The role of pre-weaning diets.

Pre-weaning feeding is the practice of offering solid feed to piglets while still with the sow. I find pig producers can be suspicious. “It’s just another attempt sell us something we don’t really need”.  That never was the case and the latest research shows new reasons why neonates an hold the key to lifetime performance when offered an accelerator prior to weaning.


 4 common misconceptions about pre-weaning feeding

1. “Piglets just don’t eat before weaning”  

I can understand this frustration as very little is eaten and what is eaten is all eaten by little more than half of the litter. A piglet weaned at 26 days will have eaten 6kg of sow’s milk (dry matter) and average about 150g of pellets. As only half the pigs in the litter are eating those that eat will eat 250-300g of pellets or around 5% of the total solids intake. What good is 5%? Well when bread is made only 0.5% yeast is added to the flour, that’s ten times less than a piglet eats in proportion to milk solids. Would you leave the yeast out because it’s too small an amount? Yeast has a specific fermentation job to do and that is certainly one (of many) things the traditional pre-weaning feed is there to do. They help to promote microflora (similar to fermentation) along the gut which, among other things, recognise and deal with feed ingredients.

2. “If they ate more of your feed I would use it” 

Where did this infatuation with ‘eating more’ come from? Feed intake before weaning is about preparation for post weaning and not about maximum feed intake for maximum growth pre-weaning. Pigs which eat small amounts, educate their microflora, educate their immune systems, induce enzyme secretion and grow their guts. The 80:20 rule applies. Almost all the benefits come from the first small amount of feed eaten. Eating more before weaning delivers very few extra benefits. In an ideal world every piglet eats small amounts of feed every day up to weaning. So target 150g/piglet (up to 2kg/litter) and stop worrying if they do not eat more. Worry about your sow feeding in lactation if they do.

3. “If it increased my weaning weights I’d use a pre-weaning diet” 

Feeding up to weaning is all about conditioning the microflora, the gut, the enzymes and the whole nutrient delivery system. It’s about growing THE GUT and not growing the piglet. You would be amazed by how few pellets it takes to dramatically transform the gut.

4. “Pre-weaning feeding just doesn’t work” 

Traditional pre-weaning feeding has been shown to improve post-weaning feed intake and performance. Improved FCR (lower cost/kg gain) is explained, in part at least, by the improvement in gut structure and microflora brought about by pre-weaning  feeding.