Creep feeding – the “Three Threes” – and why they are important
C’mon guys, you really must creep feed these days!
In the Winter issue I talked about the ‘Shattered Sow Syndrome’, which is the result of excellent world-wide progress in the breeding barn, with large litters of 13 being seen more and more often. In fact the last three farms I visited over here were averaging a whisker under 13 born-alive. Terrific!
But moving on into their mating units, there were too many sows already well into the body-condition ‘nose-dive’, especially those in the vulnerable 1st and 2nd parities – ‘shattered sows’, which should have had the weight of a prolific and rapidly growing litter taken off them. Feeding a well-designed and carefully made creep feed early on is a primary line of defence, yet two of the breeders were not doing so, and the third unskillfully.
Why no creep feed?
I asked the two defaulters who had recently stopped. “Too much bother and we’ve not enough labour”. “Very expensive”. “Last time we tried it we saw no definite benefit.” “It caused scour”. “The little pigs don’t seem to like it” …. and so on.
The last three reasons were almost certainly due to the creep feed itself. I looked at their specifications, smelled the feed, tasted it* and asked the price. Not impressed!
A really well designed creep feed contains expensive ingredients – even nucleotides, which you probably haven’t even heard about – but you will soon. It is the cheap formulae which cause scour. The new creep formulae do not do so and ensure the vital palatability – they can even produce better performance than sow’s milk alone, some nutritionists are now able to claim. Yes, and this particular choice of raw materials and very careful, specialized manufacture costs dollars – a lot of dollars – per tonne. So let’s look at the cost aspect.
The econometrics (cost-effectiveness) of creep feeding
There are now several statistically-valid trials of well-designed creep feeds providing another whole kilogram at 28 day weaning (for example Varley, Pig World 2006, p. 39). This gave 8.4 kg vs 7.4 kg – and 7.4kg is not bad, is it! There are dozens that show at least a 500g advantage.
An half- kilogramme advantage at weaning can provide 50 to 60 g/day better growth to slaughter, worth another CDN$8 – $12 per pig at our current European finished pig prices. And what is the cost per finished pig of feeding a really sophisticated creep feed? With 700g consumed by weaning, this cost about CDN$3.50/pig, and with the extra labour needed, another 50 cents. These are pessimistic assumptions but they still give an REO (Return on Extra Outlay) ratio of 2 to 4:1.
* Don’t do the latter, it could be dangerous. But I’m a risk-taker and on-farm I am tempted to be a bit of an idiot in my enthusiasm to get a message across. So far I’ve got away with it!
This payback doesn’t include the value of a better immune response later in life
(helped by things like nucleotides), a well-primed enzyme system at weaning and fewer ‘shattered sows’, especially in the earlier parities when the big litters now being achieved as routine shorten the sow’s productive life. Sow longevity is a major problem worldwide and I will address this “scandal in our midst” in the next issue.
Do it properly guys!
The experts tell us that the piglet needs to eat at least 400g of solid food so as to precondition the absorptive area of the gut wall so that solid food can be safely digested once the sow is removed.
Start early: Sure, they will waste a lot but reduce this by offering a light scattering of creep on a small shallow plastic tray with a 1 cm – high flange. You will need two of these to be removed at least once or twice a day or when soiled.
Feed fresh: Along with a water supply nearby, this is easily the most significant benefit to rapid, trouble-free uptake of a good creep feed. Freshness in the creep receptacle is materially helped by adopting my “Three-Threes” approach.
The Three-Threes: This means for the first three days, ie from day 3 to 4 from birth until day 6 to 7, the creep must be offered three times a day and only enough should be offered to last three hours. Any creep starter feed not consumed should be given to sows in the least-good condition, being heavily milked, one suspected of a low milk yield, or to smaller gilts. This way it will not be wasted. Now I know this is a chore – a darned nuisance. But a survey I published a while ago showed that skilled pig technicians must spend more “quality-time” with the pigs and less on heavy-duty tasks which can be done adequately enough by less-skilled or contract labour.
During these intensive “care days” the small, first-stage creep receptacles must be taken up and cleaned once a day. Indeed as staff are busy enough at that time, spares are a boon so that a daily bulk cleaning and drying period can be accommodated with the minimum of work and disturbance to routine.
Fortunately these creep feeders are small and inexpensive. I illustrate three of them.
Another not shown is a heavy, cast-iron circular bowl with metal rod dividers falling from a central carrying handle. But they are heavy things to cart around and keep clean. A concrete/resin heavy bowl is more convenient. Plastic or steel designs are cheaper and lighter but need to be anchored to the farrowing pen perforated floor, in which case a central, spring-loaded handle is depressed and twisted to lock a small ‘T-piece’ under the slat and keep it from being overturned. Preferably do not use those with solid dividers as piglets like to see others eating and the more timid will start eating that bit sooner.
Another more costly but intelligent design, which does not need such frequent replenishment, is one I’ve seen used and made by Osborne, Kansas. This has a mini tray under a small dispensing hopper which itself keeps the creep away from flies and odours. The larger tray underneath the fixed mini tray can be taken off and washed, but ask for an extra number of these so that the device can be kept as clean as possible by cleaning and replacing with the spares. I hope they are still available, as we always got good results with them. Many creep feeders are what I call “permanent” – heavy, well made, the trough partitioned and with a generous feed hopper. Fine! But they tend to be overfilled and thus the feeding space is not cleaned frequently enough during those first vital 4 to 7 days of use.
Spotless cleanliness is the keystone of successful early-starting creep feeding – once you have summoned up courage to buy a really good creep feed, of course.
Plenty of spare small creep receptacles, frequently sanitized, enables this to be done.
Because the larger conventional creep hoppers are so permanent, they are not placed in the farrowing pen until too late, in other words when the technician thinks the piglets will eat the creep feed willingly, which is at about 10-12 days. Use them later by all means – providing the trough is kept clean.
For the ‘Three-Threes’ it is better to have a smaller dedicated dispenser and change to a conventional feeder later on – if kept clean and sweet.
Placing of the creep dispenser
This is a big subject, too complex to be described here as it involves “best locations” in the four main farrowing pen designs – central crate/side creep (preferred), central crate/forward creep, central crate/corner creep and diagonal crate/corner creep. In the limited space left to me here, suffice it to say that you should, in all cases, keep the creep dispenser away from a heat source, place it as near as possible to a water source (but not that of the sows), never overfill and keep it away from the sow’s urine splashings.
A tip to finish with
Can you get potato starch in Canada? If so, mix a little in with the creep pellets or sprinkle a little over the shallow pre-starter tray on the first day of weaning – you will be surprised how quickly they take to it.
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