Does type of creep feed matter? By Daniel Columbus, Prairie Swine Center

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Daniel Columbus, Michael Wellington, and Jade Sands

Prairie Swine Centre, Inc.

Creep Feeding Inconsistencies

Creep feeding is a common practice throughout the pork industry. There are a number of perceived benefits, including provision of nutrients, higher weaning weight, and improved transition at weaning, however, these benefits only occur if the creep feed is consumed. It is estimated somewhere between 4-40% of piglets will consume creep feed during lactation. Intake of creep feed is usually low and highly variable among pigs, with smaller piglets having higher intake and larger having little to no consumption. The achieved benefit of creep feed on growth performance in lactation and/or the nursery period remains inconsistent. 

The benefits of providing creep feed may have less to do with provision of nutrients and more to do with exposing piglets to a dry feed and enhancing exploratory behaviour. Dietary diversity, such as particle size variation, has been shown to have a greater influence on pre-weaning feed intake than dietary flavour. Therefore, it is possible that provision of expensive creep diets is not necessary to achieve creep feeding benefits related to weaning weight and overall performance.  Feeding simple diets, such as a typical lactation diet, may be sufficient. Identifying less expensive alternatives will help to reduce cost of production in the pork industry.

What We Did

A total of 50 sows and litters with 12-14 per treatment were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 creep feeding treatment protocols. Creep feeding protocols were 1) no creep feed provided (CON), 2) complex creep feed provided (CC), 3) simple creep feed provided (SC), and 4) both complex and simple creep feed provided (SCC). The CC consisted of a standard nursery starter diet and the SC consisted of a standard lactation diet. For the SCC treatment, one feeder contained the simple creep and one contained the complex creep.

Sows were moved into the farrowing room approximately 5 days prior to the expected farrowing date and placed on a commercial lactation feed. Upon farrowing, total pigs born alive and litter weight was recorded.  Within 24-h of farrowing, piglets were cross-fostered, if needed, equalizing the number of piglets per sow (12-14 piglets/sow).

Litter weight was recorded weekly on day 7, 14, 21, and at weaning (d28), all mortalities were recorded and litter size adjusted. At day 14 post-farrowing, litters were placed on their respective creep protocol treatment. Type of creep provided and intake were recorded daily and adjusted for wastage. Fresh creep feed was provided each day until weaning.

Upon weaning, piglets were housed in pens of 10-13 pigs/pen with each treatment having 14-16 pens within pre-weaning treatment groups. Individual pig body weight and per pen feed intake were recorded weekly for 4 weeks.

What We Found

Pre-weaning Performance (Table 2)

There was no difference in litter performance prior to provision of creep feed or in average daily gain (ADG) throughout the first week after creep was provided. However, the second week saw an increase in ADG in piglets, with an overall trend for improved ADG in litters receiving the SC and SCC creep treatments. There was no difference in creep feed intake across treatments.  There was no preference for simple or complex feed (Figure 1) in those piglets that had access to both dietary treatments.

Table 2. Pre-weaning performance1,2

  Treatment    
Item Control SC CC SCC SEM P-value
n 14 12 12 12    
Birth weight, kg 1.52a 1.53a 1.45ab 1.43b 0.030 0.041
d 14 weight, kg 4.69 4.74 4.57 4.60 0.138 NS
Wean weight, kg 8.17 8.59 8.19 8.25 0.209 0.081
Average daily gain, kg/d          
   d 0-7 0.180 0.187 0.181 0.187 0.010 NS
   d 7-14 0.273 0.273 0.262 0.265 0.007 NS
   d 0-14 0.219 0.223 0.216 0.220 0.008 NS
   d 14-21 0.278 0.291 0.294 0.283 0.112 NS
   d 21-28 0.221b 0.259a 0.223b 0.239ab 0.015 0.002
   d 14-28 0.274 0.290 0.276 0.284 0.008 0.062
Creep consumed, g/pig/d          
   d 14-21 6.02 4.14 6.68 1.41 NS
   d 21-28 13.85 13.83 20.62 4.37 NS
   d 14-28 9.88 9.04 13.62 2.55 NS

BW, body weight; CC, complex creep provided; Control, no creep feed provided; NS, not significant; SC, simple creep provided; SCC, both simple and complex creep provided; SEM, standard error of the mean

1Values are least square means.

2Creep feed was offered to piglets from d 14 after birth until weaning.

Post-weaning Performance (Table 3)

Pigs that received creep feed pre-weaning had slightly increased ADG in the first week post-weaning, with no differences based on creep feed type provided. There was no difference in performance after the first week and no effect on ADG throughout the entire nursery period or on final body weight.

Table 3. Nursery performance1

  Treatment    
Item Control SC CC SCC SEM P-value
n 14 16 15 14    
Initial BW, kg 8.14 8.19 8.13 8.08 0.283 NS
Final BW, kg 21.60 21.91 21.99 22.15 0.445 NS
Average daily gain, kg/d        
d 0-7 0.163b 0.181ab 0.209a 0.192a 0.015 < 0.05
d 7-14 0.446 0.454 0.452 0.453 0.047 NS
d 14-21 0.584 0.588 0.604 0.621 0.040 NS
d 21-28 0.723 0.731 0.721 0.742 0.020 NS
d 0-28 0.480 0.496 0.489 0.502 0.124 NS
Average daily feed intake, kg/d        
d 0-7 0.163 0.172 0.185 0.176 0.010 NS
d 7-14 0.468 0.466 0.488 0.490 0.022 NS
d 14-21 0.732 0.725 0.744 0.772 0.034 NS
d 21-28 0.970 0.971 0.978 1.002 0.034 NS
d 0-28 0.584 0.583 0.599 0.610 0.017 NS
Gain:Feed, kg/kg        
d 0-7 0.985 1.048 1.099 1.087 0.046 NS
d 7-14 0.935 0.971 0.919 0.931 0.078 NS
d 14-21 0.803 0.802 0.817 0.797 0.035 NS
d 21-28 0.754 0.751 0.742 0.731 0.018 NS
d 0-28 0.867 0.823 0.852 0.825 0.031 NS

BW, body weight; CC, complex creep provided; Control, no creep feed provided; NS, not significant; SC, simple creep provided; SCC, both simple and complex creep provided; SEM, standard error of the mean

1Values are least square means.

Overall, there appears to be little benefit to providing creep feed under the conditions of the current study. It should be noted, however, that the data presented are averages for litter (or pen) and does not account for potential positive effects of creep feed on individual piglets. Previous work has indicated there may be a benefit of providing creep feed, but only in those piglets that actually consume it. Another factor to consider – while creep feed had no benefit on overall pig growth, there may be other benefits that were not determined in this study. For example, quicker adaptation to feeding and adjustment to plant-based diets vs. milk may help to improve gut development and health, improving long-term robustness of the pig. Future work should focus on the non-growth impact of provision of creep feed.

Results indicate piglets had no preference between the simple or complex creep diets. Intake of both creep types was similar in the SCC group that had access to both diet types.

The Bottom Line

Piglets showed no preference for simple or complex creep feed. Providing creep feed had little impact on pre-weaning performance, with increased ADG only in the final week pre-weaning. While there was a slight benefit to providing creep feed on growth performance in the first week post-weaning, this was not maintained through the nursery period.

Pull Out Quote – Overall, there appears to be little benefit of providing creep feed in general or of providing complex, expensive creep feed.

Further research is required to determine the impact of creep feed on individual pigs and to determine if increasing the number of pigs consuming creep feed will improve the potential benefits of provision of creep feed.

Funding for this project was provided by the Government of Saskatchewan through the Agricultural Demonstration of Practices and Technologies program.  General program funding for the Prairie Swine Centre is provided by the Government of Saskatchewan, Sask Pork, Alberta Pork, Manitoba Pork, and Ontario Pork.  Assistance provided by the staff of the Prairie Swine Centre is gratefully acknowledged.