Encouraging intakes at weaning
Ensuring optimum weaner
intake and weight gain are
the aims of a new trial in
Emma Penny reports
REDUCING the drop in pig feed intake at weaning is to be studied in a new project in Northern Ireland.
According to Violet Beattie, pig specialist at the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland, the Ulster Farmers Union-funded study will look at how to encourage weaner intake.
"Before weaning, piglets can easily take up to 500g feed a head a day, but after weaning this will drop for two to three days – our research will look at reducing this drop in intake."
Feeder design, group size and mixing will all come under scrutiny in the project which starts at Hillborough, County Down, this month.
"We will be looking at competitive feeders – circular troughs and tubes – compared with multi-space dry hoppers and single space feeders," explains Dr Beattie.
"The argument for competitive feeders is that when one pig eats, the others will join in, so ensuring good intakes. However, there is competition with this system, and some weaners – particularly smaller pigs – may be squashed and so back out, receiving less feed."
Best feeder option
The multi-space dry hopper will be used as a control and compared with its predecessor, the single space feeder, which Dr Beattie thinks may prove to be the best option for weaners.
"With single space feeders, pigs can get their heads right in, and should be better protected from attack. In finishers, the shoulder partitions stop them from being knocked out or bullied, and we think this might also be the case with weaner feeding."
Group size will also come under scrutiny, and Dr Beattie plans to look at behaviour where pigs are in groups of 20, 40 and 60.
"Standard weaner group size in Northern Ireland is 20. However, there is a move towards bigger groups as this saves on partitions, floor space and labour. This means that weaners can be managed as one group, combining stages one and two – weaning at 8kg to just before finishing at 40kg."
The trial will examine weaner behaviour in the bigger groups.
"We want to see whether there will be more social interaction and what effect larger groups have on behaviour. In bigger groups, pens look bigger – will this mean piglets are more or less likely to climb over the others to feed, or will they just not bother?"
Combining stages one and two, with piglets starting at 8kg and being taken up to nearly 40kg as a group, may require more mixing, which might affect behaviour and intakes, says Dr Beattie.
"Under MAFF allowances weaners need 2sq ft, while at 40kg they require 4.5sq ft. If 8kg weaners have to start out in a pen with an allowance of 4.5sq ft they will freeze."
According to Dr Beattie, there are three possible options; allowing 8kg weaners 4.5sq ft and supplying heating, moving from a single to a double pen by removing pen partitions when piglets require more space, or putting 40 pigs into the group at the start and then removing 20 when they become too large.
"We reckon the first option is ideal as the group remains stable throughout, but heating is costly. The second option is fine for the group which takes over two pens, but there are added labour and stress costs of moving those pigs in the second pens elsewhere."
The third option, where half the pigs are moved out when space requirements increase may be as bad as moving new pigs into the group, she warns. "Where half the animals are removed, the hierarchy has to be re-established in both groups."
Weaner behaviour in all three systems will be examined, with set-backs and recovery times being closely monitored in the hope of finding the ideal system, says Dr Beattie. *
New trials at Hillsborough will look at ways of reducing the post-weaning drop in feed intake, explains researcher Violet Beattie.
• Feeding system.
• Group size.
• Effect of mixing.