Stress may result in serious issues for the piglet: a lower feed intake, decrease of gut villosity size and lower enzyme secretions. Strong instability of the intestinal flora also promotes the occurrence of diarrhoea. Therefore two major challenges to take on at weaning are feed intake, and the reduction, or even elimination of diarrhoea.
The recent development of hyper prolific breeding lines and earlier weanings have increased the fragility of piglets at this early stage of life. However, this is an important stage which determines the growth and health of the young animals, and later, their fattening performances. Weaning can cause various forms of stress to piglets. These stresses affect feed intake and growth, but they also increase susceptibility to infection. How can using an adapted feed help the piglet to overcome this sensitive phase? There are two types of stress suffered by the piglet at weaning: psychological and physiological changes.
- Psychological stress is triggered by separation from the mother, mixing with other piglets, feed changes, and change of housing conditions.
- Physiological stress results from structural and functional immaturity of the digestive tract, an imbalance of intestinal flora, and incomplete immune defences.
How to increase feed intake at weaning?
Above all, rigorous management must be practised with respect of fundamental rules: room temperature, density of animals, trough length and access to the trough, ventilation, lighting, the number of drinking troughs and water flow.
Maintaining good hygiene is essential, as is the strict application of biosecurity principles.
The higher the feed intake is before weaning, the higher it will be after weaning. This will allow the establisment of a favorable flora for intestinal health.
Weaning feed, which provides the transition between the mother’s milk and the grain-based feed distributed a little later, must consist of quality raw materials, highly digestible: dairy products, cooked cereals… The raw materials must be exempt from anti-nutritional factors, and enriched in palatability (flavouring, sugar & sweeteners, plant extracts such as essential oils...).
Feed intake can be improved by additional factors: physical form of the feed pellet, distribution ad libitum in small quantities renewed several times a day, feed in liquid form, etc.
What risks pose a low feed intake for the piglet at weaning?
Low feed intake in the week following weaning can lead to weak piglets and inflammation of the digestive tract. The piglet then becomes susceptible to infections. Colibacillosis germs as well as other germs find a breeding ground for their development. The imbalance of the intestinal flora can cause diarrhoea, lower growth performance or death. Post-weaning mortality rates are on average 2%. During bacterial infections related to certain specific germs, they can rise up to 5-7% or even more in very severe cases.
How to avoid the occurrence of diarrhoea at weaning?
Historically the means used to reduce the occurrence of diarrhoea are a high level of zinc oxide, antibiotics as a growth factor, and antibacterial molecules. But the emergence of antibiotic resistance, and an increasing interest from consumers for animal well-being, has resulted in new natural alternatives. These alternatives, which have been tested and validated, are complementary: they contribute to decrease antibiotic use in weaning feeds.
The main strategy is not to kill the bacteria responsible for the diarrhoea, but rather, to limit their proliferation. Therefore the objective sought is to establish a stable and diversified microbiota. Indeed, the role of microbiota is not simply restricted to its metabolic and nutritional functions (fermentative digestion). A veritable defence shield against pathogens, the microbiota actively participates in the protective and immune functions of the piglet. Due to its composition and nutritional balance, the feed can favourably influence the microbiota. The feed can even go as far as modifying the constitution of microbiotia, for example by reducing the protein levels and by rebalancing amino acids. To this end other ingredients can also be incorporated to the feed throughout the manufacturing process: soluble and prebiotic fibres, probiotics, enzymes, acidifiers, and plant extracts such as essential oils, etc.
Leverage actions to facilitate piglet weaning exist and have been tested. Maximising feed intake, mastering the sanitary aspects. . . . These are the objectives our specialists can help you to implement through a process adapted to your needs. This approach is based on technical recommendations regarding feed or at farm level: feed conception and nutritional balance, quality control, feed manufacturing, feed programs. . . Also note that our specialists have acquired, for several years, recognised expertise in reducing the use of antibiotics in feed for weaning. . . Do not hesitate to contact them!
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