14 May 1999

BETTER INDOOR WEANING PAYS OFF

PROVIDING indoor reared piglets with a better environment before weaning could reduce behavioural concerns and improve performance post-weaning.

That was the conclusion of a study at De Montfort Universitys Caythorpe College, Lincs, comparing how piglets cope with the challenges of weaning when reared indoors and outdoors.

Speaking at the British Society of Animal Science conference in Scarborough, North Yorks, Jeremy Marchant explained that at weaning piglets are removed from their mother, have a change in diet, are mixed and placed in a new environment.

"This can lead to tail biting, decreased immunity, low feed intake and loss of weight.

"But outdoor piglets seem to suffer less of these behavioural and feeding problems after weaning," said Dr Marchant.

The study aimed to relate pre weaning to post weaning behaviour, under the same management at the college and using the same breeding indoors and outdoors.

"We found that indoor piglets suckled more than outdoor piglets and rooted less. Indoor piglets were creep fed, but didnt eat it at all – even though it was offered from seven days of age. Outdoors piglets ate sow food."

Immediately after weaning, outdoor piglets were quicker to eat feed – despite having no creep feed before weaning – explored more and fought less than the indoor piglets.

Three weeks later, outdoor piglets still spent longer at the feed trough than indoor piglets, while indoor piglets were still belly nosing other piglets.

It appears that outdoor piglets benefited from greater social and environmental experiences, lower reliance on the sow for nutrition and a more casual relationship with the sow. Its possible that the more complex environment helped pigs learn more and develop their learning skills more quickly, he added.

"Perhaps we should consider exposing indoor piglets to a more challenging environment before weaning, possibly by mixing piglets within a farrowing house while the sows are still there."

Allowing some rooting material for piglets and sows or changing the feed delivery system may encourage indoor piglets to learn from their mother, Dr Marchant told the conference. &#42

INDOORIMPROVEMENTS

&#8226 Provide rooting material.

&#8226 Allow litters to mix.

&#8226 Increase environmental challenge.