Importance of weaning in piglets and management strategies
Weaning is a key stage in pig farming and represents a change in piglet production management.
In swine farming, it is of great importance the reproductive efficiency of sows, that must provide a remarkable number of piglets born alive at each farrowing. In addition, these newborn pigs are expected to have the best conditions in terms of health, management, diet, efficiency, and physiology. For this reason, management and welfare protocols must be implemented in the pig farm for each production stage of the piglet.
The management of the sow in the post-partum period is of great importance for the viability of the piglets. It must be ensured that the sow recognizes and accepts the piglets so it can offer them sufficient milk. In addition, management at that stage must be careful so that the lactation provides the necessary nutrients to the growing piglets. Subsequently, the piglets must go through the weaning stage where their diet changes from breast milk to feed. Thus, there are several challenges in their digestive and immune system physiology for which the piglets must be prepared.
Lactation of piglets: pre-lactation phase
The sow will produce colostrum during the first hours of the piglets’ life, which the piglets should consume at birth. In this colostrum, there is a significant load of antibodies which are defense molecules that the mother transfers to the piglets. Thanks to colostrum, piglets can face the first weeks of life protected against infectious. Then, the producer should apply vaccines to reinforce they immune system to protect them from the different diseases that affect the region where the farm is located.
The colostrum will then be converted into mother’s milk, which has a nutritional composition rich in the elements necessary for the piglets. This milk is composed of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that are indispensable for the development of piglets. This feed will be supplied to the piglets for a few weeks until they reach sufficient weight for the weaning stage.
In this stage of lactation, there are important management processes such as umbilical cord cutting, fang cutting, weight recording, tail cutting, individual identification, administration of minerals (iron), castration, among others. After this, the pigs can begin the weaning and transition phase, which will culminate with fattening.
Weaning, an important period for piglets
The lactation stage should end with the reduction of feed supplied to the sow. In this way, milk production decreases, mastitis processes due to milk accumulation are avoided and the piglets can start the weaning stage.
The average weight of piglets at weaning is between 6 and 8 kg in efficient productions that call it “early weaning”. It is considered between 17 and 21 days on average pigs are ready to start weaning. However, this age can be increased in productions that have more difficulties to reaching the ideal weight and physiology required for weaning. In small-scale farms, this weaning is recommended after 28 days on average as piglets require more time to reach the ideal weight.
It is recognized that with improved herd health, nutritional and production management, the lactation period can be reduced. This reduced lactation stage allows early weaning and reduced production costs associated with the lactating sow.
Piglet management considerations
There are two key considerations in piglet feeding. The first is that feed is provided ad libitum and the animal’s transition as they gain weight, avoiding abrupt feed changes that can trigger digestive disorders. After the piglets are 7 to 10 days old, it is recommended to start the pre-initiation feed, which prepares the digestive system of the animals for weaning. After the piglets have reached 12-15 kg of weight, the starter feed is given, which finishes preparing the piglets for weaning until they reach about 30 kg.
Secondly, frequent record of animal weights is strongly recommended to evaluate the success of the production and to correct any delays or prevent diseases.
The weaning stage is considered a critical period as it signifies the transition from lactation to fattening and there are several important changes in the physiology of the piglets. At this stage, there may be a decrease in maternal antibodies that put the piglets’ immune system at a disadvantage against infectious pathogens. This situation is aggravated by environmental changes that may favor the appearance of respiratory diseases. In addition, the gastrointestinal system undergoes a series of dietary changes that without proper management predispose to diarrhea or decreased weight gain.
Farm facilities for weaning
The facilities are one of the most important components in the management and success of the weaning stage. In these facilities, the piglets will remain for a considerable time in which the best conditions for their efficient growth and welfare must be guaranteed.
Among the most important features of piglet weaning facilities is ventilation. Depending on the geographical conditions of the farm and economic resources, it is recommended to have an efficient dynamic ventilation system that allows optimal control of humidity and temperature.
Another important factor in piglet management at the facility level is density. It is recommended to choose a density of 4-5 piglets/m2 with sufficient provision of feeders and drinkers for feeding all animals. In addition, a plastic floor is recommended for easy cleaning and disinfection.
In addition, hygiene in the facilities is indispensable and should be following clear and updated protocols. An “all in, all-out” system is recommended to reduce infectious disease outbreaks. In addition, flock management avoids crossbreeding of different populations that may generate diseases or stress. On the other hand, cleaning and disinfection of these spaces should be done using recommended products that avoid health problems in the piglets. The objective of the cleaning and disinfection is to eliminate any pathogen in the environment.
Strategies to optimize the weaning stage
Reducing the possibility of respiratory or digestive diseases is a key objective in the weaning stage of piglets. Therefore, there are some strategies to improve intestinal welfare of piglets and prepare them for this transition period.
- Use of Alquernat Nebsui which contains intestinal conditioner pronutrients. These molecules of natural origin improve the digestive physiology of piglets during weaning through several mechanisms. On the one hand, they promote the regeneration of absorptive digestive cells (enterocytes) which improves the absorption of nutrients supplied in the diet. In addition, the product optimizes digestive processes and substitutes the use of antibiotic growth promoters. This product has been used in field trials where remarkable results have been obtained in weaned piglets.
- Field trials with Alquernat Nebsui in Asia showed that the digestive mucosa of piglets is stimulated, favoring a faster adaptation to solid feed. In these trials, weaned pigs had better productive parameters (1.5 kg more weight) as well as a successful diarrhea prevention program (fewer piglets with diarrhea and milder symptoms) compared to zinc oxide. These results are consistent with other field trials conducted in Peru where Alquernat Nebsui administered to weaned piglets obtained better economic performance on the farm.
- Establish complete vaccination protocols according to the pathogens prevalent in the productive zone. In this way, adequate and timely protection of weaned piglets against infectious diseases is provided.
- Use Alquerzim Piglets which is an optimizer of digestion in piglets since the feed administered is soy-based. This product provides exogenous enzymes that improve the digestion of starch and a high concentration of proteins in the cereal-based diet, which favors the digestive process in this stage of life. As a result, nutrients in the diet are better utilized and intestinal disorders in piglets are prevented.
- Establish updated and efficient protocols for cleaning and disinfection of the facilities. It has been observed that this strategy reduces the appearance of respiratory and digestive diseases favored by environmental humidity and the multiplication of pathogens.
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The success of swine production is the rigorous and adequate management of the productive stages of the animals. Among these stages, lactation and weaning are closely related to being a critical period. During this transition, piglets change their management and diet and are therefore exposed to environmental risks that must be controlled.
During lactation, the sow provides nutrients necessary for piglet growth and development. Subsequently, at weaning, the piglets will change management and diet to prepare them for the fattening stage. Therefore, there are feeding, facilities, and sanitation considerations that the farm must optimize. In this way, the farmer reduces the risk of disease in weaned piglets and reduces the costs associated with it.
Respiratory and digestive diseases are two major problems of the weaning period. In addition, the decrease in production efficiency such as weight gain is another variable to consider. Therefore, the weaning of piglets should follow a rigorous process of recording the growth of the animals and a follow-up on their feeding.
Finally, there are management strategies and products of natural origin that provide timely protection and adequate optimization for piglets.