Maschhoff Memo: The Art and Science of Managing Weaned Pigs

06:00AM Oct 25, 2019
Wean pigs in Nursery
A successful plan for managing weaned pig startups is grounded in science.
( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

By Caleb Shull, The Maschhoffs

No one says managing weaned pig startups is an easy task. A newly weaned pig is dealing with its share of challenges: maternal separation, transportation, commingling, transitioning from a liquid to solid diet, vaccination and environmental changes.

This all happens as the pig’s immune system transitions from relying on its mother to developing its own active immunity. Maintaining a healthy, well acclimated sow herd is of utmost importance to get weaned pigs off to the right star. Beyond that, there is balance to the art and science of managing weaned pig startups.

The art of weaning healthy pigs

Caring for individual pigs and providing each pig with the right environment tips the scale more toward art. Successful weaned pig startups begin in the sow farm, which is sometimes overlooked. Piglets must leave the sow farm with full bellies and in good body condition. Early detection and treatment of fall-behind piglets is just as important once they leave the sow farm as they can become unrecoverable in only a few days. Indicators that pigs need individual care include:

  • gaunt bellies
  • low activity level
  • rough hair coat 
  • secretions around the eyes

Once identified, apply the appropriate intervention.  

Providing the right environment starts before the weaned pig arrives at the site. A pre-fill inspection can ensure all steps are taken so the pig walks into a warm, dry environment with good air quality, minimal drafts and good access to feed and water. Once at the facility, observing the pigs daily to understand lying patterns and behavior is important to provide any needed tweaks to the environment.

Grounded in science

A successful plan for managing weaned pig startups is grounded in science. Multiple research studies have found differences in growth performance during the nursery period did not result in overall differences from weaning to harvest. With that in mind, a better strategy may be to focus on how to maximize survival of the weaned pig. One proxy for weaned pig survival is feed intake immediately post-weaning.   

Factors such as genetics, piglet birth weight, weaning age and nutritional program immediately post-weaning play a heavy role in determining the probability of survival during the nursery period. As an industry, we must find ways to increase birth weight and/or manage low birth weight piglets differently. Furthermore, one should strive to reduce wean age variation as high variation can make it difficult to provide a targeted nutrition and management plan.

Fortunately, we have multiple strategies and technologies to ease the weaning transition. As with most good things, they come at a cost. Weigh the cost against the potential impact for your pig operation. To make the best cost decisions, use a measurement platform that can accurately determine if the advertised value proposition was realized.

Caleb Shull is the Director of Research and Development for The Maschhoffs, LLC. He is responsible for oversight of the research program involving around 25 large-scale commercial studies annually and also leads the development of animal housing strategy.

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