Weanling stress is a multifaceted problem. There is no single solution, and nutrition is but only a minor one, which usually perplexes problems due to costs involved. Based on experience, here are six ways to minimize the stress of weaning that can eventually ruin the profitability of a marketing pig.
1. Creep feeding
Creep feeding is the practice of providing piglets with a separate feed source that is accessible to them while they are still nursing from the sow. This allows piglets to explore and consume solid feed at their own pace. Providing a palatable and highly digestible creep feed (good ones cost a lot) with a similar flavor to the post-weaning diet encourages piglets to consume more solid feed and prepares their digestive systems for the change, reducing weaning stress. This works best with weaning ages above three weeks of age.
2. Weaning diet transition
One key strategy to minimize piglet weaning stress is to initiate the diet transition before weaning actually occurs. This can be achieved by introducing the post-weaning feed in the farrowing room, allowing them to become accustomed to the new diet while still nursing from the sow. In practice, most farms just blend a bit of creep feed with the weaning diet during the first few days post-weaning.
3. Nutrient-dense post-weaning diet
The post-weaning diet should be formulated to meet the nutritional needs of the piglets during this critical transition. This is easier said than done because these needs are not well established. In general, however, a diet that is highly digestible and nutrient-dense will support growth and development better while reducing the stress associated with adapting to solid feed.
Here, there are many choices. I will just mention as an example probiotics and prebiotics, which have been shown to be valuable additions to the post-weaning diet. This can be true with or without antibiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy gut microbiome, while prebiotics provide the necessary food for these bacteria to thrive. They both promote a balanced gut microbiome; essential for optimal nutrient absorption and overall gut health.
5. Water availability
Proper hydration is vital during the weaning process, as piglets may be more reluctant to drink water rather than milk. Ensure that clean and easily accessible water is available at all times. Some producers also choose to provide water with electrolytes to encourage water intake, which can help piglets cope with the stress of weaning. Others prefer to let drinkers drip during the first couple of days post-weaning.
6. Milk replacers
On some farms, weaning remains difficult. Here, milk replacer can be used at a greater cost to separate the stress of weaning from that of switching from a primarily wet feeding regimen (milk) to dry feed (post-weaning dry meal or pellets). This means two weaning periods, but as a last resort this measure works, albeit at the dismay of farm personnel.
Continuous monitoring of piglets' behavior and health during the weaning process is essential. Pay close attention to factors such as feed intake, weight gain and overall well-being. If any issues arise, be prepared to adjust the nutrition and management practices accordingly to minimize stress and promote a smooth transition to solid feed.