Back to Basics on Piglet Management

- Commercial pig farming has taken the source material from wild pig and refined it to create a profitable enterprise. We have bred a piglet with outstanding growth potential that requires specialist management to achieve its full capability.

Where does management begin?

The Sow

When managing the sow’s condition from beginning of pregnancy, the target will be to get her in a Body Condition Score of 3 (18-20mm backfat) for optimum production in the farrow house. A step up of 400-500g of feed per day from about day 90 of pregnancy will help produce heavier/stronger piglets at birth, which means heavier weaning weights:


In the wild, a wild boar sow will make a nest a couple of days before farrowing, which will stimulate later maternal care. Be prepared! Water requirements will change from about 10-15 litres/per day in pregnancy to about 15litres for the sow and 1.5litres per piglet suckling per day. Feed requirements will change from about 2.5kg per day in late pregnancy to an average of 6.5 kg per day over her lactation period, with a peak of up to about 12kg per day. Thus frequent feeding of at least 3 times a day is important. The environmental focus points of air, light space and peace and quiet can also be measured and managed by quality and quantity to help ensure optimum milk flow.

The piglet

The first day is all about finding teats and managing piglets to get good colostrum intake, which provides antibodies, energy and nutrients. Important points where intervention might be needed will be the monitoring of farrowing, drying of piglets, disinfecting of umbilical cord, fostering within 12hours after birth to benefit the piglets. They get attracted by vocalisation of sows, dark areas and move along hair patterns. Normally contact with teats can be between 3 and 30 minutes after birth.

Piglets can drink 15 meals of 15ml colostrum and up to 25% of their body weight in the first 12hours. Later they will suckle periodically with breaks of about one hour. When well managed, the nursing within a room is synchronised. Piglets that miss a nursing do not normally eat until the next bout. In a synchronised farrowing house, there is a pattern to nursing (Table 1)

A good description of nursing patterns:



Slow grunting

Assemble at udder

Increased grunting

Nosing and teat location

Rapid grunting

Slow sucking

Milk flow (15sec)

Rapid sucking

Declined grunting

Slow sucking or nosing

Sleep or change sides

Fall asleep

Table 1. A good description of nursing patterns in order of sequence

Supplement feeding

In the wild, piglets will accompany their mother outside the nest, foraging for food from day six. It can, thus, be recommended to start supplementing them with a creep feed from, at least, day seven and try to “create” more creep-feed eaters.

Pre weaning daily gain and weaning weights may be increased by adding creep feed as a supplemental nutrient source.

It is, however, the adaption and enhanced development of their digestive system that holds the biggest advantage before and after weaning. An extra 1.8kg at weaning could be worth over 5kg at 78 days of age. De Heus offers a 2.2mm pelleted creep feed with optimum nutrition, smell, taste and texture. We focus on getting more piglets to eat from younger, with minimum wastage, in the quest to have pigs optimally convert feed into meat.

Practically, we will advise feeding small, fresh quantities several times a day and inspecting piglets, at least, every two hours. Depending on other factors, feeding pigs up to day 42 days of age in the weaner house is advised. Thereafter, change over to a similar good quality weaner ration in order to achieve the 30-35kg target at 70days.

The Stockman

The three key words that apply to the work in the farrow house are:

  • Always - every piglet and every sow all the time
  • Meticulous - piglets and sows are vulnerable and almost good enough is never good enough
  • Smart - work easily, inexpensively and do it right the first time

A perfectionist, caring and fast stockman will be the ideal employee in the farrowing section.

To summarise, the first step towards success is to meet the basic requirements for food, water and shelter, to allow the sow and piglets to express their natural sucking behaviour. Good stockmanship requires consistent focus on the animals’ requirements. Knowing when and how to supplement with speciality feed is both an art and a science. Gut feel should not be under-estimated but it should be supported with concrete information from measurements taken on farm.

References: The Pig Site, SAPPO Post and Journal of Animal Science