Caring for your new babies
Providing proper care and nutrition for your newborn piglets will give them the best chance of a long, healthy, productive life. The feeding needs of piglets change quickly in the first weeks, so being prepared in advance for each phase will help get your piglets off to a strong nutritional start.
Feeding & nutrition in the first weeks
0-24 Hours: Natural instinct will urge the piglets to begin nursing within a couple hours of birth, where they will begin to acquire passive immunity from the antibodies in the sow’s colostrum. However, if the piglets are unable or unwilling to nurse, a colostrum replacer or supplement is critical to ensure that your newborn piglets are receiving adequate nutrition in the first, critical hours of life. Start feeding a colostrum supplement such as Ultra Start® Multi Colostrum Supplement within 2 hours if possible and then every 3 hours the first day, when the newborns’ intestines are best equipped to absorb the formula’s critical nutrients into their bloodstream.
Days 1-2: After 24 hours, you should offer milk replacer free-choice, twice daily for piglets who are not nursing adequately. Milk or milk replacer will be the primary source of the piglets’ nutrition until weaning. Always choose a milk replacer that is specifically formulated for feeding to piglets, such as Grade A® Ultra 24 Multi-Purpose Milk Replacer to provide the optimal blend of energy (carbohydrates and fat), protein, vitamins and minerals for healthy foal development.
Week 1: At one week old, you can begin feeding milk replacer in an open trough twice daily in a heated, covered area, instead of by bottle. Feed the milk replacer 2x daily in the trough, cleaning and sanitizing the trough thoroughly between feedings.
Weeks 2-3: Introduce creep feed and fresh water to your new piglets to let them get used to eating solid feed prior to weaning. Self-feeders are recommended over pan or floor feeding. Make sure the feed is in a location that is accessible by the piglets, but not the sow. Keep clean, fresh water available at all times to encourage your piglets to stay hydrated.
Weeks 4: Piglets typically reach about 14 lbs by four weeks of age, but weaning can begin when piglets weigh at least 8-10 pounds and are consuming feed and water regularly. Weaning is a stressful time for piglets, so keep them in their same surroundings with at least some of their littermates to ease the transition.
Special nutritional needs
Even the best-fed piglets occasionally fall ill, and your veterinarian will be the best source of information and advice for caring for sick piglets. Piglets are especially susceptible to scours (diarrhea) in the first week and at weaning, and supplementation may be required to ensure they are getting enough nutrients and staying hydrated. Additional calories provide extra energy to help fight off the infection or illness that is causing the scours. The most critical need is helping reverse fluid and electrolyte loss by feeding an electrolyte supplement such as Electrolytes Plus™. However, electrolyte supplements do not contain all the nutrients of milk replacer, so be sure to offer electrolytes in addition to the piglets’ normal diet.
Scours that do not improve in a few days could be signs of a more serious illness such as transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) or swine dysentery. Consult with your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment options.
Mixing & feeding tips
Follow the mixing instructions listed on the package. Measuring the powder by weight with a hanging scale is more accurate than measuring by volume with a scoop or cup. Always mix until the powder is dissolved. When mixing large batches, add the powder before you’ve added all the warm water (115-120ºF), then add enough water to bring to volume. This is an important detail to achieve the intended nutrient content.
When bottle feeding, piglets will consume milk replacer more readily if it is fed near their body temperature (~102ºF). Always follow the mixing and water temperature instructions on the package for the colostrum or milk replacer product you are feeding, as the recommended mixing temperature may vary by product formulation.
Proper sanitation and maintenance of the feeding equipment is also important for your piglets’ health, because bacteria can grow very quickly on feeding equipment. Wash your troughs, bottles and nipples in soapy water and rinse well after every feeding, and never mix new colostrum or milk replacer with already-mixed product that has been left sitting out without refrigeration. Moisture creates an optimal breeding ground for bacteria, so allow your equipment to dry thoroughly between feedings. Check the nipples often for damage, because cracked or worn nipple holes can lead to over consumption or faster-than-usual feedings that can cause digestive upset.
The piglets should have a clean, warm space away from the sow with a thick layer of bedding. Choose a bedding material such as straw or shavings that can provide extra warmth as the piglets settle down in it; sawdust is not recommended. One of the greatest dangers to a newborn piglet is being accidentally suffocated or crushed by the sow. This is why many animal owners choose to use farrowing crates for newborn piglets and sows, which keep the sow separated from the piglets, but accessible for nursing. In addition to keeping the sow from accidentally laying on her piglets, the slatted floors keep the piglets dry and let waste drop away.
For the first week, newborn piglets will need an ambient temperature of about 95ºF, as measured at the piglets’ height. Overhead heaters, heat lamps, and heated mats are all popular choices for keeping baby piglets warm. Each week, piglets will gain a little more ability to regulate their body temperature, so you can lower the temperature by 5 degrees each week.
Another consideration in keeping the piglets warm is preventing direct drafts while also ensuring adequate ventilation. Proper ventilation is critical to prevent the buildup of moisture, animal odors and gasses that can cause respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. If you can smell ammonia in the stall, or if you see condensation on the walls or ceiling, it may be a sign that the barn does not have adequate ventilation for your newborn piglets. Windows, fans and inlets around the ceiling perimeter allow fresh, cold air from the outside to mix with warm air before coming into contact with the newborns.
With a little bit of preparation and a strong nutritional program, your newborn piglets will be off to a strong start at life!