As pigs enter the nursery, the primary goal should be to get the proper nutrients into their guts. Up until this point, they’ve been on a liquid diet from the sow, and now we’re bringing them into the next stage of development, where they’ll be on their own and eating solid food. While some producers may have had their pigs creep feeding, the reality is that the amount of nutrients they get from creep feed is minimal.
They’re in a stage where they should grow fast, so getting them up and eating as quickly as possible is essential. Young pigs who go off feed will often see issues with their overall immune health, and their digestive system will shrink. As the gut shrinks, it’s unable to optimize digestion, and we have the potential for health issues and colonization of harmful bacteria.
Management and diet work in tandem
In this case, management means doing anything to help get piglets to eat and drink. The first question to always ask is, “Are they drinking water?” If they aren’t drinking, they aren’t going to eat any food.
The next question is, “Can they eat/find the food”? Solid food is a new venture for any nursery pig, so making it accessible is important. Pigs are natural explorers, which is what makes mat feeding a great solution. However, mat feeding can create a lot of waste, so it isn’t a long-term solution. Giving them a gruel feeder is also an option because it makes the food easier to eat as they learn the process.
The big priority is watching the animals and doing whatever it takes to get them eating and drinking as soon as possible.
Understanding the differences between simple and complex diets
As weaning age has increased over the years - from 14-17 days all the way to 21-25 days – many producers have found themselves looking for ways to reduce nursery feed costs. This has encouraged the idea that a simple diet is best. A simple diet is essentially just a corn and soy diet – a grain source, a protein source and a little fiber.
A simple diet makes sense later in the nursery, as the pig’s gut is more receptive to digestion. However, a simple diet doesn't consider how much energy it takes to digest feed. A pig’s gut will start contracting when it’s not on feed, and the digestion difficulties of a simple diet will compound.
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 through production. It’s like giving solid food to a baby who is only ready to drink milk – it just doesn’t work in their digestive system yet.
A complex diet is the better way to go in those first few days in the nursery because the immature digestive capacity can more easily digest its components. A complex diet limits the starches the animal intakes and replaces them with sugars, which are more palatable and easier to digest. A similar change is made on the protein side, replacing soy protein with a protein concentrate or other easily digestible source. These changes let the animal use fewer calories in the digestion process, allowing for a higher rate of gain.
The best way to develop a plan that optimizes a pig’s digestive health is to start with a complex diet, move to a semi-complex diet, and end the nursery stay with a simple diet setup.
Making the right choice for long-term success
We understand the most concerning factor in a complex diet is cost. While simple nursery diets are $300-$400 a ton, complex diets can cost upwards of $1,000 a ton. The critical thing to remember is that while the initial diet expense may be more significant in the first few days, the overall benefits of bringing lower-performing pigs up to a higher level of early performance will be felt throughout the pig’s life – in maintenance, management and market. The chart below shows an example of how much difference there is between pigs fed a simple nursery diet versus a complex nursery diet.
Let Ralco help you start your nursery pigs on the path to success
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. The blend of natural ingredients – including Ralco’s essential oils, a prebiotic, vitamins E and D, a water acidifier and electrolytes – works to get pigs started in the first 24 hours by:
Lowering the pathogen load
Restoring vital nutrients
Lowering gut pH to reduce pathogens further