In every pig farm, there must be a management plan for the piglets handling. That is a fundamental key for the production of healthy pigs that reach their productive parameters in optimal time.
In every pig farm, there must be a management plan for the piglet handling. That is a fundamental key for the production of healthy pigs that reach their productive parameters in optimal time.
Before farrowing, the sow must have dry and clean litter, which may be sawdust, wood shavings or straw. At the time of birth, it must have a box of thermal material, 1 meter wide, 1 meter long and 50 centimeters high, with dry and clean litter and a source of heat inside.
The birthing process can last between 3 and 3 and a half hours with an interval of 15 minutes between each birth. At birth, we must make sure that each piglet breathes without difficulty, otherwise, it must be stimulated by drying its nostrils and mouth with a dry towel. Then, lifting it from its legs, making movements from bottom to top or to the sides.
It is important to immediately cut and disinfect the navel. Then the piglets are placed in the piglet holder, which is provided with an incandescent heat lamp to keep the piglets warm when they require a temperature of 32 to 35°C. During the second and third day after birth, the disinfection of the umbilical cord is repeated.
The piglets are weighed on the day of birth. The weight, sex, number and special characteristics of the piglet are recorded on the registration cards. Average weight of the piglets at birth is 1.3 kg.
Importance of colostrum in piglets handling
We must make sure that every piglet is taking colostrum from the mother, as this provides antibodies that increase resistance against disease. If necessary, we must help the weaker piglets to find the nipple to suck colostrum. It is of utmost importance that the piglets suck 3 or 4 times colostrum from the mother for the first 6 hours of life in order to acquire the necessary nutrients for growth and for the development of their thermoregulatory system, but mainly to acquire immunity through the intake of immunoglobulins.
If the sow does not produce enough milk, artificial milk must be provided for weak piglets and for orphans or supernumeraries. Litters can also be matched by transferring piglets of the same age from larger to smaller litters.
Piglets are born with minimal iron reserves and sows milk contains insufficient quantity to meet their needs. If the piglets do not receive this mineral orally or by injection, they may suffer from anemia.
Iron can be administered as a ferrous sulphate paste on days 4, 10 and 15. The most used procedure is the administration of 150 – 200 mg of intramuscular or subcutaneous dextran iron.
At birth, piglets already have 4 pairs of fine, sharp fangs that can cause lesions on the nipples during suckling, leading to inflammatory and infectious processes. They can also cause lesions on the face, ears and tail of their littermates due to fights when choosing the nipple they will feed on. Therefore, it is recommended to file or cut these fangs after the first 6 hours of life.
Piglet and sow identification
Another necessary practice with piglets in all pig production is the identification of animals. They are physically identical and it is necessary to use some form that allows them to be distinguished in order to carry out handling and productivity evaluation. We can talk about temporary and permanent identification systems.
- Temporary identification is used to carry out some handling practice and only lasts a short period of time.
- Permanent identification must be maintained throughout the animal’s life; among these systems is tattooing, which consists of applying ink to the area of the back of the ear, with numbers and letters that allow the animal to be identified. It is preferred because it is easy to apply and because it does not alter the animal’s appearance. However, the cost of the ink should be considered as a disadvantage, as well as the difficulty of seeing it at a distance in fattening animals.
The notches are another identification system, which consists of making a series of cuts on the edges of the ear, each cut has a value. The best-known system is the “International” or “Hampshire” system, with which the right ear is marked with the number of the litter and the left ear with the number of the pig in that litter. In pig farming, this system is preferred because it is cheaper and easy to apply, although it alters the appearance of the animal, causes pain during marking and the cuts can get infected.
Plastic earrings are used for the sows, to identify them. They can be seen from a distance.
Recently, some farms have started to use identification systems with microchips that are placed on necklaces or in a subcutaneous form that are read by a portable “scanner”. These are mainly used to identify breeding stock or for line pigs in breeding farms.
To achieve maximum weight at weaning, it is essential to offer a nutritious and palatable food during lactation from the first week of life. It must be taken into consideration that pigs are curious animals and that they like sweet food, this will help us to achieve a better transition to balanced food.
Both the piglet feeder and the drinker must be protected, so that the mother does not have access to them.
Up to 4 weeks of age, the piglets need an area of 0.2 square meters per animal. From 4 to 8 weeks of age, they need an area of 0.3 square meters.
In technical and semi-technical productions, early weaning and weaning at 8 weeks of age are carried out.
Early weaning consists of separating the piglets from the mother at 30 days of age. One week after the separation the sow enters again in heat. Thus, it can produce an average of 5 litters in two years instead of 4 as with 8-week weaning. Early weaning requires special facilities because of the susceptibility of piglets of this age to environmental changes and their nutritional requirements.
Although it results in fewer litters, weaning at 8 weeks of age is more common, because it allows a better development of the piglets. Their health status and resistance to disease are also higher, so their later growth for fattening or for producing breeding animals will be better.
Weaning takes place gradually. On the first day, the sow is taken out for an hour in the morning and another in the afternoon. The second day is taken out for 2 hours in the morning and 2 more in the afternoon. On the third day the sow is taken out for 3 hours, until the fourth day it is taken out definitively. After weaning, the sow returns to the breeding sow pen and the piglets go to the initial fattening or growth pens.
The piglets require an ambient temperature of 27°C. Depending on the location of our farm, the piglets are housed in either open or closed rooms with walls that prevent draughts. The piglets are grouped in pens according to their size and weight and it is recommended not to put more than 20 piglets in a single pen, not only to avoid health problems but also behavior problems.