The challenge of
post-weaning feed intake

Kelly Venrooij, a swine researcher with Trouw Nutrition, speaks to The Pig Site about challenges farmers have with feed intake post-weaning. Venrooij has worked with Trouw Nutrition for three years and her research, conducted at the Trouw Nutrition Swine Research Center in The Netherlands, is focused on feeding behavior.

Electronic feeding station for weaned piglets.

“Feed intake post-weaning is a challenge worldwide in pig husbandry, and here at Trouw Nutrition’s facilities we study feeding behavior using electronic feeding stations. The pigs carry a transponder, which allows us to track individual visits to the stations and their individual feed intakes,” said Venrooij. “This data has shown that the feeding activities of a pig within a day occur in two peaks. Those peaks are in the morning between 7 to 11 am and in the afternoon between 3 to 7 pm.”

Within these hours, Venrooij says there are more visits to the feeder and it’s when pigs ingest 43% of their daily feed intake. This pattern is typical for pigs during the entire nursery period. However, Venrooij has also compared this pattern to the feeding behavior of the piglets that are just weaned.

Average percentages of daily feed intakes per pig for the first day (day 1) and the first week (day 1 until day 7) post-weaning.

“Interestingly, these patterns are already established very early on after weaning,” she said. “Typically, on the day of weaning itself, pigs are not bothered with feeding behavior and show more exploratory behavior. They like to explore their new environment and new pen mates. But as early as the first day after weaning, we see a similar pattern in feeding activities within a day. In the afternoon of the first day post-weaning, we see pigs eating 40% of their daily feed intake.”

On-farm impact

A strong start post-weaning is critical for overall pig performance and pig health. Following are two strategies that farmers can use based on pigs’ natural feeding behavior and feed intake data:

1. Before weaning, start nursery piglets on creep feed. This gives the piglet a chance to get used to solid feeds and will ease the transition to the feed post-weaning as the piglet is already used to the taste and consistency of it.

2. After weaning, support the pig by applying the insights of natural feeding behavior. For example, wean pigs before the afternoon as data indicate that feeding activities increase in the afternoon. This allows the pig the opportunity to act on its natural behavior.

“Another possibility if you would like to provide some extra fresh feed, I would advise to stick within those hours of increased feeding activities - between 7 to 11 am and 3 to 7 pm and try to prevent as many other disturbances as possible within those hours,” she noted.

Importance of water

Water intake is as critical for a pig as it is for a human; you survive longer without feed than without water. While water intake is typically not monitored on farm, Venrooij said they do monitor it at the research facility with electronic water stations.

“We can track water intake just like we can track feed intake. Data have shown us that the overall water pattern is very similar to that of the feeding pattern of weaned piglets,” she said. “However, there is little room for improvement in this behavior. Straight after weaning, the visits are already high, and the water intake level is at a steady level.”

The data suggest that pigs are already used to drinking water in the farrowing stables as they are familiar with the suckling behavior to obtain water and know the taste of water. Thus, regarding water behavior, there is little opportunity to increase it because directly after weaning it is at an adequate level.

Data showing steadiness off waterer visits, visit duration and water intake. Day 0 (half a day) and day 1 include exploratory behavior. Water intake at day 0 is low as it is half a (stressful) day. Over time, water intake grows with the animals.

“Watering behavior doesn’t develop after weaning as feeding behavior does. For example, the number of visits, visit duration and feed intake increase over time,” she said. “The feeder visits are steady approximately two days after weaning, hence it takes them 2 days to know where to find the feed. It then takes an additional two days before the feed intake is at a steady level. This window of time is a good opportunity to stimulate feeding behavior of the piglet so that we can increase the post-weaning feed intake.”


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