Whoever works in the swine industry knows that the weaning phase is one of the most delicate ones during the life cycle of pigs.
Weaning is a transitional period, in which piglets are separated from the sows, and their diets, which are based only on breast milk, are replaced by solid feed.
Therefore, it is even acceptable that due to all the new reality to which the animals are exposed, a certain degree of stress occurs. However, there are ways to mitigate this change process and make it as natural as possible.
To invest correctly in the transition from liquid to solid feed is one way, as well as attention to the nutritional, palatability and digestibility aspects of the new piglet diet.
In this blog post, we will learn more about creep feeding and the nutritional aspects that need to be addressed in order to successfully wean the pigs.
Creep feeding: the first step to transition
Creep feeding is a very common practice in young pigs breeding. The objective is to prepare the animals’ gastric system for the weaning phase.
In this system, the solid diet is slowly inserted into the diet of the piglets so that the enzymes of the intestine and the digestive system develop themselves. These enzymes will allow the digestion of nutrients from other food sources other than milk.
In order for piglets to benefit the most from creep feeding, their age plays a key role.
It is necessary that the creep feeding is started in such a way that, until the time of weaning, the piglet has already consumed around 500 g of solid foods. To guarantee this, the ideal is to begin weaning between 25 and 35 days of life. Before this period, piglets may develop hypersensitivity reactions.
In addition, piglets that are weaned too young suffer even more with the stress caused by the separation from the sow. Therefore, the period from 25 to 35 days of life is ideal for this transition to be performed more naturally.
Once the age is defined, it is necessary to know what kind of feeding should be used in creep feeding, so that the digestive system of the piglets does not suffer adverse reactions.
At this stage, the farmer needs to be a strategic player, and select the foods that are compatible with an organism that is still used to digesting milk.
For this, it is necessary that the farmer selects feeds from suppliers they know, that have good reputation and produce with quality.
The ideal are feeds that include milk proteins and lactose and high levels of cooked cereals, avoiding the feeds that contain antinutritional components.
Finally, the solid feeding should be administered in small portions (around 50g), preferably between feedings, to stimulate the piglets to consume the solid feed.
Factors to be considered in the diet of piglets after weaning
Whoever works with pig feed knows that it is undeniable that the palatability of breast milk is unbeatable for animals.
As previously stated, creep feeding is important for piglets to become used to solid feeding. Therefore, from the first stage to the post-weaning stage, it is important that the feeds are pleasing to the taste of the piglets, so that this change does not have a negative impact in the animals’ development.
It is at this stage that the work of feed formulators for young pigs becomes even more fundamental.
The taste of the feed is prepared by the nature of the ingredients that makes it up. The correct balance will ensure that the feeding is optimized, contributing to the rapid growth and optimum performance of pigs.
1. Cereals: a safe choice
Opting for cereal-based ingredients is always a good choice.
Some studies have already concluded that cereals palatability is well accepted by piglets, especially if cereals are processed. Baking increases palatability and makes the pigs consume a greater amount of feed.
2. Proteins: palatable and highly digestible
One factor to keep in mind when selecting the sources of the proteins that are part of a pig feed is the need to keep the levels of antinutritional factors (tannins, glucosinolates, lectin) low, since the palatability is considerably reduced.
Some processing options such as tosting and extrusion are able to reduce this kind of substance considerably. However, one must also be aware for not having it in excess, which negatively affects the digestibility and palatability of nutrients.
Milk proteins and other proteins of animal origin are ideal to be part of the feeds for piglets.
In addition, ingredients based on animal proteins that are produced through enzymatic hydrolysis are rich in bioactive peptides. These peptides must fulfill biological functions in the animal’s body in addition to the basic function of nutrition.
To use mild thermal treatment in these ingredients is also important. This way it does not affect negatively the proteins. On the contrary, all the present amino acids have high digestibility, ensuring that they are absorbed by the pig organism and used for vital functions.
It is also essential that they are of fresh animal origin to have a high palatability, that is, a set of allergenic results for a satisfactory feed ingestion and, therefore, a rapid development of the pigs.
3. Nutritional composition: balance is the word of order
The correct balance of nutrients is also essential in the diet of piglets. The feeds should contain adequate amounts of amino acids and minerals.
A high amount of phosphates and sulphates in the feed, for example, drastically reduces the palatability of it and can interfere in the consumption by the pigs.
Regarding amino acids, the correct content of tryptophan in the diet may promote an increase in consumption, as evidenced by several experiments.
As well as some minerals in excess, high amounts of organic acids are also able to decrease the palatability of the feeds.
These acids are usually used as antibacterials and to lower the pH of the stomach of the swine. However, they should be used moderately so as not to affect the sensory characteristics of the feed, consequently having no rejection by the piglets.
4 . Other relevant factors
Researches indicate that just after weaning, pigs should regularly ingest a high amount of food. Low ingestion limits potential growth, in addition to increasing management requirements and increasing mortality.
As a general rule, for each 100 g of extra feed consumed per day during the first week after weaning, the body weight of the pigs increases by at least 2 kg at the end of the fourth week after weaning.
Besides that, it is also important to create a hygienic and organized environment so that the recently weaned piglets can have a more relaxed adaptation to this new stage. This basic rule will have a very positive impact on the future development of animals.
Formulating feeds for the young piglets requires a deep knowledge of the weaning period of the animals and how the feed should be administered at this stage of life, both in terms of specific nutrients and in terms of palatability and digestibility of the animals.
The transition from milk to solid feed needs to be the least stressful possible to ensure optimal development of the pigs. Here it was presented the food aspects that can guarantee a natural change and with the lowest level of stress possible for the animals.