How would you feel if someone took away your favorite drink and replaced it with something they thought was good for you? Frustrated right? Well, weaning is thought to be the most stressful event in the life of a pig. If not properly done, the transition from milk to dry feed can increase the chances of a costly check in growth.
During weaning, change of environment, maternal separation, mixing with non-litter mates, change in temperature, transportation, handling and administration of vaccines, new sources of feed and water can all coincide and put piglets under considerable stress.
Pigs that start to eat early have a better chance to continue to grow quickly. But, weaning can reduce growth rate as well as cause dysfunction in the intestines causing post-weaning diarrhoea. So, what can you do to minimise this stress? Let’s take a look…
Clean dry housing and temperature
The first place to start is with the housing. Weaning pigs need to move into clean, disinfected and dry housing. It has to be so clean that you should be happy to eat from the floor. After all, the piglets stomach will probably be more sensitive to bacteria than yours! The temperature for freshly weaned pigs has to be about 28°C in the laying area.
Introduce dry feed pre-weaning
Introducing dry feed before weaning can help pigs become accustomed to the new feed. Furthermore, it can help prevent changes from happening all at once. The best way is to place the first dry feed in the farrowing crates three to five days before weaning at a rate of 0.5 kg to 1 kg of feed per litter. The way you give the feed is is also important. Exposing the pigs to different feeder types at this stage(or example a floor trough and hopper) will engage their curiosity and help them discover the feed on offer.
Ensure you use a creep feed containing complex, highly digestible ingredients. Also, the feed should tastes and smells like sow’s milk to help encourage the pigs to eat.
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Another point that’s often overlooked is the feed immediately after weaning. It’s important to give the pigs the same feed after weaning so that they at least have access to something they’re already familiar with.
The same is true for water as this can often be the limiting factor as far as feed consumption is concerned. It’s very important that the weaners water intake is maximised. Also, introduce several options of water sources, including bowls and nipples, to give the pigs every opportunity to discover the drinking points and start building water intake.
How to handle weaning piglets
Improper handling of the pigs can also lead to stress. The weaners must always be handled in a calm and gentle manner. After all, they are only babies!
Also, try not to pick up the young pigs by their front legs, because this can damage their shoulders. And, as you pick them up by one of their back legs, don’t snatch or swing the pig, as you can damage its hips or knees. The best approach to picking piglets is by both of its back legs. If you catch it by one leg, quickly support it underneath the chest to take the strain off its leg joints.
At weaning, most of the pig handling that will take place will be related to routine health treatments. The choice of these treatments can also increase the amount of stress the pigs are subjected to. Therefore, choose a one-shot combined vaccination, that reduces the extent of handling time and the number of injections each pig receives versus separate vaccines. This not only reduces the risk of injection reactions and abscess formation, but also crucially minimises the stress associated with vaccination at weaning.