Improvements at 18 Days Post-Weaning May Influence Lifetime Performance Benefits

Increased variance within litters and more light-weight piglets are two distressing consequences commonly linked to hyper-prolific sows. Problems observed at birth can be harbingers of lifetime production challenges. Slower throughput and inferior performance are a few examples of such problems. With production economics and animal performance in mind, more farms are introducing supplemental feeding in the farrowing room. But some have questioned whether the benefits of supplemental feeding merit the investment.

The post-weaning phase has long been a perilous time for piglet health and development. High feed intake must be maintained in the period immediately following weaning to support and sustain a good animal health status and performance. But the abrupt change from sow’s milk to a commercial solid diet, together with other stressors around weaning, results in a drastically reduced feed intake or even ceasing of eating all together for up to 72 hours post-weaning.

Given these nutrition and performance challenges, several factors should come into play when determining a post-weaning feeding programme. A first challenge is palatability. The diet must be palatable, i.e., attractive, enough that the piglet will start to consume at a time when fear of novel feed is present. Additionally, the diet must be well-balanced to supply adequate nutrients necessary for growth performance and maintaining health status. By understanding the benefits that creep feeding can have on sustaining feed intake immediately after weaning and on later life performance, farmers and farrowing room staff can develop and implement a creep feeding approach that supports their business.

To evaluate how a high-quality diet coupled with creep feeding contributes to post-weaning feed intake and animal performance, researchers evaluated two feeding programmes. The programmes were administered to piglets weaned at day 24. A control group received a simple weaner diet and was not offered creep feeding in the farrowing room. A second group of pigs received a high-quality weaner diet formulated with ingredients to accelerate and support gut maturation along with supplemental creep feeding.

Among piglets receiving the high-quality diet and creep feeding, improvements in feed intake and body weight in the post-weaning phase were observed (Figure 1 and Figure 2) compared to animals receiving the control diet. However, the most interesting observations are related to the physiological development of the animals’ gastrointestinal tracts. Piglets that received creep feed and a premium diet had heavier and longer small intestines than their counterparts receiving the simple weaner diet without creep feeding. Additionally, piglets receiving the creep feed and premium diet showed higher intestinal cell proliferation and had higher concentrations of fermentation products in their large intestines. These findings suggest an active and diverse microbial population of beneficial bacteria within the piglets. In combination, these factors may better prepare the piglets to manage the stress occurring around weaning and right after weaning.

The goal of supplemental creep feeding should go beyond simply adding body weight to the animal. Creep feeding should also aim to stimulate and sustain the weaning piglet’s feed intake in an effort to deliver lasting performance benefits. In the trial, pigs receiving the creep feed and premium weaner diet showed a significantly greater feed intake and feed efficiency during the first 18 days post-weaning.

Creep feeding may help pre-weaning piglets to adapt to the texture of solid feed and attributes such as palatability. Because creep feeding includes ingredients and nutrients that support gastrointestinal development pre-weaning, creep feeding will enable weanling pigs to resume feed intake more quickly and also will help to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Extrapolating on the findings, researchers posit that piglets’ higher feed intake during the first two weeks post-weaning could contribute to a significantly higher body weight and daily gain up to slaughter. Creep feeding may also potentially contribute to other benefits including reduced variance and improved health. To advance understanding of how animal nutrition supports both health and performance, Trouw Nutrition invests in hundreds of studies each year, collaborating with universities and partners in research centers and on commercial validation farms.

Average feed intake of pigs fed diet 2 was significantly greater in the period immediately after weaning (d0-5) and the following period after weaning (d5-18)
Body weights of pigs fed diet 2 were significantly higher at each point in time

Author - Tetske Hulshof


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