Tips for feeding newborn piglets that are small for their age

Animal Nutrition Views

Dr. Ioannis Mavromichalis is an animal nutritionist holding graduate degrees from Kansas State University (MSc) and University of Illinois (PhD). He is the Principal of Ariston Nutrition Consulting International. He may be contacted at [email protected]. See all author stories and blogs.

Tips for feeding newborn piglets that are small for their age


Find out how to ensure underprivileged piglets receive appropriate nutrition

As litter size increases, the number of piglets that are too small (light) for their age is increasing. Ensuring these piglets receive appropriate nutrition is part of a greater effort to help them overcome this shortcoming and help them become efficient finisher pigs.

Our attention should be focused into two very distinct periods. The first period includes the initial 2-3 days after birth to ensure pigs receive enough colostrum and any supplements. The second period follows until pigs are weaned. If everything is done properly, these underprivileged piglets will no longer require special treatment after weaning.

Period 2-3 days of life

The most important nutritional and health concern during the first few days after birth is for piglets to consume enough colostrum. A high intake of this most important first milk is crucial not only for its higher fat (energy) content, but especially for its high level of immunoglobulins. The latter are absorbed intact through the gastrointestinal epithelium enhancing thus the immune system of the newborn piglet.

But, after the first 48 hours or so, this opportunity is permanently lost as the developing epithelium is no longer permeable to these very important proteins. To this end, cross-fostering is the most common way to ensure pigs receive a good dose of colostrum. Whether the small or large piglets are moved to a foster sow is a matter of personal preference or farm protocol based on available expertise and facilities. Another way to ensure sufficient colostrum intake for weak piglets is to have a quantity of frozen colostrum ready for use as needed.

Period until weaning

Once the critical period is over, during which most piglet deaths occur, then it is time to think how to best supplement piglets with extra nutrients.

First, liquid milk should be offered until pigs are about 10 days of age. This can be an option also for pigs without a foster sow. Liquid milk should be discontinued as soon as pigs start consuming solid feed.

Second, from about 7 days of age, a very palatable dry feed should be offered in addition to liquid milk. This diet should be continued until the end of the first week post-weaning. Third, feeding management should be carefully considered. Piglets, and especially those of a weak constitution, will not easily accept eating from normal feeders. Thus, open round feeders are best suited in this case. Also, feeding a gruel for a few days before switching to solid feed might enhance the chances of an early appetite for solid feed.

Finally, feeding on floor/sleeping mats is a well proven way for piglets to be exposed at an early age to solid feed.

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