Learning from the swine industry: Starting nursery piglets

Posted on December 16, 2021 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Editor’s note:  We can often gain helpful knowledge, awareness and practical tips when we look outside of our day-to-day activities.  Pat Bane was named America’s Pig Farmer of the Year in 2018.  In this article, he shares his insights for successfully raising nursery piglets.

By Pat Bane, Bane Family Pork co-owner and manager

There is not a more stressful time in a pig’s life than the days following weaning.  Anything we can do to lessen that stress is a benefit to the animal.

Early growth and health

Key to successfully starting piglets in a nursery is a healthy, robust piglet of adequate age and size from the beginning. Issues during lactation, such as diarrhea, are difficult – if not impossible – to make up. An interruption during lactation can lead to a loss in weaning weight that can be difficult to regain.

Disease management

Timing of treatment is important, so have commonly used medications on hand.  Veterinary oversight is mandated for the treatment of diseases in the swine industry. There are differing opinions on vaccination health protocols and how to treat diseases. A second opinion could be valuable.

To select and treat sick animals, employees have to be observant and trained in the characteristic changes in a young animal’s behavior when becoming sick.  Detection in early stages will prevent more severe health issues.  I have observed that, when training employees, they look for the sickest animal in the pen and sometimes this animal is past treating.  What we need to train our workers to do is look for subtle changes in normal behavior if an animal that doesn’t feel well.  My experience is to look for the thin or gaunt animal off feed. It often looks lethargic or rough-haired.

Climate management

Climate is key. When preparing the area for the animal post-weaning, be sure to adjust for seasonal changes.  A cold snap can be all it would take for a disease to start and roll through your group of young animals.  Alarm warning systems and generator back-ups can be key to animal survival in case of power loss or mechanical failure.

Use all environment controls to provide a warm, dry, consistent and age-appropriate temperature, and maintain the correct air changes for ventilation. I have not seen a system yet that was fully automatic. All systems need adjustment, especially for young weaned animals. Prevent the ailment so you won’t need to cure the disease.

Caring for the group

Caring for the group – as well as the individual animals – needs to be pointed out when training workers. I tell my employees individual care is important, but, when you make improvements to the environment of the group, you make life better for every animal in that group. I have had workers caring for a group of pigs treat a few animals and leave.  Later they follow up and realize the entire group is too hot, too cold, or damp. Proper adjustments to the environment of a group of newly weaned animals can aid in the recovery of the sick and prevent others from falling ill.

Adequate diet

Feed an adequate diet for each stage of growth. Genetics companies have slightly different diet recommendations for animals that are kept for breeding. The negative ramifications could be much more costly than the additional feed cost on the future breeding stock.


Most diseases are bought and paid for, meaning the most common method of entry is from animals delivered to the farm. That is why it is important to test health status before delivery and then isolate and re-test onsite before exposing other animals on the farm.

Biosecurity can be defined as keeping disease out and maintaining the healthiest herd possible.  This should be the highest priority in animal husbandry. We are constantly thinking of better ways to divert the threat of disease entry. Examples include no contact with the same species 48 hours before entry, shower-in and shower-out, delivery drop-off zone, supply fumigation and rodent control.

Lastly, it is common practice in swine to move animals as a group in an all-in/all-out system. This allows for a clean break between groups and eliminates carrying disease from group to group by commingling different age animals.

Category: Animal health
Employee management
Facility design
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