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Best Management Practices for Weaners (Young Pigs)

The 3 weeks period immediately after weaning is very critical for the young pigs because a number of stresses may be encountered. After weaners have overcome the stress of weaning and are feeding properly, deworm them for the first time.

Group the pigs according to age and size other than age alone. This provides an opportunity to record their feed consumption up to the time of selection at around 5 months and enhances the determination of feed efficiency. If you don’t group your pigs according to age and size, you will always get what I usually call shooters.

If there is need, some weaners can be sold at either one or two months depending on the time you weaned them. Others not meant for selling can be raised on self-fed rations until the finishing stage when they are weighting about 100kg live weight at 6 months.

NB: A weaner is a pig that has been weaned and resides in the nursery or weaner accommodation until 25- 30 kg live weight.

Breeding Management for Adult Pigs to produce Young Pigs

A sow is a female pig that has already had a litter and a gilt is a female pig that has not had a litter. Therefore, a gilt can be a pregnant animal (up until its first litter). Pigs are prolific and a sow can have many litters over the course of her lifetime.

According to research, As a rule of thumb in commercial industries, sows are often culled after their seventh litter because statistics show that sow productivity drops at that time to a point where higher production is attainable by replacing her with a gilt. Certainly some sows can be productive beyond the seventh litter and some gilts may not be as productive, but in large operations with many sows this culling ideal proves to make economic sense. When a sow is culled from the herd the young female that will take her place is often referred to as a replacement gilt.

Sow longevity is a term used in industry to refer to the time that a sow spends on a farm. Parity is a term used to describe the number of litters that a sow has had. For instance a 1st parity sow has had one litter, a 2nd parity sow two litters and so on. Farms with many sows pay close attention to sow longevity because it is expensive to raise replacement gilts and it makes economic sense to keep sows on the farm as long as they are economically productive. Sow well-being and health are paramount to sow longevity.

Gilt Introduction

Breeding farm management starts with gilts. Healthy animals in good physical conditions will lead to larger litters and better nursing performance for future piglets. Gilts can be brought to the farm at any age after weaning. Some farms will raise their own replacement gilts so that new animals are not introduced into the existing herd.

Read Also: Best Management Practices for Mother Pigs after Weaning (Dry Sow)

Cycles and Heat Determination

Sows and gilts have an average 21 day heat cycle, although this can range from 17 to 25 days. An average animal in heat today will be in heat again in three weeks. This can be used to help synchronize farrowing dates in small herds so that animals are farrowing around the same time, and can be weaned of piglets (and therefore bred for their next litter) at the same time.

Natural Matings

Natural mating between a boar and a female is a fairly straightforward process. The animals should be introduced to one another in a penned area. It is inadvisable to utilize large boars to breed small sows and gilts.

Artificial Insemination

Artificial Insemination allows managers to take advantage of genetic choices with lower risk of disease transmission. AI requires greater management skill and effort than natural matings. Most breedings in today’s industry are conducted with this method.

Recycling

After breeding you must monitor the females daily and note if discharge or abortion occurs. Often sows and gilts will not become pregnant and return to heat again. This is called recycling and occurs on average 21 days after mating (range 17-25 days).

Major Feed Ingredients

A fundamental principle of the economics of pork production is to feed the most economical cereal grains and to correct the deficiencies by supplementation with good-quality protein sources, minerals, and vitamins. Dependable mineral and vitamin premixes or complete manufactured supplements are commercially available. Fortified corn-soybean meal diets are very popular in pig operations, but other cereals and protein sources can be used.

Corn (maize) is by far the most widely used grain for feeding pigs in the USA. It is very palatable and high in energy but relatively low in crude protein. In addition, corn is deficient in lysine, tryptophan, threonine, and several other essential amino acids, as well as vitamins and minerals.

Grain sorghum is a major energy source for pigs in western and southwestern USA. The protein content is variable depending on factors such as variety, whether the crop was grown on irrigated or dry land, amount of fertilizer used, and other environmental factors. In general, grain sorghum can be substituted for corn on an equal-weight basis, but because the ME value is slightly lower than that of corn, a poorer feed conversion should be expected.

Wheat has about the same energy content as corn and contains 2%–3% more protein and 0.05%–0.1% more lysine than corn. Wheat can be substituted for corn on either an equal-weight basis or on a lysine basis, but not on a crude protein basis or it will result in a lysine deficiency. Wheat can constitute all of the grain in a swine diet. The two main types of wheat grown in the USA, hard red winter and soft red winter, have equivalent nutritional value.

Barley has ~85%–90% of the feeding value of corn, even though it usually contains 2%–3% more protein. Scabby barley should not be fed to pigs.

Best Management Practices for Weaners (Young Pigs)

Oats have a relatively low energy content and, therefore, should not account for >20%–25% of the cereal grain in the diet. Generally, when oats are included in the diet, the rate and efficiency of gain should be expected to decline. Rolled oats groats are sometimes used in starter diets because of their excellent palatability.

Cereal grains should be ground or rolled to maximize their feeding value. Corn and grain sorghum should be reduced to a medium-fine particle size (550–600 microns). Wheat should be ground more coarsely (650–700 microns) to prevent pasting.

Fine grinding improves feed conversion, but excessive reduction in particle size may lead to an increased incidence of gastric ulcers. Pelleting of diets may result in a small improvement in gain and especially feed efficiency.

In general, the benefit is greatest with pelleted diets that contain high levels of fiber, such as barley-based diets. Cereal grains should be as free as possible from mycotoxins. Aflatoxins, vomitoxin, zearalenone, fumonisins, and other mycotoxins can reduce animal performance, depending on level in the feed, and can especially cause reproductive problems in breeding animals.

Soybean meal accounts for >90% of the supplemental protein fed to pigs in the USA. It is very palatable and has an excellent amino acid profile that complements the amino acid pattern in cereal grains. Ground, full-fat soybeans can also be fed to swine but only after they are heated (by extrusion or roasting) to inactivate the trypsin inhibitors and other heat-labile antinutritional factors.

Canola meal also is an excellent protein source. Low-gossypol cottonseed meal (<100 ppm free gossypol), peanut meal, sunflower meal, and other oilseed-based meals can be used in swine feed but generally not as the sole source of supplemental protein because of the lower lysine content of their protein. Animal protein sources such as meat meal, meat and bone meal, or fish meal can supply a portion of the supplemental protein in swine diets.

Distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) is a byproduct that has received a lot of attention in recent years because of the increased number of ethanol plants that use corn to produce ethanol for fuel. This byproduct is an excellent and generally economical feed ingredient for swine. Although DDGS has essentially no starch and considerably more fiber than corn, it is considerably higher in fat (corn oil); hence, the ME content of DDGS containing 9%–12% fat is similar to that of corn.

Read Also: Methods of Heat Detection in Pigs (Sows / Gilts)

Recently, some ethanol plants extract a portion of the oil from the solubles before adding the solubles back to the dried grains. This results in a “low-fat” DDGS, generally 5%–9% fat, which has slightly less ME than conventional DDGS. Further removal of fat, called “de-oiled DDGS” (<5% fat) has substantially less ME than either of the other types of DDGS, so it has a lower feeding value. DDGS is also higher in protein than corn, but the quality of protein (ie, balance of amino acids), like corn protein, is poor.

A considerable amount of research has been done with DDGS in recent years. Diets containing 20%–25% DDGS are well utilized by pigs, but when high levels (>30%) of DDGS are fed in finishing diets, body fat of pigs becomes more unsaturated, as evidenced by higher iodine values. This results in softer, more flexible bellies that are more difficult to process into bacon slices.

To overcome this problem, producers should consider either removing DDGS from the late finishing diet or reducing the level of DDGS to 10% during the final 3–4 wk of the finishing period.

Feeding Management of Sows and Litters

According to research, Gestation diets adequate in all nutrients should be fed to sows to produce healthy, vigorous pigs. Sows should be fed so that they are in good body condition at farrowing—not too fat or too thin. Thin sows tend to farrow smaller pigs that have a poorer chance of survival than larger, more vigorous pigs.

After farrowing, the sow should be returned to full feed as soon as possible. Constipation in sows is generally not a problem if the sow is eating well. Wheat bran or dried beet pulp can be included in the farrowing diet at 5%–10% if constipation is a problem, or chemical laxatives such as potassium chloride or magnesium sulfate can be included in the diet at 0.75%–1%.

Newly farrowed pigs should be checked to ensure that each has nursed. If necessary, milk flow may be stimulated by giving oxytocin. If the sow is slow in coming into milk, weak pigs may benefit from receiving artificial milk, but success depends on good management and sanitation.

Nutritional anemia should be prevented by giving an iron injection before 3 days of age or by other means discussed previously. Pigs from large litters may be transferred to sows with smaller litters after they receive colostrum; however, the transfer should be done within the first 24 hr after birth. A palatable pig starter diet should be provided beginning at 2–3 wk if pigs are weaned later than 3 wk of age.

Feeding Management of Weanling Pigs

Pigs weaned at an early age (3–4 wk) perform best if fed a complex starter diet for 1–2 wk after weaning. Typically, the starter diet contains dried whey and/or lactose, dried blood products, and a high level of lysine. Some producers use a medicated early weaning program or segregated early weaning program to produce healthier pigs.

This entails weaning at 10–16 days of age and requires excellent nutritional management. Such diets should contain even higher levels of lysine as well as high levels of lactose (as the sugar or from dried whey) and 3%–7% dried animal plasma. A gradual transition should eventually be made to less expensive starter diets and then to corn-soybean meal diets.

The nutritional needs of growing-finishing pigs are best met by a full-feeding program. Limit-feeding reduces the rate and efficiency of gain but may improve carcass quality of finishing pigs. Proper design and adjustment of self-feeders is necessary to prevent feed wastage or restricted growth.

Read Also: Major Causes of Abortion in Pigs and How to Correct it

Growth Stimulants

For many years, antibiotics and other chemotherapeutic agents have commonly been added to swine diets to promote growth and feed efficiency, reduce mortality and morbidity, and improve health. The greatest response to these growth enhancing agents is in young pigs, with lesser responses as pigs progress in age and weight. The levels of antibiotics fed and drug withdrawal requirements should be in accordance with manufacturers’ recommendations and legal restrictions.

The antibiotics approved as feed additives for swine include bacitracin methylene disalicylate, bacitracin zinc, bambermycins, chlortetracycline, lincomycin, neomycin, oxytetracycline, penicillin, tiamulin, tylosin, and virginiamycin. Chemotherapeutic agents include carbadox, roxarsone, sulfamethazine, and sulfathiazole.

Several of these are approved only in combination with certain other additives. Apramycin also is approved for use as a water medication. Also, pharmaceutical levels of zinc (1,500–3,000 ppm) as zinc oxide, or copper (100–250 ppm) as copper sulfate or tribasic copper chloride are effective growth stimulants in young pigs.

However, FDA action has changed how antibiotics can be used. According to Final Guidance 213 and the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rule, antimicrobials medically important in human medicine (this includes all of the antimicrobials approved for swine except carbadox, bacitracin, and bambermycins) previously used at subtherapeutic levels for production purposes (improved growth and efficiency) are no longer allowed for that purpose. Instead, they are allowed only for disease prevention and only under veterinary supervision and oversight.

This regulation applies to antibiotics used in feed or water. Companies that produce those antimicrobials are asked to voluntarily remove the production improvement claim on their product labels. These products will no longer be available to producers on an “over-the-counter” basis; they will only be available on a VFD basis.

Microbials that are directly fed (once referred to as probiotics), such as live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Streptococcus faecium, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, have been evaluated as possible substitutes for antibiotics, but controlled studies have not shown consistent, beneficial responses from their inclusion.

In some instances, inclusion of specific sugars (mannanoligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides [also called prebiotics]) have shown promise as possible alternatives to antibiotics for young pigs, but growth responses are less consistent and of lower magnitude than from the inclusion of antibiotics.

The direct-fed microbials and oligosaccharides are thought to encourage growth of desirable microorganisms in the GI tract, such as lactobacilli species and bifidobacteria that partially displace some of the less desirable microorganisms, including some pathogenic microbes.

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