Kathryn Helmink is a college senior studying Animal Science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She grew up at the 4th generation of her family’s grain and livestock farm. Kathryn was involved with the farm’s wean-to-finish swine operation for many years and exhibited pigs in 4-H during the summer. Kathryn’s goal is to become involved in the pork industry upon graduating from college.
Nutritional requirements are changing rapidly once we receive weaned pigs in our nursery barn. The weaning period is very stressful on the young pig due to combination of factors, including new environment, transportation, social hierarchy, and diet changes. From the first day in our nursery, the goal is to maximize feed intake as quickly as possible. Newly weaned pigs can’t eat enough feed to meet their energy requirements. Good management practices are especially crucial in the first two weeks on the farm.
In our nutrition program, we utilize a complex starter feed in the form of pellets for the first three weeks. Pellets have several nutritional advantages to them: they decrease feed wastage and increase palatability, digestibility and feed intake/efficiency. The cost of using a pellet diet for us is worth the value of being able to optimize on pig performance. After the three weeks is up, we start mixing in a meal diet. By this time, the pigs have fully adapted to their environment and diet.
Ultimately, the use of pellets early on has resulted in a heavier pig by the time their two months are up in our nursery.
We employ the common industry practice of mat feeding in our nursery. Mat feeding takes place in the first 7 to 10 days postweaning. By doing this, we are stimulating the activity of the pigs and encouraging them to eat to increase feed intake.
We have a couple pens set aside for fallback and/or small pigs. Just like mat feeding, gruel feeding boosts growth and feed intake to support the health of the pigs that require extra nutritional attention.
Don’t Forget Water
Like any other pig farmer, I think we sometimes tend to forget about just how essential water is.
Prior to arrival at the nursery, the piglets’ source of water was through the sow’s milk.
Water needs to be easily accessed because water intake and feed intake correlate. A pig that does not drink will not eat and vice versa.
Checking drinkers is part of my daily walk-through routine, as well as cleaning cup drinkers and ensuring the water is flowing at a correct rate.