Most pig breeding units will provide a prestarter to young piglets from five-days old. The benefits are well documented, and it’s worth reminding ourselves of the value of this high quality feed. A discerning choice of diet at this stage can pay dividends well beyond the pre-weaning stage.
It’s well known that milk production from the sow peaks about two weeks into lactation and this, in itself, has a negative impact on the growth trajectory of her nursing litter. Feeding a quality prestarter from an early age gives her litter another line of nourishment that will help bridge the nutritional requirement gap at this stage – that’s particularly common these days in larger litter sizes. And in doing so, it’ll help to maintain the piglet’s growth curve until weaning. It also takes the pressure off the sow, helping her successfully complete her job of weaning as many piglets and as many kilos as possible per lactation.
And with these larger litters, those piglets in the lower birthweight bracket tend to be left to suckle from the posterior teats on the udder. These teats tend to have a lower throughput of milk and a lower dry matter content. Fortunately, we’ve seen that these piglets tend to consume more prestarter than piglets occupying the anterior and middle of the teat line. This highlights the piglet’s requirements for nutrients and also their ability to adapt to a new food source very quickly.
As well as meeting the piglet’s nutritional needs, feeding a prestarter from an early age helps develop the digestion system and makes for an easier transition at weaning time. When piglets are born they’re already equipped with the enzyme lactase to digest lactose, a simple sugar found in sow milk. But the enzymes required for digesting more complex nutrients don’t mature until about eight weeks of age. A prestarter can kick-start the digestive system to start producing enzymes for these more complex nutrients such as starch and protein. This is a great advantage at weaning.
And the icing on the cake is often a high-spec prestarter where higher intakes are recorded compared with intakes where a simple formulation is fed, regardless of birthweight. This intake advantage extends well into the post-weaning phase too – and beyond.
Work from Wageningen University in 2012 showed that “eaters” (piglets that consumed prestarter) grew 50g/day faster in the five weeks post-weaning compared with “non eaters” (piglets that didn’t consume prestarter) over the same period. Eaters also consumed their first meal post-weaning far sooner than non-eaters, which reduces the effect of the post-weaning dip commonly experienced.
I think there are more prestarter advantages to be seen and their benefits are still not maximised in lifetime performance. Maximising dry matter intakes may be achieved through liquid feeding, where they can be increased above those seen in conventional dry feeding in the farrowing house. This can only be good news for overall unit efficiency.