A Pig is not a garbage bin

A Pig is not a garbage bin

Written By Andries Gouws - Article courtesy of Stockfarm September 2021 issue

Swine nutrition has developed with leaps and bounds in the last ten years and the growing body of research means that nutritionists are better able to understand what is needed to cater to the requirements of pigs throughout their productive live. Producers need to grasp the fact that a pig is not a garbage bin, and that swine nutrition is a science.

The latest approach is that swine nutrition starts as soon as the sow conceives and continues until the slaughter pig goes to market. The needs of the sow and her young constantly change during this period and for swine production to be successful, the nutrition they received needs to be adapted.

WJ Steyn of SwiNE Nutrition Management says pigs are complex animals and that scientists are doing intensive research in order to better understand these animals, and to determine which feed producers can give their pigs to boost production and
support animal welfare throughout their productive life.

Mart-Marie van Zyl of Trouw Nutrition says pig producers have long been selecting for larger litters from each sow. Boosting productivity, however, has led to other challenges such as mortality at a young age, larger litters of lighter weighing
piglets, and sows that often do not have enough milk to rear these piglets.

Challenges in swine production

Scientists are now aiming to find specific solutions to the challenges facing sows and their young before and after their piglets’ arrival.

Researchers have identified three sets of challenges relating to the problem, namely:

• Pre-birth challenges such as suboptimal bodyweight, foetal death (mummification), and low birth weight.

• Low colostrum production and stillborn piglets during birth.

• Post-birth challenges such as low milk production in the sow, low piglet viability, and small piglets that succumb after birth.

A comprehensive strategy is needed to support sows and foetuses during gestation, and piglets pre- and postweaning, to optimise the piglets’ lifetime performance potential.

Initiation of intensive care

Until as recently as five years ago, it was assumed that caring for piglets only began
once they arrived, but scientists soon realised that it starts the moment the sow

Piglets are completely dependent on the sow for nearly half of their life, from the time the foetus starts developing until weaning. That is why the sow and the nutrition she receives have such a great influence on the performance potential of her offspring.

Research shows that birthweight and colostrum intake during the first twelve hours after birth have a significant influence on the performance potential of pigs throughout their life. It is determined by the sow and affects weight gain up to slaughter, as well as the reproductive ability of the offspring. The birthing process influences the viability of the piglets. The more viable the piglets, the better their production cycle performance.

Over the next eight years or so, research will focus on, among other things, understanding how these parameters can be optimised, as well as ensuring that more piglets are born alive, are viable, and that enough colostrum and milk are produced for piglets. The main aim is understanding what producers can do
during the gestation period to meet these challenges.

Impact of the correct nutrition

There are certain times during gestation when the correct nutrition can have a sizable impact on some traits. A close watch must be kept on litter uniformity and birthweight in the first month of gestation (and even in the period from weaning to breeding).

Studies show that up to 30% of the sows in the industry do not produce enough colostrum – a challenge that is compounded as the number of piglets in litters increases. This can be corrected by strategically feeding the sow during gestation and providing enough crude fibre in the ration to counteract constipation.

Piglet survival

The viability of piglets and those that are stillborn are closely related. Seventy
percent of piglets die during birth, mainly because a slow birthing process causes
Steyn believes that, similar to human babies, piglet nutrition is also adjusted according to different phases. This way, the producer not only caters to the needs
of the animal as best as possible, but also supports its ability to digest the feed and
convert it into valuable proteins, energy and body reserves. In essence, it provides
for growth, which is, after all, the goal.

Phase feeding

In swine nutrition, the approach is to feed an entire population, and thus average weight is used. The more variation there is, the greater the challenge of feeding the pigs. Piglets are normally phase-fed according to weight. The youngest piglets typically receive milk-based feed; as they grow, the dairy products are replaced with soya. They receive this until they are weaned at the average age of ten weeks or 30kg.

Globally the biggest challenge is that many European and American markets have stopped using antibiotics preventively in their feed mixes. Thus, the correct nutrition must be fed to minimise disease problems. Switching piglets from milk to solid feed is one of the most stressful periods in their life and must be done gradually. Raw materials and rations play a crucial role in this regard. The composition of piglet diets is complex, with as much as 15 to 20 different raw materials that are utilised. The bigger the pigs, the easier it becomes to formulate their feed.

Nutrition in the growth phase

Once the weaning phase (ten weeks of age or 30kg) is completed, the pigs move to the grower phase during which they are fed for an average of twelve weeks until they can be marketed.

The ideal in South Africa is to slaughter pigs between 22 and 23 weeks of age, as pen space is limited. In South Africa, the primary goal is the pursuit of growth. The more kilograms the producer can add to his or her herd during the last twelve weeks, the heavier the carcasses and the higher the turnover.

A pig is well equipped to digest certain by-products, which is always advantageous. However, it is important to focus on quality by-products which are much needed for greater competitiveness.