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Creep Feeding in the Farrowing Room: Do the Outcomes Depend on Weaning Age?

03 October 2013

Bodyweight at nursery exit was greater in piglets offered creep feed for one week prior to weaning, according to research at the Prairie Swine Centre, although only around 40 per cent of piglets weaned at four weeks of age actually consumed creep. Only three per cent of piglets weaned at three weeks of age had consumed any creep.


Janice Shea


Denise Beaulieu

Summary

Creep feed could benefit older weaned piglets by supplementing nutrients in sows’ milk. Additionally, it could aid the transition to solid feed at weaning, perhaps more of a benefit to the younger weaned piglet.

In this experiment, bodyweight at nursery exit was greater in piglets offered creep feed for one week prior to weaning, regardless of weaning age (three- versus four-week weaning). However, less than four per cent of the piglets weaned at three weeks of age showed evidence of creep feed consumption.

Introduction

Offering supplemental feed in the farrowing room (creep feeding) is thought to benefit piglets by providing supplemental nutrition,  introducing piglets to solid feed prior to weaning and adapting the gastrointestinal tract to nutrients not found in the sow’s milk.

In 2010, however, the Centre reported that providing creep feed for seven days prior to weaning did not improve litter performance post-weaning and this was irrespective of piglet weaning weight (Beaulieu et al., 2010 Annual Report; Weaning at 28 days: Is creep feeding beneficial?).

The researchers followed this up with a study in which they tracked consumption of creep feed and phase one diet by individual piglets. This study demonstrated that, while only a small proportion of piglets consumed creep feed during the seven days pre-weaning, those that did had improved growth performance throughout the nursery period (Beaulieu et al., 2011 Annual Report; Creep feed provision in the farrowing room provides benefits to piglets showing evidence of intake).

The present study aims to expand on these findings by investigating whether the benefits of creep feeding depend on weaning age.

Materials and Methods


Figure 1. Configuration of the creep feeder used in the experiment

This experiment consisted of four treatments in a 2×2 factorial arrangement. The factors were: provision, or not, of creep feed in the farrowing room and weaning at three or four weeks of age.

For piglets assigned to receive it, creep feed was made continuously available in a multi-space creep feeder (Figure 1) for seven days prior to weaning. Both the creep feed and the phase one nursery diet were marked with an inert food dye (Brilliant Blue and ferric oxide (red), respectively). Anal swabs taken from the piglets receiving creep feed one day prior to weaning and from all piglets two days post-weaning allowed the researchers to relate post-weaning growth performance to consumption of creep feed and to explore whether consumption of creep feed pre-weaning encourages consumption of phase one diet immediately post-weaning.

Results and Discussion

As expected, piglets weaned at three weeks weighed less at weaning than those weaned at four weeks (P<0.0001; Table 1). This pattern persisted through the first 14 days post-weaning (P<0.0001). However, by nursery exit (at eight weeks of age, regardless of age at weaning) piglets weaned at three weeks were heavier than those weaned at four weeks (P<0.05; Table 1).

The provision of creep feed in the farrowing room did not affect piglet bodyweight at weaning and there were no creep feed by weaning age interactions (P>0.50; Table 1). Growth (P<0.05) and average daily feed intake (ADFI; P<0.0001) of piglets who had been offered creep feed in the farrowing crate were greater than those who had not and piglets who had been offered creep feed in the farrowing room were heavier at nursery exit than piglets not offered creep feed (P≤0.01; Table 1).

In the three-week weaning age group, only eight piglets (four per cent) showed evidence of having consumed creep feed; whereas 73 four-week weaned piglets (34 per cent) showed evidence of having consumed creep feed (Table 2). Creep feed disappeared at a rate of 57g per litter per day for litters weaned at three weeks of age and 203g per litter per day for litters weaned at four weeks of age (P<0.0001).

Within the three-week weaned piglets, creep-feed “eaters” were the lighter birthweight piglets. Although these piglets had a greater rate of bodyweight gain during the second week in the nursery, they were still lighter than the “non-eaters” at nursery exit (Table 2).

Piglets weaned at four weeks of age, identified as “eaters” of creep feed had greater rates of bodyweight gain throughout the nursery phase than those identified as “non-eaters” of creep feed. Piglets that consumed creep feed in the farrowing crate were heavier, both at weaning and at nursery exit than those who did not (Table 2).

Within the three-week weaning age group, 84 piglets (19 per cent) showed evidence of having consumed phase one diet within the first 24 hours post-weaning; whereas 142 (32 per cent) of four-week weaned piglets showed evidence of having consumed phase one diet within the first 24 hours post-weaning.

Irrespective of creep feed status in the farrowing room, consumption of phase one diet within 24 hours of weaning was associated with improved rates of bodyweight gain during the first week in the nursery in both three- and four-week weaned piglets.

In four-week weaned piglets, this improvement in average daily gain (ADG) persisted throughout the nursery period (0.42 versus 0.38kg per day for “eaters” and “non-eaters” of phase one, respectively), such that four-week weaned piglets that consumed phase one diet within 24 hours post-weaning were heavier at nursery exit than those who did not (19.01 versus 18.07kg, respectively).

Irrespective of creep feed status in the farrowing room, consumption of phase one diet within 24 hours of weaning was associated with improved rates of bodyweight gain during the first week in the nursery in both three- and four-week weaned piglets. In four-week weaned piglets, this improvement in ADG persisted throughout the nursery period (0.42 versus 0.38kg per day for “eaters” and “non-eaters” of phase one, respectively), such that four-week weaned piglets that consumed phase one diet within 24 hours post-weaning were heavier at nursery exit than those who did not (19.01 versus 18.07kg, respectively).

Regardless of age at weaning, piglets that consumed both creep feed in the farrowing crate and phase one diet within 24 hours post-weaning were heavier and had greater rates of body-weight gain throughout the nursery period than any other group of piglets (Data not shown).

Conclusions

Creep feeding in the farrowing room improved the weaning and nursery exit weights of the piglets that actually consumed it.

Although the benefits of creep feeding were similar in piglets weaned at three or four weeks of age, there was a dramatic difference in the number of piglets that consumed the offered creep feed. Further research into ways of encouraging creep feed consumption among piglets is required.

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Masterfeeds for donating the creep feed used in this experiment. Strategic funding provided to the Prairie Swine Centre by Sask Pork, Alberta Pork, the Manitoba Pork Council, Ontario Pork and the Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food Development Fund is gratefully acknowledged.

October 2013

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