Treating weaning as a process, not an event, is clearly understood on farms but not always achieved says Hillsborough Research Institute’s Dr Elizabeth Magowan.
Speaking to farmers during a recent Scottish pig monitor farm meeting in Aberdeenshire, she urged them not to overlook how much of a shock the weaning process can be for piglets, with the inevitable impact that can have on post-weaning growth rates.
She said that one of the largest impacts on successful weaning was to maintain and then increase feed intake, compared with taking two, three or more days of reduced intake and no growth. Her presentation also highlighted the positive impact of a gradual approach to weaning, where the sow is removed and the piglets given four further days in the farrowing environment and then moved and kept in the same group.
“Feed intakes are 10 times higher on day one with this approach and stay higher for weeks,” she said.
During farmer-group sessions, held later in the same meeting, one team took “post-weaning feed intake” as their discussion focus, coming up with the following headline conclusions:
On making weaning a process, not an event, it’s important to spread other stresses, such as vaccination, docking, etc.
Targeting water intake is important. Use different drinkers with 100% accessibility, make sure they’re always clean and have appropriate flow rates. Piglets must not have to work hard for water.
On lighting regimes, the group felt that 24 hours full-on was the correct approach, but with variable light levels to provide a “quiet” time. They did add though that the science on this needs to be checked.
For temperatures, the general comment was that conditions must not be “too hot”. High temperatures and humidity will promote lethargy. Target 27C for >6kg weaners, they added, noting that a temperature variation of +/- 2C has a catastrophic impact on FCR. They also said repeated checking is valuable, especially in winter.
Other key points included the need to provide adequate feed space, with additional feeders at the start and to have a “little and often” feed regime. This was deemed best for palatability, which was seen as a major issue.
Using sweeteners can be useful, they said, but noted that questions remained over their cost effectiveness.
On the use of large group sizes, they viewed this as being “hard on weaners”, adding that many producers size weaners before grouping. They agreed, however, there is evidence that putting 6.5kg to 10kg weaners of the same age into groups is OK.
The group’s final point was that all runts/stragglers needed to be pulled out and treated separately.
Footnote: Scotland’s monitor farm programme is run by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), whose current selected pig farm is Danny Skinner’s unit at Lazyfold, Insch. The next group meeting is set to be held at Thainstone, Aberdeenshire, on Tuesday, November 18.