Starting Pigs: The Race to the Market Begins with a Successful Start
Three hot meals a day, your own clean room, and fresh folded laundry. You have your parents to thank for that. When college hits, then it’s Ramen, Febreze and awkward roommates. This concept, relatable to many of us, can be extrapolated to today’s modern pig production.
The transition period after weaning is the most challenging time in hog production, and the impact on those first seven days sets the stage for the next 23 weeks of grow/finish performance. In an ideal production system, pigs would be 21 days of age at weaning, average 14 pounds of bodyweight, be disease free, and come from a single sow source. The reality of modern production is that many groups come from multiple sources and are weaned younger than 21 days of age. A large percentage are under 10 pounds, and have a health challenge of some kind. It is how producers handle this critical stage in production that puts them ahead in the race to market.
Setting the Stage
The important work begins even before pigs arrive. Clean, disinfect and dry. Once pigs are removed from the previous turn, all organic material needs to be removed from all barn surfaces. Heat mats and any feeders should be removed to maximize areas for soaking. Water lines are to be flushed and drinkers drained to ensure no organic residue is left behind. The room is power-washed using hot water, a disinfectant is applied, and the room is allowed to dry for a target of three days prior to the next group’s arrival.
Creating a comfort zone
Once properly cleaned and disinfected, the room now needs to be warm and inviting for the new recruits. The comfort zone is the temperature at which an animal can maintain its body temperature by regulating the skin, changing the heart rate and respiratory rate, or changing body position to increase or decrease exposed surface area. This comfort zone is dependent upon floor type, air speed and the temperature and insulation of the building. Some of these factors are continually changing and need to be adjusted throughout their nursery stay to ensure comfort. Barns should be preheated for 12 hours prior to pig arrival. Mats should be placed so that pigs have 0.4 square feet per head of space and brooders set to provide a comfort zone of 95°F with the mats below. Inlets need to be set according to pig placement, and ventilation minimum and maximums need to be established based on the style of barn.
Knowing how you are going to stock your barn, how you are going to deal with fall-behind pigs, and where your sick pen is going to be located requires some planning. 15-20% of the smallest pigs, in addition to sick pigs in the group will need extra attention. They will need consistent gruel feeding, require extra water, and will need a warmer temperature to ensure their success. A graduation pen needs to be established where recovered hospital pen pigs can finish out their stay. Knowing which pens can best support a producer executing on the above can make a world of difference.
Water, water and more water
Over 80% of the body of a newborn pig consists of water. It is therefore a critical component and the first thing the pigs look for in barn. Be sure that each pig has sufficient access to watering points. This is dependent on the style of drinker in each barn. Ideally, drinkers should be positioned within 3-6 feet from the feeders. There should be more than one drinker per pen to ensure a backup in case of break down or blockage. Bowl drinkers should be set at 40% of shoulder height, and swinging nipple drinkers should be set sufficiently high to allow pigs to be able to walk underneath. Water pressure needs to be verified and should be between 15-20 PSI. It’s also advised to add a secondary source of clean drinking water when using wet-dry feeders.
Using water dispersible products during the first few days entering the nursery can stimulate feed and water intake, bridging the gap from sow’s milk to starter feed. Wean Defense is a water-soluble product offered to pigs for five days after entering the nursery that provides vital nutrients and health-supporting compounds to improve gut development, water intake and stool consistency.
Finally, it’s time to EAT
One may have thought that choosing the right feed is all you need to ensure a proper start, yet all of the above contribute to success. Before weaning, piglets don’t need as much thought because the sow nurses them at frequent intervals. Once weaned, pigs now need to decide when and how much to feed themselves. Sows milk also provides both the water and nutrient components that a piglet requires, but after weaning they need to distinguish between thirst and hunger and how they are going to satisfy both.
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 equal parts of water and feed to an oatmeal-like consistency and provide fresh gruel a minimum of 4 times/day. Only mix as much as what pigs will eat in 30 minutes. 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. By day 5-7 they should be on dry feed. Intensive Care Formula 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.