10 recommendations for a good start
New genetic improvement programs in swine have created lines of hyperprolific sows, capable of producing a greater number of piglets born and weaned per sow. These piglets have a higher growth potential, but a lower birth weight. With each extra piglet born, a reduction of 35 grams of average birth weight is estimated. This leads to a higher percentage of piglets of low weight and lower vitality, which translates into a higher mortality during lactation, lower weaning weight and greater variability of weaning weights.
Increased litter size also translates to less colostrum and milk available to the piglets. Consequently, the sow’s milk is insufficient to express the genetic growth potential of the piglets from 8 days of lactation onwards (Sorjanck, 2007), resulting in a loss of up to 60% of the growth potential compared to piglets artificially reared without this limitation (Harrell et al).
These increasingly smaller piglets have high nutritional requirements but limited water and feed intake capacity. Their gastrointestinal tract is incompletely developed, so their ability to digest and absorb nutrients is insufficient. Once they are weaned, the problem is aggravated by reduced post-weaning feed intake, which in turn leads to reduced growth. With the reduction in the use of antibiotics this problem has become even more complicated. Since the withdrawal of zinc oxide in early age feeds, post-weaning digestive problems have increased. In addition, there is a higher incidence of other pathologies in the farms (PRRS, …) that impact on the quality of the piglets, weaning weaker animals, with a compromised immune system so they are more vulnerable to diseases, which translates into worse productive yields.
Earlyfeed experts consider it vitally important that piglets start eating solid feed as soon as possible, since it promotes the maturation of the gastrointestinal tract, adaptation to the solid diet is achieved before weaning and an extra supply of nutrients is provided. In this way, the experts increase the quality of the weaned piglet, reduce weaning stress, and improve performance during the transition phase. Attention to both the supply and handling of feed, as well as its composition is important. In the first days of life, piglets’ feed consumption is very low, but the earlier solid feed is offered, the earlier they will start to eat it, the higher their consumption will be in the last week of lactation and the higher the percentage of solid feed eaters before weaning. In those litters where creep feed is offered from the first week of life, it has been observed that 10% more piglets consume feed compared to litters that receive feed from the second or third week of life (Sulabo et al., 2010).
Speaking of feed consumption in maternity conditions post-weaning feed intake; it is of vital importance that piglets consume feed within four hours after weaning to prevent atrophy of the intestinal villi, reduce digestive problems and improve productive performance. Piglets consuming creep feed have a higher feed intake in the first week post-weaning (Muns and Magowan, 2018). The earlier it is initiated, the fewer maladapted piglets there are at weaning. In a study by Bruininx et al (2002), they found that piglets that ingested feed in maternity started feed intake in transition at four hours post-weaning while those that had not eaten feed required almost seven hours.
The Earlyfeed experts at Agrifirm conducted a test with Babito (creep feed). The control and test groups consumed the same feed from day 21 of life and were weaned at 28 days. The test group was fed Babito from the third day of life until 21 days of life. In this group the experts observed a reduction in mortality in maternity of 27%, along with a greater growth from the second to the fourth week of life (+9%), which was maintained until 8 weeks of life, thus achieving a weight differential at the end of the period of +1.4kg.
Recent studies suggest that maintaining the same diet around weaning has a positive impact on post-weaning growth, as it is considered that when the creep feed has a very different composition to the post-weaning diet, even if the intake in maternity is higher as seen in the study, the post-weaning intake may suffer. In the experiment conducted by Heo et al. (2018), three different feeds were offered under the sow, creep feed, prestarter and sow feed, but at weaning all received prestarter.
Piglets fed the prestarter diet before and after weaning had a higher feed intake and grew more after weaning than those fed creep feed or the sow’s feed until weaning, which is when the switch to prestarter feed was made.
At weaning, changes in intestinal morphology and microbiota occur causing an increase in the incidence of diarrhea. In a study by Engelsmann et al (2023), they observed that piglets with high intake (20% higher) until the fourth post-weaning day grew more but were also twice as likely to have diarrhea and received antibiotic treatment more frequently than piglets with reduced intake. In order to ensure good intestinal health, the following nutritional strategies are recommended: use of highly digestible and palatable raw materials, reduce the buffering capacity of the feed, include coarse particles, reduce crude protein content, incorporate functional amino acids, incorporate inert fiber, use medium chain fatty acids, increase the ratio of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids, reduce the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids and incorporate additives that support intestinal functionality and health (Huting et al., 2021). Post-weaning diets formulated with more complex ingredients result in piglets achieving higher growth, better feed conversion rates and earlier slaughter weights (Collins et al., 2017).
When it comes to the formulation of post-weaning diets there are several critical factors as indicated above, although at the current juncture we consider protein and fiber composition to be very relevant. It is well known that undigested protein reaches the large intestine where it ferments, which favors the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria, causing diarrhea in piglets. To prevent this, it is recommended to work with diets with low protein levels, highly digestible sources and low content of anti-nutritional factors. When working with low protein levels, growth is penalized, so supplementation with synthetic amino acids that allow us to maintain adequate growth is of vital importance. Likewise, to favor protein digestion we must promote a low pH at stomach level, using organic acids and diets with low buffer capacity. In addition, formulation strategies aimed at increasing the retention time of feed in the stomach will favor protein digestion.
With the reduction of antibiotic use in post-weaning feeds, more attention must be paid to intestinal health through feed raw materials. Fiber is an ingredient that has a high impact on intestinal health. Inert fiber does not ferment in the intestine and accelerates intestinal transit and thus prevents the proliferation and colonization of pathogens (Wellock et al., 2008). Likewise, the inclusion of fiber sources in piglet diets has an impact on intestinal morphology, producing an increase in the length of microvilli, better crypt villi ratio, as well as a lower incidence of diarrhea (Qinghui Shan et al., 2020). Based on these data, the Earlyfeed experts have carried out tests with the inclusion of high levels of fiber, mainly inert sources, where they have observed that piglets have a high feed intake, but digestive safety is maintained above diets with lower levels of fiber.
Based on the above, Earlyfeed experts recommend following feeding management guidelines for piglets in order to achieve optimal adaptation of the piglets to weaning:
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