How to Minimize Pig Nursery Fallouts

Brenda de Rodas, Ph.D.

Director, Swine Technical Innovation

Whether your pigs are destined to enter the sow herd or the finishing floor, farrowing and nursery management defines their success.

To get pigs off to the right start, farrowing and nursery management is critical.

One gauge of triumph in young pigs is an operation’s fallout rate. Fallout pigs are those that lag behind the rest of the group in terms of gain and performance. Research from the University of Illinois suggests that pigs that fall behind in growth have a greater probability to be impacted by diseases and often require greater days to reaching their full potential.1

When pigs fall behind in the nursery, we often see a larger gap on the finishing floor or in the gilt pool. In fact, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine found that for each 1 pound below target bodyweight at 10 weeks of age, an additional 5 days are needed to reach market weight.2

To promote uniformity, work toward a minimal fallout rate. The current industry goal is less than 0.5 percent fallout in the nursery. The first step in reaching this goal is to pull the bottom 10 percent of the group immediately when they enter the nursery.

The bottom 10 percent needs to be separate and needs a little extra care to keep up with the other pigs. You need to be able to feed them more specifically, be a bit more comfort-specific and monitor them closer than the other pigs.

If you do have fallouts, look for the reason as to why the fallout happened. Maybe the pig never found water, didn’t have the opportunity to get to the feeder because of competition or wasn’t acclimated to dry feed before weaning.

Along with post-weaning monitoring and group management, help prevent fallouts before the weaning period begins. Keeping the group uniformly growing and healthy through the nursery begins by minimizing the stress of weaning.

Set the stage for stress-free weaning
A full potential pig begins on day one in the farrowing room. Attending farrowings, drying and warming piglets and promoting adequate colostrum consumption can support the transfer of passive immunity to piglets.

The importance of colostrum cannot be stressed enough.

In a recent study, a group of pigs that consumed less than 200 grams of quality colostrum experienced a pre-weaning mortality rate of 43.4 percent while a group that consumed greater than 200 grams of quality colostrum had a pre-weaning mortality rate of 7.1 percent.3

Still, piglet immune development stems beyond the first feeding of sow’s colostrum and milk. The immunocompetence of young pigs must be maintained by the producer from farrowing through weaning and is impacted by having adequate nutrition to support not only animal maintenance but also growth and immune development. 

If nutrition is lacking, piglet development may be slowed; thus the importance of providing the piglet with adequate nutrition throughout this period. Because of the evolving enzymes (lactase enzymes early in the pig’s life to breakdown milk and then amylase to breakdown carbohydrates as dry feed is introduced) in the pig’s digestive tract, pigs must receive a diet that is relative to the evolving enzymes during development to ensure proper digestion and absorption of nutrients for growth and immune development.1 

To become successful eaters, pigs must receive adequate nutrients while in the farrowing facility. The sow provides the majority of these nutrients, but additional support can keep pigs on track. Work from Iowa State University shows that, because of lactation demands, nursing sows may “have a difficult time consuming enough feed to meet both the demands of milk production and body maintenance." 4

In addition to a greater potential for long-term issues in the sows, piglets in the current litter can be delayed from a lack of nutrients. A gel-based product or creep feed can be used to complement the sow’s milk – lessening the demands on the sow and ensuring adequate hydration and nutrients to the pigs.

UltraCare® Gel is a supportive program that allows the sow to get back on her feet without causing stress to the pigs.

Provide gel to pigs that are challenged both pre- and post-weaning as well as to all litters during times of stress, including weather challenges and 1-day prior and 1-day after vaccinations.

 A gel-based product focuses on hydration capabilities and intake enhancing ingredients to promote consumption. This combination can address dehydration and aid in transition to dry pellets while optimizing/supporting intestinal health.5
Gel can also aid in the transition to dry feeds. We’ve seen success by offering ad libitum gel for 48 hours before starting a creep feeding program. Intake enhancing ingredients in the gel help the pigs become interested in pellets.

Creep feeding gets the pigs ready for the transition (by creating eaters at weaning) and also helps take some of the pressure off of the sow. Anytime we have the ability to acclimate or transition the pigs into a new setting, we should take that opportunity.

Creep feed starting 3-5 days prior to weaning at a rate of 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of dry feed per day per litter to create eaters.

Research from Kansas State University shows the benefits of feeding piglets a complex creep feed 3 days prior to weaning. In a recent study, 68 percent of the pigs fed creep became eaters pre-weaning versus 28 percent of the pigs when fed only the sow’s milk/diet.6 In this study, pigs that became eaters during the pre-weaning phase, gained 6.2 percent better (P < 0.01) and had greater average daily feed intake (P < 0.002) post-weaning than non-eaters. The eaters also had improved average daily gain and body weight uniformity due to a reduced post-weaning lag.

When selecting a creep feed, palatability is paramount.

The first impression needs to be a good one. The first feed can be a great stepping stone in beginning the transition; we need to remember, though, that the feed before weaning and the feed after weaning should be very similar.

In addition to palatability, creep feeds should include a complex combination of nutrients with a variety of amino acids, probiotics and neutraceuticals. This combination helps to stimulate all gut areas and encourages strengthened immunity; all of which are needed before the stress of weaning.

Make the transition with minimal stress
Pigs that have had access to dry feed prior to moving to the nursery are more apt to begin eating dry feed when entering the nursery.6  Because weaning is often the most stressful period of the pig’s life, familiarity with feed can eliminate one stress factor as the pigs move into a new environment and new groups – helping pigs to meet growth goals.

The Pig Improvement Company (PIC) set a goal for pigs to consume 0.4 to 0.5 pounds of dry feed per day for the first seven days post-weaning.7 The group credits hydration as a key factor in achieving this goal.

Pigs that are moved to a new facility may experience slumps in water consumption. Dehydration can be problematic at weaning because approximately 55 percent of a pig’s bodyweight is made of water. In young, lean animals, the water level may be closer to 70 percent. If a pig loses 15 percent of its water weight, mortality issues are more prevalent.8

Electrolytes can prevent dehydration during the transition by providing necessary nutrients including: sodium, chloride and potassium as well as calcium and magnesium to the pig. Provide electrolytes to weaned pigs for the first 5-7 days post-weaning. Electrolytes can be administered via water medicator.   

To select an electrolyte, look for a product with high palatability and ingredients that help the pigs absorb glucose and prevent malabsorption post-weaning. The addition of Vitamin D in the electrolyte can also support performance.9

In addition to a post-weaning electrolyte program, provide electrolytes to pigs during times of stress including health challenges, vaccination periods or environmental fluctuation.

When we provide the right nutrients and management to our pigs, we can enjoy seeing the results in the facility and we can keep our fallout levels to a minimum.

1Mavromichalis, Ioannis. “Management of the Nursery Pig.” University of Illinois Extension. http://www.livestocktrail.illinois.edu/porknet/paperDisplay.cfm?ContentID=90. 30 July 2013.
2Pitcher, Paul. “Nursery Swine Production.” University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/swine/bio/grow/nursery/hm.html. 29 July 2013.
3Devillers, N., J. Le Dividich and A. Prunier. “The Importance of Colostrum Intake.” http://www.pig333.com/nutrition/the-importance-of-colostrum-intake_5606/. 30 July 2013.
4Lammers, Peter, David Stender and Mark Honeyman. “Nutrition: Sow Feeding.” Iowa State University. http://www.ipic.iastate.edu/publications/350.SowFeeding.pdf. 30 July 2013.
5“UltraCare® Gel: Breakthrough Nutrition.” Purina Animal Nutrition, LLC. http://www.ultracarefeed.com/stellent/groups/public/documents/web_content/ecmd2-0030866.pdf30 July 2013.
6R. C. Sulabo, M.D. Tokach, J.R. Bergstrom, J. M. DeRouchey, R. D. Goodband, S. S. Dritz, and J. L. Nelssen. 2009. Effects of Creep Diet Complexity on Individual Consumption Characteristics and Growth Performance
of Neonatal and Weanling Pigs. Kansas State University. Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, Swine Day 2009 Report.
7“Early pig care: Back to the basics.” Pig Improvement Company. http://www.pic.com/Images/Users/1/salesportal/presentations/2012Roadshow/1_Ron_EarlyPigCare2012RoadShowVs2.pdf. 30 July 2013.
8“Pig Health: Electrolytes.” The Pig Site. http://www.thepigsite.com/pighealth/article/102/electrolytes. 30 July 2013.
9“UltraCare® Swine Electrolyte.” Purina Animal Nutrition, LLC. http://www.ultracarefeed.com/stellent/groups/public/documents/web_content/ecmp2-0157939.pdf30 July 2013.