© National Pork Board, USA
Weaning is a highly stressful time for piglets.
This section deals with the care of weaner piglets and the older grower pigs.
Often, new pig farmers don’t realise that these genetically advanced modern piglets have about 10 weeks to develop the body conformation and built-in meat-to-bone ratio which enables them to grow from a birth-weight of 1 to 1.5 kg to a slaughter weight of 90 kg or more in just 6 months.
This is under ideal circumstances of feed, temperature, ventilation, hygiene, comfort, disease prevention and treatment, parasite control and stockmanship.
‘Stockmanship’ refers to the ability of the owner to become aware of the messages that pigs are sending, about themselves, to their carers all the time. These will be the sights, sounds, smells, temperature and wind, food refusal, failure to grow, scours on the floor and excessive mortality. The list is long and the sensitive stock-person will react or seek help.
Weaning of Piglets
To ensure better production, the first month after weaning piglets is critical and should receive careful attention.
Even at a weaning age of 6 weeks, the piglet is being deprived of the benefits of family comforts at a much earlier age than when weaned by the sow herself.
The reason for weaning ‘early’ is to give the sow some recovery time before sending her back to the boar, which she will readily do. A sow is expected to produce at least two litters per year, but will often need at least one cycle of three weeks to regain condition.
The weaning age is not strictly set and there is some benefit in ‘split-weaning’. This means taking some of the stronger sucklers to the weaner house a week sooner than the others. Because of less competition, smaller piglets now get the chance to increase their milk intake.
The weaning procedure is stressful for piglets in a number of ways:
Piglets are deprived of the rich and copious supply of sow milk, available at hourly intervals when the sow lets down her milk.
They will have to get used to new surroundings, smells, feed containers and noises.
Piglets might be mixed with other weaners and may have to establish dominance through battles.
If piglets of different ages are mixed, there will be new sources of infections and parasites, challenging the immune systems of the previously unexposed younger group piglets.
Procedures at Weaning
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All pigs need to be identified by a registered number.
South African law requires that all animals must be identified, which means a registered ear tattoo for pigs. The number or code will be the same as the brand or tattoo on the owner’s cattle. The number is issued by the Theft Unit of SAPS and requires filling in a form and paying for the code. The State Veterinary Office can help.
Routine procedures at weaning may also include vaccination and mange treatment by injection. Tail and eyeteeth clipping are not necessary but an iron injection should be given in the first week of life.
Care of Weaners
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Pig farmer checks heat lamp to ensure it is working properly.
The main rules for the pig farmer about the care of weaners is to provide a “nursery”, which is separate, secure and under the attention of the carer, who must ensure that these little pigs are warm, dry, comfortable, clean and well-fed.
Because the growth pattern and potential carcass value are determined at this age, it is vital that weaners should receive the best feed possible.
Every miller or co-op will have a weaner ration with 18% to 20% protein, in meal or pellet form. It will be expensive but the small-herd pig farmer’s best investment.
Care of Growers
This term has replaced the old term ‘fatteners’ in English and is used for the young pigs coming out of the weaner section at about 10 to 12 weeks old.
Growers are the least demanding of the age groups. Their business is to eat as much as the farmer can give them, provided it is not spoilt with dirt, mould or plastic. A 16% protein grower ration should form the basis of grower pig’s feed program. Some savings can be made by supplementing the grower’s diet with regular supplies from supermarkets, dairies, canteens and vegetable wholesalers. This excess old food can be used to extend the balanced diet without over-doing the carbohydrates. Do not feed too much carbohydrate. Some millers will supply a supplement as an additional special additive.
Because pigs will eat almost anything, it does not mean they should be given rubbish to eat. The better the food, the better the growth rate and the carcass grading.
By Dr Jim Robinson