Posts Tagged ‘Creep Feed’

Weaning is considered to be one of the most stressful times in a pig’s life due to multiple stressful changes occurring at the same time. When weaned, piglets are exposed to 3 major types of stressors; environmental (moved to a new location), social (removed from the sow and mixed with unfamiliar pen mates) and nutritional (changed from liquid to solid feed). Combined, these stressors can trigger an immune response in the animals, which contributes to the post-weaning growth lag we often observe. The post-weaning growth lag is characterized by piglets going off feed and showing no or negative weight gain for the first 24-48 hours after weaning, which results in increased disease susceptibility and mortality rates.

There are several strategies that can be employed by producers to help mitigate the post-weaning growth lag. One strategy is the use of creep feed prior to weaning. Creep feed is (usually) a highly digestible feed, offered for one to two weeks prior to weaning. Creep feeding is thought to benefit piglets by 1) introducing piglets to solid feed prior to weaning, 2) providing supplemental nutrition to piglets beyond their mother’s milk, and 3) aiding the gastrointestinal tract to adapt to nutrients not found in milk.

Recent research from the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon has shown that less than 40% of piglets within a litter consume creep feed when it is offered in a standard round creep feeder. When piglets were offered creep feed for one week prior to weaning, only 35% of piglets weaned at 4 weeks of age ate creep feed, and less than 5% of piglets weaned at 3 weeks of age consumed creep feed. However, regardless of weaning age, piglets that actually consumed creep feed had improved weaning and nursery exit weights.

Identifying effective ways to encourage creep feed intake in piglets can have significant impacts on pig performance and health, as well as overall profitability. Piglets that cope with weaning stresses and do not experience the post-weaning growth lag are less susceptible to disease and have a reduced incidence of morbidity and mortality in the nursery. Strategies to increase creep intake often revolve around the form of the creep feed (i.e. pellet, mash, liquid) or on the type of feeder (i.e. round, tray) used.

Piglets raised outside seldom experience the post-weaning growth lag. They generally consume starter feed quickly, and it is believed that because these piglets have ample opportunity to explore/ingest soil and plant material (such as acorns, corn and other large items), they are familiar with the process of consuming material prior to weaning. In addition to exploring an enriched environment when outdoors, these piglets often manipulate larger feed particles than a typical creep feed. Piglets raised indoors do not get this same opportunity for novel exploration, and creep feed pellet diameter is small (3 mm or less), due to the general opinion that smaller pellets stimulate feed intake in young pigs.

Over recent years, researchers from Canada and around the world have been working to determine the effects of altering management strategies on creep feed intake, and the potential to reduce the post-weaning growth lag and improve piglet performance.

In a series of experiments conducted by the Prairie Swine Centre (on research and commercial farms), piglets were offered creep feed in either a standard round feeder or a flat tray feeder. Litters with tray feeders had a greater frequency of feeder visits compared to those with standard round feeders. When individual pigs were monitored for creep feed consumption, over 50% of the litter showed evidence of consuming creep feed in the tray feeder groups, whereas less than 40% of the litter consumed creep feed when it was offered in a standard round feeder.

In another series of experiments conducted in the Netherlands (van den Brand, 2014), piglets were offered creep feed with larger pellet size (10 or 12 mm) compared to a standard (2 mm) pellet. When litters were given the choice of the small or large pellet, researchers found that piglets preferred the larger diameter pellet (350 g/litter/d higher intake of large pellets compared to small). When litters were offered one treatment (either small or large pellet size), creep feed intake was 650 g/d higher in litters offered large pellets. Additionally, the researchers also showed that piglets given large pellets before weaning had higher body weight gain and feed intake post-weaning.

Results from these research trials indicates that altering the way creep feed is presented to piglets can impact creep feed consumption. Providing creep feed in a flat, tray style feeder encourages social exploration, and in the Prairie Swine Centre trials, increased the percentage of piglets in a litter consuming creep feed by more than 10%. Using a larger pellet size also appeared to stimulate the social aspect of creep feeding, and increased creep feed intake and activity levels in piglets. In both sets of research, piglets that were provided creep using an alternative method (tray or increased pellet size), showed no evidence of the post-weaning growth lag.

Managing the newly weaned pig can be a challenge, but evidence suggests that we can improve piglet creep feed intake prior to weaning by making changes to how we offer the feed. It is important to have a good understanding of your current creep feed intake levels before making management changes, in order to see if any new strategies improve creep intake, or hinder it. For more information on creep feeding strategies, or how to benchmark current creep intake levels on your farm, please contact:

Laura Eastwood, Ph.D
Swine Specialist, OMAFRA

Large pellet creep feed

Large pellet creep feed


Creep feed offered in tray feeders

Creep feed offered in tray feeders

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