Some Thoughts on Weaned Pigs in Week One
Following on from some thoughts on lactation it is worth considering, from the perspective of the piglet the daunting prospect of life without mum. I am not humanizing the piglet for this (I will leave that to the welfare extremists) but instead taking what I hope is a logical view.
If lactation management has been a complete success then a litter of at least 12 piglets have been taken from their mother and moved to an appropriate environment in which they can find warmth, a dry bed, a separate dunging area, fresh water and the appropriate nutrition. Each of these pigs will weigh at least 7 kilograms and the largest probably in excess of 9 kilograms. In the latter stage of their time on the sow, her milk was not enough to satisfy their appetite and they were all drinking fresh water, eating creep feed and clearing up any food spilled by their mother. They will, as an entire litter, be mixed with other pigs of the same age and environment. In a system that includes multi-suckling they may have already been mixed. This can be practised on indoor systems by removing partitions between farrowing crates and in outdoor systems by re-grouping gilts and possibly graded groups of sows from the same service group in larger straw based tents and runs using ad-lib feeders at around a week to ten days after farrowing.
These weaners will already be primed for the ‘shock’ of weaning and in a very short time will be eating and drinking and established in the first stage of the feeding herd with their siblings. The first habit they will express from their time being suckled by their mother will communal feeding. It is not a habit that will be broken easily and in my experience there is never enough feeding spaces for the simultaneous feeding of the newly weaned piglets. In this scenario the ‘weaker’ piglets, and here we must remember there were no weak piglets at weaning, start to get pushed out and could begin to fall behind. If this happens, the slowing up of these weaners is a management failure, not a nutritional or genetic failure. If a percentage of healthy pigs get marginalized at this point then vulnerability to health challenges is introduced.
If lactation management is not successful and this is, in my experience, currently a challenge to UK production then a litter of anything from 6 or 7 up to 10 piglets have been taken from their mother and moved in the same manner as the piglets from the successful lactation. However the condition of the piglets will be an important consideration. There will be some piglets at weights of less than 6.5 kilograms, this is really below the qualifying weight for a future feed efficient pig. There will be some piglets weighing up to 8 kilograms, appearing ‘as fat as butter’, these piglets have probably never drunk water or eaten creep but gorged themselves on mothers diminishing supply of milk to the detriment of their siblings. At the point of weaning the piglets are often graded as smalls, average and large and so siblings are separated and the shock of weaning is amplified by an immediate, second separation. If there is not enough space for simultaneous feeding then weaker pigs become weaker. However the larger butter fat piglets have no idea what to do as they are not familiar with having to feed themselves, so to speak. A fair percentage of these weaning day premium piglets, over the course of the next three days will ‘go backwards’ and possibly be overtaken by the average group and a few of the smalls within the next 10 days. Health challenges often get an early invite into this scenario especially if these pigs are penned side by side.
The UK pig industry has very good genetics, pig veterinarians and nutritionists and yet weaned pigs in week one remains a common point at which production potential stalls for lack of the appropriate management considerations.