Creep feeding - the outdoor challenge!

UK - For most outdoor pig producers creep feeding of piglets while on the sow is a bane. It is so impractical that most simply don't do it. So when the pigs are weaned they are faced not only with the shock of losing mum and the warm milk she provides, but strange surroundings, new pen-mates and, most important of all, a food they've never tasted before.
calendar icon 31 January 2006
clock icon 4 minute read

This event can affect the rest of their lives. Pigs may scour, stop growing and remain stunted 'poor-doers' or even die. Jimmy Butler, who runs 2,000 outdoor sows on the light, sandy soils around Blythburgh, north Suffolk, is well aware of this and has overcome such problems. His pigs are weaned at around 26 days, put into warm timber kennels with lots of straw and offered creep pellets ad lib. But post-weaning scouring is not a problem and post-weaning mortality has been pegged to four per cent from weaning to slaughter.

Jimmy Butler has overcome the problems of creep-feeding after weaning with outdoor-reared pigs.

Simple drums to provide water through nipple drinkers at set at different heights are a vital part of the system, says Jimmy Butler
Jimmy put this down to his management system and the fact that the creep feeds he uses - from piglet feed specialists Tuck Box - contain steam-cooked cereals, which help to make them exceptionally palatable and digestible. He calls these diets "piglet friendly" and he provides plenty of trough-space - two 7' 6" hoppers, one at the front and one at the back of every kennel. In addition, plastic barrels each with six nipples set at two different heights, ensure a ready supply of water.

"I can't over-emphasis the importance of water," comments Jimmy, who recently scooped the Pig Farmer of the Year Award. "We are quite happy if one or two nipples leak a bit, this helps the piglets to locate the water and start drinking straight away.

Competition is reduced by batching pigs in groups of up to 50 according to sex and size and giving each group separate attention. The biggest pigs, which weigh 9-10 kg, are offered the first-stage creep feed, Firstlite, for just two days before being switched to Kwickgrow, the second-stage creep. The smaller pigs, however, are allowed to stay on the higher-protein first stage feed for 10-12 days. The very smallest pigs are provided with the luxury of a battery-operated Transition feeder which dispenses pre-start meal as a wet feed for two weeks and this is offered alongside the first-stage pellets.

The pigs consume an average of about 1 kg of first-stage creep, but the largest only receive about 1/4 kg before moving onto the more economical second-stage diet. However, to help them get going the smallest pigs are allowed to remain on the first-stage creep longer and eat 11/2-2 kg, says Jimmy. All the pigs get through an average of about 5 kg of the second-stage.

Unusually - despite the efficiency with which pigs convert their feed at this stage - he is not looking for rapid growth since his pigs, as well as being born outside, are finished outdoors as well. At 70-80 kg (deadweight) they are sold under a special contract to Waitrose and also under his own "Blythburgh Free Range Pork" brand to high-class butchers in London, East Anglia and as far away as Coventry.

"We are looking for steady, unchecked growth," he says. "The first two weeks are vital as we need happy, healthy pigs with the energy to run around and exercise." In fact, the only time pigs are confined is for the first 14 days after weaning. The hut then becomes 'home' to which the piglets return. A short length of electrified wire has been installed within the pen so that the piglets learn to respect it while still in the pen. When they are released they already know what an electric fence is so there are very few problems with escapees through the perimeter wire.

Source: Tuckbox - 31st January 2006
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