Extra nursery care can improve performance

So, you’ve successfully managed to wean the maximum number of piglets from your sows this week. Now the four-week old piglets are set to fend for themselves in the nursery area. What could go wrong?

Of course I’m saying this tongue in cheek, but I know good management and stockmanship is practised daily in nursery houses in most pig units. But it might be worth fine-tuning a couple of areas where typically there’s scope for gains in health and performance during this growing phase.

One area I discuss regularly with stock people is lighting – should lights be on or off? Some very interesting work carried out by Brunix in 1999 measured the effect of light scheduling on eating behaviour directly post-weaning. This research clearly showed that when newly weaned pigs were housed in darkness almost none ate. When the lights were turned on more piglets ate, probably because they were more comfortable with their surroundings, and could see their comrades and where the feed was.

What’s interesting is that when the lights were turned off again, after a period of being on, the number of non-eaters didn’t reduce – so it’s vital to give the piglets plenty of light to get them off to the best start.

Indeed, further work by the same researcher showed that if the lights were left on for 23 hours rather than eight hours in the first few days post-weaning feed, intakes were much higher and this improved daily weight gains.

A second area to look at is water consumption around weaning. It’s well known that water consumption drives dry matter intake. Prior to weaning, the piglets water consumption, via sows’ milk, is about 800ml/day. Water intake drops abruptly directly post-weaning to less than 200ml/day.

To maximise the water intake at this stage it’s prudent to check flow rates at each water nipple. A good target for this is a flow rate of 450-550ml/minute. There should be a nipple provided for every 10 pigs in the group, and for the first few days post weaning extra water sources should be provided in the house until the piglets get used to where the water is located – this helps ensure that they take enough on-board. Of course, water quality should be checked regularly and maintained to avoid contamination.

One other factor I want to touch on here is stocking rates. These are always on stock people’s minds, and with the increased prolificacy of the sow herd, this has led to increased requirements in the nursery house.

Research has shown that increasing stocking density from eight pigs/pen to 12 pigs/pen resulted in a 10% reduction in daily gain. This has a significant effect on lifetime performance of the pigs and is an area to consider carefully.

It’s easy to let events overtake actions and a shame to waste the potential gains of larger litter sizes and an increase in the number of piglets weaned. A review and some fine-tuning can see these early successes passed on to improved performance in the nursery and grower houses.

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About The Author

Barry Hoare is Cargill's pig nutritionist for the UK and Ireland. Based in southern Ireland, he graduated from University College Dublin with a masters degree in pig nutrition in 2001