented as ratios to standardised ileal digestible lysine

2The maximum permitted level of copper in piglet feed is 150 mg/kg up to 4 weeks post-weaning and 100 mg/kg between 5 and 8 weeks post-weaning

3Digestible phosphorus level is based on diet formulation without the use of phytase. If phytase is being used, then phosphorus levels must be readjusted. Addition of phytase to the diet is recommended for improved digestibility

4Vitamin E requirements for maximum growth are lower than those needed to boost the immune system. For optimum immune system function, a higher dose of Vitamin E should be provided, typically around 300 IU/kg in first-stage diets and 200 IU/kg in second-stage diets

Additional additives to consider

In addition to the above nutrient recommendations, the following additives may also be considered:

Phytase

The addition of phytase at very high levels (known as ‘super-dosing’) is common in piglet starter feeds and has been shown to increase the nutritional value of feed by increasing the release of phosphorus and other minerals

Organic acids

Organic acids can be supplemented in diets in several different forms, but – in general – they are known to lower the pH of the piglet’s stomach. This can reduce the occurrence of pathogens such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella and improve the digestibility of feed. Additionally, some acids work in the hindgut of the piglet, where they have a favourable effect on the gut microflora

Prebiotics and probiotics

You might want to consider including prebiotics and probiotics to support the intestinal gut flora and general health of the piglets

Quantity of feed

Most starter feed regimes in the UK are either two- or three-stage regimes, with diets decreasing in complexity to ensure a smooth transition onto the grower ration. To put together a feeding regime for a weaned piglet, it is important to consider the pigs’ weaning weight, the body weight for which the link ration is designed and an estimate of the pigs’ feed conversion ratio (FCR).

Ultimately, the amount of diet fed will vary; however, on average, pigs are fed 6 kg of starter feed per pig. Piglets of different weaning weights may benefit from different amounts of starter feed; if pigs are separated by size at weaning, then a feeding programme should account for this.

Table 2 shows a typical average daily feed intake (ADFI) for a pig during the first three weeks post-weaning. The feed intake of newly weaned pigs is highly variable, with an initial drop in intake post-weaning that lasts several days. After this, feed intake should gradually rise.

Table 2. Typical average daily feed intake (ADFI) of pigs during the first 3 weeks post-weaning

Stage

ADFI (g/day)

Day 0–7

115–160

Day 7–14

200–315

Day 14–21

325–415

Feeding requirements by production system

One of the main factors to consider in terms of feed management for weaner pigs on different production systems is feed intake.

Outdoor pigs tend to have greater appetites at weaning, so often do not require as nutrient dense a regime as indoor-reared pigs. Another consideration for outdoor units is whether a summer/winter feeding regime is needed to account for the drop in weaning weights often seen during the summer months caused by heat stress-associated reductions in sow milk production. A summer regime can be tailored to account for a reduced weaning weight by using more nutrient dense diets or by increasing the amount of starter feed.

Feed form

Starter feed for pigs is available in three main forms: pellets, meal and crumbs. While there are pros and cons of each feed form, ultimately, the decision is unit-specific and may be dictated by the feeding equipment available on farm.

Pellets are the most commonly used feed form and reportedly give better FCR than meal. This is largely associated with feed wastage, although the finer grinding of particles may also improve digestion. Meal can be beneficial in slowing down digesta through the gut. Given its fine form, it can also stick to piglets’ snouts to encourage feed intake.

Crumbs have increased in popularity in recent years and offer an intermediate option between meal and pellets. Crumbs are manufactured as pellets first before being ground, so they may have finer ground particles than pellets, but their relatively compact form means they are less likely to be wasted than a meal. Crumbs can work well in liquid feeding systems and when gruel is offered to pigs.

Frequently asked questions

The feed intake of pigs immediately after weaning can be highly variable. Encouraging pigs to eat as soon as possible after weaning will be of considerable benefit to post-weaning growth because a prolonged period of anorexia can damage the gut. Some tips for ensuring optimal post-weaning feed intake are:

  • Creep feeding – This will improve the transition to solid feed at weaning and ensure piglets recognise the feed
  • Optimum nutritionFeeding complex starter diets containing highly digestible ingredients, such as milk products, fish and cooked cereals, have been shown to increase post-weaning feed intake compared with simple starter diets
  • Water supplyWater intake correlates with feed intake. If a pig does not drink, it will not eat. In the first few days post-weaning, pigs will drink water excessively to achieve satiety
  • Feeding spaceNewly weaned pigs are accustomed to eating together. Providing access to sufficient feeder spaces allows pigs to mimic their feeding patterns from when they were feeding from the sow
  • Optimal environmental conditionsThe conditions in which the pigs are housed will influence feed intake. Piglets will adjust their intake if they are too hot or too cold. Piglets also prefer to eat their first meal in the light, so try to wean pigs early in the day and increase light exposure
  • Minimise stressStress can have a large effect on pigs’ feed intake at weaning. Pigs are exposed to several stressors, such as a new environment and social groups, so minimise stress in any way that you can

Recent research has shown the beneficial effect that fibre can have on the gut health of pigs post-weaning.

Fibre can act as a prebiotic: it feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut, which has a positive effect on the gut microbiome. Some fibre sources also have a functional role. Wheat bran, for example, has been shown to act as a binding site for E. coli, preventing these bacteria from attaching to the gut wall.

When pigs experience a health challenge, their feed intake will probably decrease and this will have a negative effect on growth performance.

We also know that challenged pigs have different nutrient requirements to healthy pigs; for example, they can benefit from different ratios of amino acids. The use of specific additives can also help, depending on the particular health challenge.

Therefore, it can be useful to provide pigs with diets that have been tailored for their health status. It is important to remember, however, that the performance of a health-challenged pig will be less than that of a healthy pig, so focus on improving the health status.

Pigs that are deficient in vitamin E can present with symptoms, such as paleness and sudden death.

A post-mortem examination may suggest Mulberry heart disease, which is associated with a lack of Vitamin E. Some pigs with sufficient availability of vitamin E may not be deficient, but might still benefit from a higher level of vitamin E in the diet because of its positive effects on immune system function.

The optimal level will be unit-specific, so this should be discussed with your vet and nutritionist.

primary. diets.

This was written in conjunction with ABN, Primary Diets and Premier Nutrition.

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