A return to basics on creep feeding The 10 Commandments

The effects of PMWS over the past two years and likely changes in EU legislation, that will preclude piglets being weaned at less than 28 days old, are resulting in increases in weaning weights and ages. This puts pressure on the sow, but we must also focus on our creep feeding regimes, says Provimi Limited’s Dr Mike Varley.

I have highlighted the ten ‘commandments’ of creep feeding. If we get these right, we can expect significant improvements in weaning weight but also a bonus in terms of sow reproduction in the next cycle because of improved body condition at weaning.

1. Getting started on creep – This should be as early as possible, aiming at seven to 10 days old, to initiate enzyme development and the benefits that come from priming the piglet’s gut wall immunologically. The use of highly digestible cooked cereals and quality protein sources is important here.

2. Delivery systems – This is always an important question. Look for easy access but without spillage or fouling. The delivery system or hopper must also be easily cleaned and replenished. The mat systems favoured in the USA for starter feeding may have some merit for ‘creep starting’. This is where a flat panel is placed on the floor area near to the feed hopper. This is used to provide a sprinkling of feed three times daily to give very easy access to the piglets. In practice all of the features we want to see in a feeding system are hard to find in one device.

3. The formula – Palatability and digestibility are the keys to a cost-effective formula. Protein and energy levels are crucial in addition to the added sweeteners and flavours. Fixed formulations rather than constantly changing least-cost formulae are also essential in creep feeds to promote early feed intake.

There are still two schools of thought on protein and energy levels. The first is the use of a low protein/energy product because we are simply complementing the sow’s milk (already high in energy and protein). I favour the second school however where we provide a specification very similar to sow’s milk which stimulates the piglets to eat at an early stage and then drives extra growth when they begin to eat.

4. Water – At all growth stages water intake is directly linked to food intake. So to stimulate water intake during creep feeding thought into the correct positioning of mini-nipple drinkers or bowls in the farrowing pens is of paramount importance and will pay significant dividends.

5. Feed hygiene – Keeping the creep feed clean and fresh is obvious but so often it is badly done in practice. This can only come down to due diligence and attention to detail on the part of the stockperson.

6. Pen layout – The trough is probably best well within the heated protected area that the piglets can use for lying. Easy access balanced with inhibition of fouling is important. The location of the trough in a heated area also has a bearing on the frequency of feeding because at high temperatures the creep feeds may not stay fresh for long.

7. Frequency of feeding – During the first three weeks intakes will be small and between 10 and 21 days the target should be approximately 50 g/day per piglet. We need to offer fresh feed about three times every day. For a litter of 11 piglets, this means only putting in about 180g into each pen at a time. Little and often is the rule here. For the fourth and final week of lactation piglets’ intake will really take off and many will eat 100g/day or more up to weaning at 28 days.

Frequency of feeding can be less in this final week but a more robust hopper that can hold more food may be needed. If this is placed outside the creep area then temperature damage to the feed is not so critical.

8. Two-stage creep programme – Where high output and performance is a necessity (as it should be on all farms) very high specification creep feed can be used for the initial 10 days of creep feeding, where palatability and digestibility are the main elements. Following this, a different energy/protein feed can be used in the final week to 28 days old. Piglets still receive a good supply of nutrients from the sow but a different specification can be used in this last week. In other words, we can devise more sophisticated creep feeding regimes for the later weaned pigs to match the individual farms characteristics. We should also aim to provide a nutritional solution for the big pigs in the litter and this is just as important as the smaller pigs in achieving overall high performance.

9. Preparation for starter feed – A successful creep programme will ease the transition to the starter feed, which may be the same as the creep feed for at least another 500g per piglet after weaning. This is good practice even with 28 day weaning. There are also special products available such as gruels (SCA Piglet Porridge) and appetisers (SCA Primistart) that can be used for problem or below average weight litters to ease this transition.

10. Individual pen care – There is no substitute for attention to detail with creep/starter feeding and although it requires some labour input to do it properly, it can easily be justified because of the real advantages that stem from getting it right. In many trials, including work at SCA’s Green Hill Farm, we have seen this lead to higher weaning weights, better post-weaning growth, healthier piglets, less medication after weaning.

Few farms keep pen records to monitor creep inputs and day on day progress with the creep programme but this could help particularly on the larger farm where communication amongst work teams is more difficult.

This last commandment is one of the most important – that good stockmanship is a major contributor and a weakness in this area will be to the detriment of the whole system.

Date published: 2006-03-23

Dr Mike Varley

Pig World –
Creep Feeding, Feb 2003