TECHNICAL ARTICLES Swine

The importance of specialized piglet diets

In nature, piglets are usually weaned at 70 days of age. At this age the digestive system of the piglet is capable of digesting solid foods consisting of plant proteins and carbohydrates. Mother Nature’s way of weaning the piglets is a gradual process whereby the sow will start to leave the den for longer and longer periods each day to forage, until the pigs are able to join the foraging sow and eventually allowing the piglets to make a smooth transition from milk to solid food.

The commercial trend in the 1950’s was to wean piglets at 56 days of age but this was reduced in the 1980’s to 21 days. Currently, the trend is towards 28 days of age (Whittemore & Green 2001).

What happens if the piglet is not accustomed to solid feed before weaning?
After the piglet has been moved to the weaner facility or the sow removed from the farrowing pen, the piglet will wait for the mother to arrive for the regular suckling interval of 45 to 60 minutes. If the sow does not appear after the first suckling period was missed, the piglet will still not consume any feed for another hour or two, with the expectation that the sow will be back soon.

At this stage the stomach is completely empty and the contents of the small intestine have moved to the lower gut. The empty stomach will activate the hunger reflex in the piglets and the heavier pigs may consume some of the solid food provided. The taste and smell of the solid food is however, quite different from sow’s milk and the smaller pigs will be reluctant to consume this feed, but will rather wait, expecting that the sow will return soon to suckle them.

Date published: 2011-05-27

Author:
G. Pretorious

Publication:
Meadow Feeds