Back to Basics: 7 Tips for Weaning Pigs to Eat

Posted: November 15, 2018 | Written By: Anitra Balchan, M.S. - Form-A-Feed Nutrition and Production Specialist

weaning pigs

According to research conducted at Kansas State University, 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 pre-weaning gain rates during the same period.  In today’s hog market, that is an extra 10 to 20 days producers simply cannot afford to give up.

It is no surprise that the transition period after weaning is the most challenging time in hog production. The impact on those first seven days sets the stage for the next 23 weeks of grow/finish performance. Going back to the basics and focusing on those first seven days can help keep money in your pocket.

Here are some tips to getting those weaned pigs up and running:

1 – Biosecurity – Having an appropriate on-farm specific disease prevention program combined with appropriate staff training will make all the difference in maintaining and protecting the health of newly weaned pigs.

2 – Walk Pens – Before weaning, sows nurse their litters at frequent, consistent intervals. Once these litters are weaned they now need to determine how much and when to eat. This may sound simple, but newly weaned pigs need to be trained. Walking pens on a consistent basis, meaning 4-6 times a day, gets them up and moving which provides them with a gentle reminder they need to eat.

3 – Water – It is a nutrient that tends to take a back seat but water drives feed intake. It is essential for all functions of the body including absorption of nutrients, temperature regulation, and growth. In fact, 80% of the body of the newborn pig consists of water. Be sure that each pig has sufficient access to water points, and provide more than one drinker per pen. Bowl drinkers should be set at 40% of shoulder height. Pigs should be able to walk underneath nipple drinkers easily, ensuring they can have access to water. Water pressure should be verified and between 15-20 PSI. Wet-dry feeders also require a separate source of clean drinking water.

Using water dispersible products such as Wean Defense during the first few days entering the nursery can stimulate feed and water intake bridging the gap from sow’s milk to starter feed. It is water-soluble product offered to pigs for 5 -7 days after entering the nursery that provides vital nutrients and health supporting compounds to improve gut development, water intake and stool consistency. 

4 –  Diet Digestibility – Improving digestibility of a diet will improve feed intake. Having a diet fortified with milk proteins, cooked cereals and simple sugars benefits performance and health. Starter Crumble 1300 provides all the above combined with organic trace minerals, processed soy proteins, microbials and yeast to help improve weaned pig gut health and performance.

5 – Accurate Budget – High quality starter diets improve feed intake, health and performance. However, these advantages can be lost if they are fed at the wrong amount for each weight class or if they are fed for too long. Knowing average weaning weights can help budget more appropriately.

6 – Gruel Feeding – Gruel feeding gives piglets in the general population a few days to settle into their new environment and the opportunity to figure out feeders and waterers without sacrificing those first few critical days of nutrition. It also gives extra nutritional support to those fall-behind pigs or those in the sick pen. Mix three parts water to one part feed to a watery oatmeal-like consistency and provide fresh gruel for a minimum of four times/day. Only mix as much as what pigs will eat in 30 minutes, and all pigs should be able to eat at one time.  Gruel feed for the first 3-5 days when entering the nursery, using less water each day and by day 5-7 they should be on dry feed.

Intensive Care is a highly palatable transition starter feed that is designed to stimulate intestinal tract development and transition young, lightweight, or fall-behind pigs to dry feed. Intensive Care can be utilized as part of a gruel feeding program or can be top dressed on regular starter feed or mats.

7 – Mat Feeding – Mat feeding is similar in concept to ringing the dinner bell. Newly weaned pigs need to be trained to eat from feeders for the first few days. Spreading a small amount of feed on floor mats close to the feeders 2-3 times daily essentially is “ringing the dinner bell”. These small, frequent meals stimulate pigs to eat more, become accustomed to feeders and prevents wastage of any uneaten portions.

Contact your Form-A-Feed representative for more information on helping to get your pigs back to the basics.