A young pig’s gut isn’t fully mature when it enters the nursery. That means it’s more susceptible to diet changes, disease challenges or other stresses. More than two-thirds of the immune system is associated with the gut, so if we can keep their gut healthy, we'll generally also keep the pigs healthy.
The nursery phase aims to create an environment conducive to gut health, overall immunity and good performance. Piglets have passive immunity at birth from placental transfer and receive some immunity from milk when they're on the sow. By weaning, that passive immunity source has declined.
While there may be differences in genetics or sow management, as a general rule, if you can get pigs up and eating early, you’ll set them up for success. However, this does mean more intensive management.
Some animals need more encouragement to get up and move. But focusing on early success can pay significant benefits down the road in terms of pig uniformity, health and immunity. Keeping that lower 30% of pigs closer to the herd average means less money and labor spent trying to rehabilitate fall behinds.
Three tips for developing early gut health in nursery pigs that leads to long-term performance:
1. Control pathogens
Management is a significant player here. The key is to find what pathogens like and avoid those things. Biosecurity is essential in a nursery environment, so it’s vital to control the flow of people into a barn and clean it well between groups. Vaccination protocols are also important for pathogen control.
Another way to control pathogens is to keep the pig’s gut acidic. When pigs are on the sow, their gut naturally stays more acidic. However, as they enter the nursery and potentially go off feed for the first 24-48 hours, their gut can get to a more neutral pH. That neutral environment is ideal for pathogen growth, so an acidifier is integral to the pathogen control plan. Because it's easier to get pigs drinking, a water additive is an excellent delivery system for an acidifier. Ralco’s Essential-Lyte™ is a water additive that contains an acidifier to lower gut pH to help further reduce pathogens.
2. Build microflora
One way of keeping harmful bacteria out is to feed the good bacteria in the pig’s gut and crowd out anything that shouldn’t be there. With young pigs, the goal is to ensure that you establish early on what the right microflora mix is. A good population will include lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. These good bacteria will provide the fermentation activity to help produce the short-chain fatty acids that serve as an energy source for the enterocytes (cells on the intestinal lining) that encourage gut development and growth. That healthy gut further supports the immune system, which affects overall health.
3. Ensure a good diet and feed intake
A good diet composition in those first weeks just means a complex diet that matches the pigs’ digestive capacity and includes the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients. The biggest key here is intake. As mentioned above, at this early age, the pigs are more susceptible to pathogens because their immune system is still developing; their gut can become more neutral if they aren’t eating, which is prime for bacterial growth; and if they aren’t eating right away, their nutrient stores quickly diminish.
Because pigs will drink before they eat, the key is to get them drinking – pushing the electrolytes and vitamins that can sustain them as they eat the proper diet for their production stage.
Setting your nursery pigs on the right path
Ralco’s Essential-Lyte™ is a natural water additive designed to get weaned pigs drinking and eating fast by supporting gut health and immunity. This blend of an acidifier, electrolytes, prebiotics, essential oils and key vitamins will help get your pigs up and eating – supporting their health alongside your production goals from the very start.