March 2015 – Beware the double-dip

It may just be me, but I’m strongly against the idea of people “double-dipping” their tortilla snacks or bread sticks into sauces or relishes, with the potential transfer of germs this can bring. But there’s another – and in this context more important – “double-dip” we should be concerned with, and that’s the behavioural response of the weaned pig under stressful situations.

If the young piglet has received sufficient access to maternal milk of good quality and quantity, while consuming appropriate levels of creep feed to support digestive development and body weight gain, then it should meet its targets and be well prepared for optimal post-weaning performance. However, this early good work can be severely compromised when the piglet moves from the comfortable surroundings of the farrowing pen to the new environment of the flatdeck. The multitude of changes that this brings can create profound stress, resulting in poor growth and subsequent health implications.

This radical change in the piglet’s early life can typically manifest itself in reduced feed intake within two days of weaning. Water intake is a big issue here; sows’ milk is about 19% dry matter, so 81% of the piglet’s intake up to weaning has, by default, been water. This means that water consumption in the new accommodation has to match this level, and presentation of clean, fresh water is critical.

Commonly the piglet – that was strong and healthy at weaning – can often fast for two days due to weaning stress, before becoming physically hungry and gorging on day three, followed by a crash on day four – the “double dip” – as the body can’t process this sudden big influx of feed.

This is further complicated by potential atrophy of the villi in the small intestine that’s caused by abrupt weaning associated with the absence of creep feeding in the farrowing house. Once damaged, they’ll take at least two weeks to recover.

Another consequence of low feed intake is the reduction in hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, which not only acts for priming protein-digesting enzymes, but is also the first line of defence against invading pathogens. So, biosecurity at weaning is paramount to keep the threat of disease at bay. Acidifying the water lines with a recommended blend of acids will help reduce pathogenic ingress, as well as making the water more palatable.

To safeguard stock at this vulnerable transition time, the flatdeck should be made as comfortable as possible. A clean, dry and temperature-controlled building is a good start, with distinct areas for lying and dunging. This can be further enhanced with bedding or a heated cover. Gruel in the first two or three days of weaning will help intake and, equally important, it will boost water consumption for the most challenged pigs.

Overall, it’s about continuity of feed intake at and post-weaning, making sure piglets eat little and often in the first few days. Each unit will vary, so I’d consider it time well spent to contemplate the main challenges and how these can be overcome to make the journey for the young piglets that bit easier and more comfortable.

> Dr Phil Baynes has spent his career in pig welfare and nutrition. Based in Cheshire, he runs Baynes Nutrition and
is a consultant nutritionist to Provimi

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