Weaning at 28 Days: Is Creep Feeding Beneficial?

Allowing piglets access to a Phase 1 diet (creep feed) in the farrowing room for the final seven days prior to weaning on day 28 provided no sustained performance benefit, regardless of weaning weight, according to Dr Denise Beaulieu, Janice Shea and Doug Gillis of Prairie Swine Center in the organisation's latest newsletter.
calendar icon 5 January 2012
clock icon 7 minute read

Denise Beaulieu PhD


Providing supplemental feed to the piglets in the farrowing room, or creep feeding, is practised to ensure a smooth transition onto solid feed at weaning. It is assumed that even a limited intake of the creep feed will familiarise the piglet with solid feed and lessen a post-weaning growth lag by 1) increasing the body weight of piglets at weaning, 2) encouraging consumption of solid feed following weaning and, 3) adapting the gastro-intestinal tract to solid feed.

This study was initiated when the Prairie Swine Centre moved to a later weaning age (28 days). The researchers hypothesised that the benefits of creep feeding would be more evident with later weaning. Additionally, we examined if the response to creep feeding would differ between light and heavy birth-weight pigs.

Experimental Procedures

This experiment used data from 15 weeks of farrowing (12 sows per room) at PSCI. Piglets were provided access to a Phase 1 diet (commercial) in multi-space circular feeders in the farrowing room on days 21 to 28 for the first eight farrowing rooms only. Piglets were weaned on day 28.

Each week, representing one creep treatment, the entire weaning group was weighed and pigs ranked according to body weight within gender. The 24 heaviest and 24 lightest pigs were assigned to pen, four pigs per pen. Pens were then randomly assigned to a treatment. Thus each week, there were six pens of the heaviest and six pens of the lightest pigs. Care was taken to ensure that the time between the removal of the piglets from the sow and access to feed in the nursery was the same for all piglets and all weeks.

Video cameras set up over the pens recorded individual feeder approach which was defined as a pig placing their head over and down into the feeder. Piglets were numbered on their backs for identification. To accommodate the video recording, lights were on continuously.

Results and Discussion

Piglets who had access to creep feed for the final week prior to weaning weighed 130g more at weaning (Table 1). This did not approach statistical significance however, indicating that factors other than the presence of creep feed may be responsible tor this difference (P>0.10).

All piglets lost weight during the initial 24 hours following weaning. Contrary to expectations, piglets which had not received creep feed tended to have improved growth post-weaning and feed intake was unaffected (P>0.10). Overall feed efficiency therefore, was improved in non-creep fed piglets (P>0.01).

The creep by body-weight interaction described in Table 1 (day 0, 1, and 4; P<0.05) is shown in more detail in Figure 1 for day 0 (weaning). The response to creep was greater in heavier (240g weaning weight improvement or 2.3 per cent of body weight) than lighter pigs (30g improvement or 0.5 per cent of body weight).

Table 1. The effect of weaning weight and presence of creep feed in the farrowing room on growth and feed intake in the nursery.
Creep Feed Weaning Weight Group Creep *BW
Daya No Yes P value Heavy Light P value SEMb P value
Wean. wt, kg 0 8.36 8.49 0.35 10.40 6.44 <0.001 0.10 0.01
1 8.24 8.33 0.49 10.15 6.42 <0.001 0.10 0.02
4 8.56 8.61 0.75 10.42 6.76 <0.001 0.11 0.05
7 8.88 8.96 0.70 10.71 7.13 <0.001 0.14 0.23
14 11.17 11.04 0.67 12.73 9.48 <0.001 0.21 0.85
ADG, kg/day 0-1 -0.12 -0.16 0.36 -0.26 -0.02 <0.001 0.02 0.79
2-4 0.08 0.07 0.43 0.07 0.08 0.040 0.01 0.60
5-7 0.22 0.21 0.88 0.22 0.21 0.720 0.01 0.80
8-14 0.37 0.34 0.16 0.35 0.35 0.770 0.01 0.45
0-14 0.26 0.25 0.33 0.25 0.25 0.830 0.01 0.59
FCE, G/F 0-1 -2.51 -4.19 0.06 -5.36 -1.34 <0.001 0.59 0.33
2-4 0.39 0.44 0.75 0.40 0.43 0.840 0.10 0.21
5-7 0.70 0.25 <0.001 0.43 0.52 0.001 0.06 0.11
8-14 0.89 0.88 0.92 0.81 0.96 <0.001 0.03 0.47
0-14 0.77 0.61 0.05 0.59 0.79 <0.001 0.05 0.56
aDay 0 is weaning.
bBecause of the unbalanced design the SEM was slightly different for the effects of weaning and creep feeding. The larger SEM is shown.

Figure 1. The interaction between weaning weight group and feeding creep in the nursery (P<0.05). Numbers over the bars are the weaning weight for the sub-group.

Results and Discussion

Piglets who had access to creep feed for the final week prior to weaning weighed 130 grams more at weaning (Table 2). This did not approach statistical significance however, indicating that factors other than the presence of creep feed may be responsible for this difference (P > 0.10).

Table 2. The effect of creep feeding in the farrowing room on the number of feeder visits in the nursery.
Creep No creep SEM P value
Day 0 6.3 8.6 0.45 0.02*
Day 1 7.0 9.1 0.32 0.04*
Day 4 7.4 8.0 0.29 0.12*
*Hour by creep, P< 0.001

Further work is underway to determine it this is because the heavier piglets consumed more creep while in the farrowing room.

Piglets who had access to creep feed in the farrowing room had fewer visits to the nursery feeder on day 0, 1 and 4 post-weaning. This pattern is most notable in the final 8 hours of each 24·hour period. Again, this is contrary to our hypothesis, that feeding creep would acclimate the piglets to solid food and thus encourage consumption in the nursery. Feed intake was comparable, thus it appears that those piglets who had received creep feed in the nursery consumed more feed after each visit to the nursery feeder. The increased visits by the pigs who hadn't received creep during the final 8 hours of each day could be because these piglets, unaccustomed to the solid feed, were consuming less feed with each visit, and are then motivated by hunger to visit the feeder during the latter part of each day. This awaits confirmation.

Figure 2. The effect of feeding creep in the farrowing room on feeder visits in the nursery, day 0, 1 and 4 post-weaning. Day 0 refers to the 24 hours following initiation of feeding in the nursery, while day 1 and day 4 are the 24 hours following the morning feeding.


Allowing pigs access to a Phase 1 diet in the farrowing room for seven days prior to weaning had no sustained beneficial effect on performance in the nursery, regardless of weaning weight.

The Bottom Line

Research is currently under way to validate these results in a more commercial-like setting. Producers should not, however, assume that piglets would respond to creep feeding.


The authors would like to acknowledge, with gratitude, the financial support provided for this experiment by the Agriculture Development Fund, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. The authors also acknowledge the strategic programme funding provided to Prairie Swine Centre Inc. by Sask Pork, Alberta Pork, the Manitoba Pork Council and the Saskatchewan Agriculture Development Fund.

January 2012

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