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Weaning and Advantages of Early Weaning in Pigs

There are certain advantages of early weaning in pigs as most pig farmers continue to search for the pig weaning age, Meanwhile weaning itself is the practice of separating the piglets from their mother. This activity usually exerts stress on the weaned pigs.

Weaning in pigs is usually done between 3- 6 weeks of age depending on the farmer’s level of management as well as his or her objectives. Other changes should be slowly affected at weaning. Don’t not abruptly change the ration but for a few days, continue feeding creep feed mixed with weaner ration and finally eliminate the creep feed completely at about two weeks after week weaning. Deworming should be done two weeks after weaning.

Newborn piglets (baby pigs) have very limited ability to digest feed. The sow compensates for this by producing milk, a readily digested diet supplying almost all the nutritional requirements of her offspring, and offering this frequently. Also, the immune system is immature at birth so piglets have no inherent resistance to disease and cannot generate any real protection for five or six weeks.

Antibodies concentrated in sow colostrum compensate for this initial deficiency but protection is short and usually has disappeared by weaning time (ie. in 3 to 5 weeks). Weaning, particularly at younger ages, involves a sudden change of diet and environment, so is certainly one of the most potentially distressing stages in a piglets life.

The Weaning in Pigs Process – removal of milk access

  • Old system: at 8 weeks. By this time the sow’s milk production is declining substantially, and solid feed consumption by piglets is sufficient to account for 70-80% of nutritional requirements. Weaning at this age is a natural process.
  • Recent system: 4 – 6 weeks. Piglet solid feed consumption accounts for 50-60% of requirements so no serious problems should be encountered with weaning at this age.
  • Newest system: around 2 weeks. Very little solid feed consumption by this time so it is a somewhat less natural process. If attempted, very early weaning must be done carefully and with proper facilities.

No one knows for certain what is the optimum age for weaning in pigs. The following points must be considered in making any decision on weaning time.

Piglet Immunity

  • Passive immunity (colostrum) is transient and declining to very low concentrations by 14 days.
  • Piglet does not start building its own active immunity until about 21 days.
  • Acquiring active immunity is a slow process even if exposed to antigens as part of disease control program so piglet has little protection for another 2-3 weeks.

Postweaning Fertility

  • A number of older studies indicate a negative relationship between age at weaning and subsequent interval to estrus and litter size. However, this work was done with pigs of different genotypes and under different management than is currently available.
  • More recent, but still preliminary, work indicates no adverse affect on sow fertility, even when piglets are weaned at 8 to 14 days of age. In contrast, first litter gilts may experience delayed estrus after very early weaning.
  • If rebreeding problems persist after weaning of the first litter and producers still wish to use very early weaning within their herd, it would be necessary to devise alternate management procedures. Litters from mature sows could be weaned very early but it might be necessary to allow litters on gilts to nurse for longer periods. Another possibility might be to wean the larger piglets from gilts litters at 7 to 10 days of age but leave the smaller piglets for another week or more. Any of these modifications will create additional difficulties for the operating routine. Thus, pig farmers should be convinced that very early weaning provides considerable long-term advantages before making any permanent changes which involve different routines for gilts and sows.
  • If piglets can be weaned at two weeks of age and sows rebreed quickly without any reduction in subsequent liter size, this would increase prolificacy.

Advantages of Early Weaning in Pigs

Losses in piglets due to overlay and starving are significantly reduced. Overlaying accounts for 50% of the pre-weaning mortalities in piglets.

Pigs can be adequately fed and lack of uniformity in a litter can be overcome.

Costs in sow feed can be slashed.

Weaning and Advantages of Early Weaning in Pigs

The sow loses less weight during nursing compared to those that wean after 8 weeks.

The dam can be rebred sooner to produce more period. Other words, it reduces the farrowing intervals.

Better producing sows can be retained for longer period.

Early weaning allows for streamlining of the production and market supply; both weaners and market pigs can be sold.

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