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Typical piglet nutrition program, explained

Designing, formulating and manufacturing successful feeds for pigs right before and after weaning is a difficult project.


Designing, formulating and manufacturing successful feeds for pigs right before and after weaning is a difficult project. In fact, the finer details of such work are not widely known even among top nutritionists. Only a handful of highly trained and experienced nutritionists can perform such a delicate exercise with impunity.

For the rest, it is either the method of trial and error or just copying an old formula from a book or article. Most consultants are not in a position to take an existing sensitive formula, fix or adjust it, and turn it into an updated and successful product. Creating a new formula for piglets is akin to an art project, whereas fixing an existing one — especially one that is not a complete failure — can be compared to high-tech surgery. This is why many nutrition companies offer low-cost products instead of high-quality (and still reasonably priced) feeds. The balance between cost and quality remains the trade secret of a handful of successful nutritionists worldwide.

Creating a feeding program, instead, does not require an equal amount of technical expertise, and in fact, it is imperative such information is widely available. The rest of this discussion presents a typical program of feeding piglets from birth until they can be switched to a simple corn- and soybean meal-based diet, approximately 10 to 12 kilograms of bodyweight. After that point, nutrition is a rather easy task performed by most nutrition professionals.

The first week of life

During this time, piglets should receive only sow’s milk. In the first 24 to 48 hours, all pigs should receive colostrum directly from the sow or from frozen stock. If neither is available, then a colustrum replacer should be used (often with variable results). Supernumerary piglets should be fostered to sows with less piglets or started on a milk replacer. Offering dry feed during the first week is usually a waste as pigs either ignore it or just play with it, ending in wasting a highly expensive product. Even then, if pigs do seem to consume such dry feed, it must be ensured that it contains absolutely no sucrose (table sugar) because piglets lack the enzyme sucrase before the fourth day after birth. This makes sucrose a toxic substance for them.

Until 30 days of age

Following the first week, a high quality creep feed should be offered in gradually increasing quantities. The exact form (meal, pellet, crumble or mixes) is a matter of discussion among professionals as each option has pros and cons. The important thing is that this feed is offered fresh and often so that piglets get to explore and consume it during each feeding. Some argue that a high fat content (in meal type products) or a strong flavor (more of an aroma) are important for such feeds, but again, there is considerable debate. In the end, good quality ingredients are more important than exact concentrations and nutrient specifications. Such feeds only supplement sow’s milk, and this can offer significant advantages in their design. Finally, it is imperative that this feed is continued for at least two days right after weaning. Keeping it up until seven to 10 days post-weaning is often practiced, but this depends on the composition of the creep feed. A highly fortified creep feed consumed at high levels will cause scouring when sow’s milk is no longer available.

30 to 50 days of age

If during the first week post-weaning average daily feed intake is between 150 and 250 grams per day (in successful programs), the double should be achieved during the next three weeks. In fact, most programs seldom exceed 350 grams per day, meaning that either feed quality and density are insufficient or that piglets had suffered from early diarrheas and they were recovering slowly at this phase. At any rate, for budget purposes, feed intake during the first week and the following two weeks post-weaning are about 1 to 2 and 3 to 7 kilograms per piglet, respectively. Weaning age plays a significant role in the above figures as with a later weaning, feed intake is more robust and sustained. Although we tend to separate the period from weaning to 50 days into two phases, in essence, it is the same goal that we are after: quick development of feed intake and avoidance of diarrheas, which are interconnected.

50 to 70 days of age

Pigs should weigh about 12 kilograms when they are 50 days of age (roughly, 6 kilograms at weaning, and another 6 kilograms of weight gain during the first three weeks post-weaning). This is not the maximum goal that should be attained, but a starting point when evaluating any piglet nutrition program. During the following period and until the 70th day of age, piglets should consume a simple corn (or other cereal) based diet supplemented with soybean meal (or other inexpensive vegetable protein source) and the usual micro-ingredients. We are looking for rapid and efficient growth. At 60 days, they should weigh at least 25 kilograms of body weight, and at 70 days, at least 30 kilograms of body weight. Heavier average weights are possible, but this should be contrasted against a higher cost per unit of weight gain as denser feeds also cost proportionally more.

The last stage

If we were to point out the major objectives of each phase and feed in the life of a piglet, we could argue that the feed consumed while suckling should entice them to eat dry feed. That feed offered after weaning should continue to draw them to consume dry feed, but without breaking out with diarrhea; perhaps this is the most sensitive feed to be designed. The following one needs to focus on rapidly increasing feed intake, and it will succeed if the first feed post-weaning did not cause diarrheas.

Finally, the last stage should be the one where feed efficiency and rapid growth will reap all benefits from investing in expensive but highly effective earlier feeds. Lamentably, it is often the reverse that happens. Many prefer low-cost, early feeds, and then they spend considerable sums to correct the problems created. The real costs (per piglet) are hidden behind the low-cost per kilogram feed, as few keep records of actual feed intake, and even fewer calculate actual feed cost per kilogram weight gain.

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