Educating the immature gut

Not that long ago, I read some extremely relevant advice from pig nutritionist Paul Toplis, writes John Gadd. It concerned the hesitancy that some breeders feel about the need to feed pre-weaning diets. Paul outlined what creep feed really does – even if only small amounts are eaten – in preconditioning the digestive tract.

His first point was that that even if the suckler only eats 5% of its dry matter needs from a (professionally designed) solid food before weaning, this is enough to precondition the gut in several ways. It “educates” the gut microflora; improves the suckler’s immune system; induces needful enzyme secretion; and prepares the sensitive absorption area of the digestive tract for the quantities of solid food that it’s forced to process after weaning.

Only small amounts needed
Paul Toplis claimed it only needed a small amount of food to do this, suggesting a target of 150g/piglet (up to 2kg of pre-weaning food/litter) is enough.

“Preweaning food is all about growing the gut and not growing the piglet,” he said, a remark that I feel should join the list of famous sayings of the past such as: “A piglet starts to die as soon as the birth process commences” (Peter English); “The modern sow in lactation will `nosedive` in condition unless you prepare for it” (Colin Whittemore); and “Don`t mix those bloody pigs!” (Howard Hill, one of America’s great pig managers).

The cost
The amount of pre-weaning food, small or large, needs to be professionally designed so that it’s `gut-friendly’ and won’t inflame the extremely sensitive neonate’s gut surface. In fact, I’m tempted to go further and say `gut-loving’ – which needs a close partnership between the formulator and the manufacturer. This, of course, comes expensive, another reason to add to Paul’s list of reasons why some producers remain hesitant to use pre-weaning foods.

But, stop worrying about cost! I have done the sums many times from my clients and other producers’ on-farm results, and can confidently claim that the paybacks have been between 6:1 and 9:1 by slaughter weight.

“Educating the gut,” as Paul aptly put it, really early on may obtain only a little extra weight at weaning, but this process really comes into its own in the more expensive grow-out to slaughter period when it can help pigs grow so much faster. Because of this effect, I firmly believe that no early pig performance trial is complete until the pigs reach slaughter.

But there are rules
Sometimes, even when using these gut-friendly creep feeds, there have been disappointing paybacks. When I sought out possible reasons, lack of spotless cleanliness in the feed hoppers/trays and their surroundings, and lack of clean fresh water were involved (good creep feeds seem to be thirst-making and liquid from the udder seems insufficient). When these were addressed the paybacks improved.

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)