The early eater gets the gains!


Author: Dr. Hazel Rooney, Gut Health Management, Alltech

Supporting large litter sizes

Over the past decade, continued genetic selection for increased reproductive performance has resulted in a substantial increase in sow litter size, both at birth and at weaning. According to the PigCHAMP database, the average number of piglets born alive per litter on commercial swine herds in America has increased by two piglets, rising from 11.5 in 2010 to 13.5 in 2020. During the same timeframe, the number of piglets weaned per litter increased from 10.2 to 11.8 on U.S. units (see Figure 1).

Although this increase is positive from a production standpoint, these larger litters are associated with a greater proportion of piglets with a lower birthweight — and with that, a lower survival rate to weaning (pre-weaning mortality increased by almost 3% between 2010 and 2020). Rearing more piglets to weaning places a heavier burden on our sows. The modern lactating sow must now produce higher volumes of milk to meet the needs of a greater number of suckling piglets without depleting her own body reserves — which is not an easy task!

To help support these larger litters and alleviate some of the pressure on the sow, the provision of highly digestible and palatable creep feed to piglets is becoming increasingly more important. Although creep feeding is not a novel practice by any means, outlined below are several strategies that will help piglets get off to a stronger start and will also increase the number of piglets actually eating creep (known as “eaters”), as well as some practical tips for successful creep feeding.

Figure 1. Sow litter size and pre-weaning mortality in 2010 and 2020 on commercial herds in America.

Turning “non-eaters” into “eaters”

Supplemental creep feed is provided to suckling and newly weaned piglets with the goal of fostering an interest in and familiarity with solid feed and decreasing the growth lag that piglets experience in the period immediately after weaning. These benefits are likely the result of:

  1. Increased nutrient intake
  2. An earlier stimulation of digestive enzyme production, which is necessary for protein and carbohydrate digestion in solid post-weaning diets
  3. The recognition effect of solid feed upon being weaned
  4. An increased tolerance to the antigens that may be present in post-weaning diets

In reality, the intake of creep feed by suckling piglets is typically quite low (i.e., usually 200–250 g/piglet), and studies have consistently shown that only a certain proportion of piglets within a litter actually consume the creep feed offered to them. However, because consuming creep feed can greatly benefit piglets, there is considerable interest in developing nutritional solutions that work to increase the proportion of “eaters” in the litter. While producers may not see an increase in pre-weaning weight gains on their units, the piglets that consume creep feed (i.e., the “eaters”) will benefit from an increased nutrient intake and, subsequently, will demonstrate an improved growth performance in their later life stages. This was demonstrated by a previous Canadian study, in which piglets that consumed creep feed in the farrowing room showed a 10% improvement in their daily liveweight gains and feed conversion efficiency in the nursery compared to piglets that did not consume creep feed.

Some effective management strategies that can help encourage the intake of creep feed in piglets are outlined below:

  • Start early: As early as 7 to 10 days of age
  • Feed little and often: Start by offering half a cup (around 80 g/litter) two to three times per day, and feed to match their appetite thereafter
  • Pay attention to the feeder type: Use highly accessible, shallow trays or rotary feeders with a hopper
  • Re-fill dishes: Re-fill the creep dishes at least twice per day to keep the creep fresh, and offer creep to litters when the sow is eating and when piglets are awake
  • Maintain good hygiene: Keep feeders clean and free from faeces and urine
  • Pay attention to the feeder placement in the pen: Place the feeder near the sow’s head and away from heat lamps to prevent spoilage
  • Consider the pellet size: Piglets appear to favour larger pellets than smaller pellets (e.g., 10–12 mm vs. 2 mm or smaller), and changing the pellet size also encourages exploration

Maximising pre-weaning performance with Masterfeeds Blueprint® Extruded Creep

Among the various nutritional strategies that can help maximise creep feed intake on-farm, it’s essential to offer creep feed that has been specifically formulated for baby piglets and is made of high-quality, highly digestible and extremely palatable ingredients. Utilizing years of research and technical experience in monogastric nutrition, Masterfeeds has developed a highly digestible, fragrant and palatable feed: the Masterfeeds Blueprint® Extruded Creep. This extruded ration is designed to stimulate intake and helps mitigate post-weaning scours. It incorporates specific ingredients that are proven to improve overall gut development — which, in turn, will heighten immune function and increase digestibility.

Some of the key benefits of this technology include its ability to:

  1. Break down the structure of starch and protein, lowering energy costs to digest and increasing the surface area
  2. Decrease the anti-nutritional factors in protein
  3. Destroy the cell wall of oil seeds, which improves the utilization of oil
  4. Improve palatability through smell, taste and texture
  5. Improve the solubility and digestibility of fibre
  6. Mitigate digestive-tract stress, to help reduce scours
  7. Remain in suspension when mixed as a gruel feed

The feedback from swine producers who use this technology has been extremely positive! Canadian swine producers that are feeding the Masterfeeds Blueprint® Extruded Creep on their units say that “piglets are drawn to the feeders” and that “intakes are noticeably higher, without even measuring feed intake.” Other customers have commented that “the creep feed stays in suspension longer when feeding a gruel.” This technology is targeted toward performance-oriented producers who are looking to provide a creep feed to their piglets while they are still nursing on the sow to ensure a higher intake of solid feed before weaning and a smoother transition of the gut.


The rearing abilities of modern sows can serve as a major challenge in commercial pig production. However, providing piglets with additional nutrient sources in the form of supplementary creep feed can be beneficial, as it helps increase the piglets’ familiarity with solid feed, thereby encouraging feed intake and increasing the number of “eaters” in the herd. The proper creep feed can also lead to an earlier stimulation of the digestive enzymes needed to digest solid feed, which will help make the weaning transition smoother for piglets. These important advantages can be achieved by feeding the Masterfeeds Blueprint® Extruded Creep to piglets still suckling the sow and by using it as the first feed provided to piglets after weaning.

To learn more about how the Masterfeeds Blueprint Extruded Creep feed can get your piglets off to a quick and healthy start, contact us today at