Those early nursery days are important for pigs. They’ve traveled, moved to a new place and are getting ready to start a new feed source. Getting pigs off to their best start is essential for success all the way to the finisher.
A solid immune system and a healthy gut are vital in getting animals to their market weight efficiently. Animals with a healthy immune system will see fewer dips in efficiency and more consistent growth. By limiting immune and gut issues, we can focus more effort on the whole herd and less on bringing up fall behinds. This early nursery focus can make the entire production process more smooth with less challenges.
The reason it’s so important to address the bottom tier of animals is that, as any producer knows, once pigs start to fall behind, it continues to get harder and harder to get them caught up. Underperforming pigs are a drain on profitability. If they don’t make it to market or are culled, they bring little to no value – just time and money lost from trying to get their health and performance where it needs to be.
The key to improving profits is catching underperformers early on and getting them starting on feed fast. Encouraging their early success is beneficial to the bottom line. Mat feeding, gruel feeding and improving water intake are all methods that can help get pigs eating more quickly and out of the bottom 30%.
Because of all the transition happening when they arrive in the nursery, young pigs often start in their new setting by not eating. Because they lack the body fat to regulate temperature, they’ll often get cold. The first signs they are cold can be crowding and piling up together or growing hair. They’ll overall just look less healthy. Also, their ears can be a quick giveaway that something is wrong.
There will always be some fall behinds, but the goal is to limit those to as few as possible by getting them started on feed fast.
How to achieve early nursery diet success
1. Managing the first 24 hours
Any feeding issue or concern must be addressed in the first 24 hours. Studies show that more than 20% of pigs are often considered non-eaters after the first 24 hours in the nursery – and pigs that don’t eat in the first 36 hours have a 75% higher likelihood of early mortality.
Genetics, hydration and early gut health can all impact whether pigs eat in the first 24 hours. Some genetic lines simply take longer to get up and going. Pigs dehydrated from travel are also more likely to want to stay off feed, so it’s crucial to have water readily available.
Having the environment ready for the pigs is essential to having success in the first 24 hours. Cold pigs will put all their energy into keeping warm, so having the nursery at a comfortable temperature will encourage them to eat and drink. It’s also critical to make sure that all feeders and waterers are clean and free from manure and disinfectant residue. While they seem minor, these small steps can help the pigs get off to a great start on their first full day.
2. Establishing gut health
A young pig’s gut isn’t fully mature when it enters the nursery, making it more susceptible to issues from diet changes, disease challenges or other stressors. Much of the immune system resides in the gut, so keeping the gut healthy is a crucial first step to long-term health. When pigs lose the passive immunity source of the sow’s milk, extra effort should be put in to keep the pig healthy. Intense early management can help a producer see long-term benefits and minimize the money and labor spent trying to improve fall behinds.
There are a few ways producers can help ensure gut health. Controlling pathogens in the nursery is essential. A clean barn, consistent vaccination protocols and excellent biosecurity can all play a role here. Additionally, establishing a healthy microflora in the pigs’ guts by using pre and probiotics to encourage good bacterial growth can push out harmful bacterial populations. Feeding a healthy complex diet and encouraging excellent feed intake in those early days can also help establish good gut health.
3. Understanding complex diets
Many producers believe that a simple nursery diet makes the most sense for weaned pigs. While a simple diet – which generally consists of a grain source, a protein source and a little bit of fiber – may work very well in the later nursery stages, these diets don’t take into account the energy it takes to digest the feed. A significant risk with simple diets early on is that a young pig’s gut doesn’t have the enzymes necessary to digest a simple diet. Because of this, feeding a simple diet can wreak havoc on the gut – damaging the nutrient absorption capabilities and feed efficiency all the way through production.
A complex diet makes more sense in the early nursery, as it limits the starches the animal intakes and replaces them with sugars, which are easier to digest. A complex diet also replaces the hard-to-digest soy protein with a protein concentrate or other easy-to-digest source. Both of these changes allow the animal to expend less energy in digestion. As they age, the pigs can move to a semi-complex diet and finish the nursery phase with a simple diet.
While the initial expense of a complex diet may be higher in the first few days, the overall benefits of bringing lower-performing pigs up to a higher early level of performance via a diet that matches their digestive capacity will be felt throughout finishing.
4. Getting vitamin D and E for healthy immune function
As pigs are too young to regulate a solid immune response during the nursery phase, it is important to supplement them with vitamins D and E to keep them at their healthiest.
Vitamin D encourages the immune system to fight off pathogens without creating too much response. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that limits the damage done by oxidative stress and free radicals and improves the speed of the overall immune response. If your pigs are healthy, they’re probably getting enough of these two vitamins. However, if they appear to have health issues, they probably aren’t getting as much of these critical vitamins as they need.
Pigs need their vitamins D and E supplemented externally, usually through feed. But in an early nursery setting, where many pigs might take a bit longer to get on dry feed, the easiest way to provide those vitamins is by supplementing their water with a bioavailable vitamin form.
Let Ralco help you get your nursery pigs started faster
Ralco’s newest product, Essential-Lyte™, is a natural water additive designed to get weaned pigs drinking and eating quickly. It supports piglet gut health and immunity and provides the nutrients pigs need to stay healthy and thrive in this challenging period.
Essential-Lyte contains a unique blend of natural ingredients, including Ralco’s patented Microfused® Essential Oils, Actifibe® Prebiotic, vitamins D and E, a water acidifier and electrolytes. These components work together to help get pigs started in the first 24 hours of nursery entry and prevent sick pen isolation – all by lowering pathogen load, rehydrating and restoring vital nutrients, promoting immunity and lowering gut pH to reduce pathogens further and manage disease.