Fine tuning your management plan for substandard pigs

Providing proper care and environments for piglets can ease transition into the nursery phase.

Having a management plan for substandard pigs is important. Michigan State University Extension educators suggest that the first step in the management of substandard pigs is providing the proper environment (clean, warm, draft free), as well as identifing areas for substandard pigs, which can reduce negative impacts on future performance such as flow, marketing and overall production. Optimizing substandard pig management will aid in maximizing performance and growth of substandard pigs. Various different production practices can be utilized to help increase productivity of identified pigs; some of these practices are summarized below.

Specific diet formulation

One way to optimize substandard pig management is to feed a specified diet formulation, comparable to the growth and development of a weanling pig. It has been found that at weaning, lighter pigs have less developed gastrointestinal tracts verses piglets with a higher weaning weight. Therefore a pelleted diet, formulated so that it is easily digestible for the weanling pig is preferred. When utilizing a pelleted feed, not all products are as digestible and specifically you are looking for a product that has a small percent of pellet fines associated with it. It has been recommended that you use a feed with 20 percent or less of pelleted fines.

Split Weaning

Various studies have shown that incorporating production practices that require you to split wean the litters can also increase weaning weights, which will help ease the nursery phase transition period. Research completed in 2002 by Lawlor found that by early weaning a portion of the litter from the sow, the piglets remaining in the litter weighed 0.5 pounds more at weaning when compared to weaning full litters of pigs. This is done by reducing the little size on the sow so that you increase the availability of the sow’s milk for the remaining piglets. It is suggested that when you are split weaning to take the litter down to 7 or 8 pigs in order to increase weaning weights of remaining piglets. Piglets that remain in reduced sized litters have a higher frequency of teat swapping and longer length of suckle time, resulting in increased consumption and weight gain. This increase in weight gain however is not sustained throughout the growth period.

Creep Feeding

When adding creep feed to the diets of your pre-wean piglets your goal should not be to improve weaning weights for the litters but to expose young pigs to a solid diet. This helps the piglet transition to a nursery/solid food diet and decrease the post-weaning lag that sometimes occurs at this time. Studies done at Kansas State University explain that the length of time pigs have access to creep feed will not increase the weaning weight of the piglets, however with extended exposure to creep feed more piglets will eat creep feed and have an easier adjustment to solid feed in the nursery phase.

Both practices (split weaning and creep feeding) show minimal lifetime improvement but may be used as a management strategy for small or lighter suckling pigs.

In the end, attention to detail will be advantageous for all involved, ranging from the pig to the producer. Implementing a consistent way of identifying pigs will aid in determining how respective pigs (quality vs. substandard) may need to be managed. Furthermore, increasing communication to create a better understanding of how pigs are classified will potentially lead to improved pig management efficiencies. However, it is important to recognize that the development of a standard operating procedures is not a one size fits all approach and the practices that you employee on your farm should fit your operation. Procedures will be dependent upon respective operation/farm system limitations that may include facilities, resources, pig flow, etc. More information on this topic can be found on the MSU Extension Pork website.

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