Replacer aids litter and sow performance

Milk replacers became part of the emergency package on many units just 10 years ago and now, as litter sizes have increased, they and specially designed feeding systems have become more commonplace. Provimi swine technology application manager Barry Hoare asks how well they work and if they contribute to successful litter performance

Results from trials in the mid 1990s showed the benefit of milk supplementation using automatic feeders where milk replacer fed piglets grew 20% faster than those reared on the sow. This indicated that the sow’s milk production was insufficient to meet the litter growth potential.

The trials used an artificial sow and supplied milk replacer in a trough to weak and surplus piglets. The system was inefficient as far as labour and space was concerned, so was not commercially viable. And as litter size averaged 11 piglets/sow in general, the sow could cope and demand was limited.

More recently an experiment at INRA, France, compared low-weight piglets that were raised on a milk replacer from seven-days old with low-weight piglets that were raised on the sow. The daily gain until day 28 of life was the same for both groups, and this confirms that raising low-weight piglets separately from the sow can be successful.

With born alives on many UK herds at 13 piglets or more, feeding milk replacer has become the norm in many of these herds. This has called for the industry to develop management systems to help producers take advantage of these improved numbers. Provimi’s Rescue system technology has done just this.

Extensive farm testing supported the development of the Rescue system to make them suitable for large-scale use. At the same time, milk replacer formulas were improved with better feeding values and quality – modifications to prevent the milk going rancid or acidic were incorporated.

In brief, the RescueDeck is positioned on top of a farrowing pen and at three-days old surplus piglets are housed in the deck. The rescue deck provides these piglets with a microclimate. It means they can stay close to the mother in the farrowing pen and fit into the all-in/all-out system.

Milk is supplied to the system through a pump from a storage area. The deck contains three cups: one for water and two for milk. The nipples enable sufficient supply of milk for the young piglets, yet avoid an oversupply and the associated problems of milk spoilage. In addition, the nipple prevents backflow of milk. Up to 12 piglets from three-days old can be put in one deck until 28 days of age. Milk replacer is provided though the system and dry creep feed is also provided.

Producers using RescueDecks have seen reductions in piglet mortality of between 3% and 5% depending on the initial situation. More feeding space – either on the deck or on the udder – has led to average weaning weight improvements of 350g across the litter. An added bonus is a less apparent post-weaning dip due to the fact that piglets reared in the rescue decks or offered milk through cups are already used to vegetable feed stuffs and dry feed.

An alternative to a full scale RescueDeck – or similar system – is placing cups in all farrowing crates. In this case, the same milk replacer mixing and distribution equipment is used. A big advantage of having cups in every farrowing crate is that surplus piglets get enough milk – either sow milk or replacer – so there’s no need for cross fostering or to use a foster sow.

Automatic feeding systems for piglet litters are helping producers to achieve better piglet performance. They do require a small amount of extra labour in the case of the RescueDeck, and fresh milk replacer must be prepared daily; if quality milk that mixes well is used then it should take less than 10 minutes/day. The feeding system needs to be cleaned once a week, which takes about 45 minutes.

Genetics companies say that the trend in increasing numbers of live born piglets will carry on for the coming years. The gap between sow milk production and litter requirements will increase and so it is likely that more producers will turn to proven milk replacer feeding systems that have been shown to reduce farrowing house mortality and increase overall weaning weight.

Preventing the post-weaning dip

Wageningen University in the Netherlands completed a trial in which it provided milk replacer to piglets post weaning (Van der Peet-Schwering et al, 2011). They speculated that this could prevent the post-weaning dip in energy intake that can adversely affect piglet health and growth performance.

After weaning, the control group was fed a commercial starter feed. The experimental group was fed the starter feed plus milk replacer for six days. Results from the two groups showed that the milk replacer prevented the post-weaning dip – the control group ate about half their maintenance requirement at day one post-weaning, compared to the milk replacer group that ate about three times their maintenance requirement.

From day seven to 14 post-weaning, the milk replacer piglets grew significantly faster than the control piglets, gaining 394g/day compared with the control group at 355g/day. The group fed milk replacer also had a significantly better energy conversion ratio of 1.44 compared with 1.53 for the control group.

At the end of the experiment at day 35 post-weaning, the milk replacer-fed piglets still grew 7% faster than the control piglets.

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