Give your nursery pigs the right start

Posted on August 30, 2013 in Swine Performance
By Brendan Corrigan

It’s common to observe significant differences in the activity levels, average weights, weight distributions within groups, and health statuses of groups of newly weaned pigs; and typical observations for these factors certainly vary from herd to herd.  These differences result from multiple variables, including disease exposure and immune development, genetic makeup of the piglets, milking ability of the sows, transportation stresses, barn environmental factors, management factors, and more.

Clearly, weaning age also has a large influence.  For instance, pigs weaned at 22 days versus 16 days will likely be much sturdier, typically will eat better initially, and will be more active; perhaps weighing as much as 2 to 3 pounds heavier due to additional days receiving milk from the sows.

Obviously, these differences between groups of pigs and between production systems affect the nutritional needs of the pigs.  So how do you select a starter program that will best meet your piglets’ nutritional requirements for optimal growth?

Look at your pigs
Spend some time watching your newly weaned pigs.  Are they going up to the feeder regularly?  Are they regularly drinking water?  Are they relatively active during the day?  If so, you have a group of easy-starting pigs and you can focus on optimizing performance.

But what if your newly weaned pigs look a little sluggish?  Perhaps they’re not aggressively seeking out and eating feed.  If that’s the case, first check the environment.  Is it too cold?  Are the pigs piling under a heat lamp?  Is the air speed too high, causing them to be chilled?  If you’ve optimized to the barn environment and pigs fail to perk up, you might simply have hard-starting pigs (due to any number of the reasons we discussed earlier).  In that case, you need a starter nutrition program that will drive feed intake and provide readily available energy and nutrients to the pig.

Keep in mind, energy-deficient pigs and sick pigs are different.  If your pigs are sick, you may notice individual pigs moving away from the group, or overall activity level of the barn decrease.  Sick pigs may carry their heads lower and their eyes may appear dull and sunken due to dehydration.  In addition to readily available energy, these pigs will need feeds that boost their immune systems and gut integrity.

Know your ingredients
There are literally hundreds of potential starter feeds and specialty nursery products on the market today.  Knowing the ingredients that make up these products, and matching those ingredients’ characteristics to the specific needs of your pigs, is essential if you’re going to make the right nursery nutrition choice.

For example, hydrolyzed soy protein is a relatively new product that is especially beneficial for hard-starting or disease-challenged animals.  It has a high water-binding capacity that causes the consumed feed to form a gel-like consistency in the piglets’ stomach and intestines.  This gel formation reduces abrasiveness in the pigs’ digestive systems, and it may slow the feed’s rate of passage, thereby improving digestion.

If you have hard-starting pigs with low initial feed intake levels, they almost certainly are energy deficient.  Because of this, you will want to make sure you see chromium in the ingredient listing.  Research has shown that chromium influences insulin receptors.   As a result, chromium can increase feed intake and help release glucose – the primary energy source for piglets.

If you struggle with disease in the nursery, your primary goal should be to boost the animals’ health.  You can do this by selecting starter diets that provide protective antibodies, as well as ingredients that can improve gut integrity and assist the immune system in fighting off the disease.  By supporting the piglets’ immune systems, you will allow their digestive systems to more quickly become adapted to dry feed, and, in turn, they will be able to more efficiently direct absorbed nutrients toward growth.

Ask questions
Starter feeds are not one-size-fits-all and no one starter feed will work best in all situations.  Work with your consultant to evaluate the type of weaned pigs that you have. Identify your nutritional priorities and select the starter feeding program that best fits YOUR pigs.  Our team of consultants has the tools you need to make sure your pigs start right.  Click here to contact a consultant in your area.

About the author:  Brendan Corrigan is the Vita Plus swine business manager.  Originally from Peoria, Ill., Corrigan graduated from the University of Illinois in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science.  He continued on to receive his master’s in swine production and nutrition in 2002.  He is a member of the American Society of Animal Science, is recognized as a Professional Animal Scientist, and will earn his master’s of business and science in 2014.  Corrigan has 10 years of experience in the swine industry, with extensive research and hands-on experience in nursery, grow-finish, and sow production.  He also has a firm understanding of business strategies and economic decisions in pork production.  At Vita Plus, Corrigan guides the technical team in product development and nutritional formulation.  He also works closely with sales staff to provide service and assist producers with difficult decisions.

Category: Feed ingredients
Feed quality and nutrition
Swine Performance