Minimise weaning stress to maximise piglet performance
Minimising the amount of stress piglets go through can help limit health issues and growth checks associated with weaning, according to a pig health specialist.
Writing in Zoetis’ Livestock Blog, veterinarian Dr. Laura Hancox said maternal separation, change of environment, new sources of feed, handling and vaccines can all put piglets under stress.
But taking management steps to limit the stresses associated with weaning can help with piglet welfare and growth rates, ultimately driving herd productivity.
The stomach of a newly weaned pig is highly sensitive to bacteria, so it is important housing is clean, disinfected and dry, Hancox says.
Keep temperatures to about 28°C (83°F) in the laying area, and if possible pre-warm the accommodation to avoid cold shocking the weaners.
Where there’s no heat source, provide suitable kennelling and lots of bedding to keep them warm.
Feeding with creep feed in the weeks before weaning is important to encourage piglets to eat when they are separated from the sow, Hancox adds. Give them the same creep feed after weaning so they are familiar with it.
“The way the feed is delivered is important too, and ideally you should provide several options of feeder type, for example a floor trough and hopper,” she adds.
“Exposing the pigs to different feeder types at this stage will engage their curiosity and assist in helping them discover the feed on offer. “
The same applies for water, with bowls and nipples giving pigs every opportunity to discover drinking points and build water intake.
Tips for handling piglets
Handling animals can lead to stress, so it’s important to handle them calmly and gently, Hancox says.
Pick weaners up by both of their back legs, quickly supporting them under the chest to take strain off the leg joints.
Most handling around weaning is related to health treatments, so it’s worth considering one-shot vaccinations to limit the amount of time pigs are handled and the number of injections they need to receive, she adds.
One-shot vaccines can also limit stress for stockmen, as they can save time and effort in physically handling animals.