Minimising piglet stress at weaning
Weaning is commonly thought to be the most stressful event in the life of a pig, so what steps can you take to minimise piglet stress at weaning? And how can you reduce the chances of a costly check in growth?
During weaning, maternal separation, change of environment, mixing with non-litter mates, transportation, change in temperature, new sources of feed and water, handling and administration of vaccines can all coincide and put piglets under considerable stress.
This is important because stress at weaning has been shown to reduce growth rates, and even cause dysfunction in the intestines that often results in post-weaning diarrhoea. Some stressors during this process are unavoidable; however, the more we can minimise the stressors, the more we can minimise the inevitable growth check that follows.
Every units’ standard operating procedures should include best practice pointers on how to carry out the procedure with the minimum stress for the pigs.
A good place to start is environment, and you won’t be surprised that clean, disinfected and dry housing for the pigs to move into comes top of the list. It’s not exaggerating to say you should be happy to put your sandwiches on the floor! After all, a newly weaned pig’s stomach is likely to be even more sensitive to bacteria than yours!
It’s also important to ensure the temperature is correct for freshly weaned pigs. About 28°C (or 83F) in the laying area is ideal, and if possible it’s good practice to pre-warm the accommodation to avoid cold shocking the weaners.
Where there’s no heat source, and this applies to pigs going into straw-based finishing systems too, make sure there’s suitable kennelling and plentiful bedding to allow them to keep warm.
Feed and water is another area that should be carefully considered, and indeed this is something that should be considered in the weeks before weaning when creep feed should be offered in an attempt to encourage intake before the pigs are separated from the sow.
And here’s a simple point, but one that’s often overlooked: it’s important that the pigs are given the same creep feed after weaning so that they get access to something they’re already familiar with.
The way the feed is delivered is important too, and ideally you should provide several options of feeder type, for example a floor trough and hopper. Exposing the pigs to different feeder types at this stage will engage their curiosity and assist in helping them discover the feed on offer.
The same is true for water, where arguably it’s even more important that intake is maximised, as this can often be the limiting factor as far as feed consumption is concerned.
Several options of water sources, including bowls and nipples, should be provided to give the pigs every opportunity to discover the drinking points and start building water intake.
Tips for handling piglets
Weaners and farm staff have to interact, and any handling of the pigs will also lead to stress. The first thing to remember is that they should always be handled in a calm and gentle manner – they are only babies after all!
It’s also important that the young pigs are not picked pig up by their front legs, as there’s a good chance that it will damage their shoulder. And when picking them up by one of their back legs, it’s important not to snatch or swing the pig, as you will damage its hips or knees. The preferable approach is to pick up the weaner by both of its back legs, or if you do catch it by one leg, quickly supporting it underneath the chest to take any strain off its leg joints.
Most of the pig handling that takes place at weaning will be related to routine health treatments, and it’s important that if you’re using a trolley to either hold or move the animals that this is clean, disinfected and has some bedding in it.
The choice of treatments used can also have a bearing on the amount of stress the pigs are subjected to. Choosing a one-shot combined vaccination, such as Suvaxyn® Circo+MH RTU, reduces the extent of handling time and the number of injections each pig receives versus separate PCV2 and M. Hyo vaccines. This not only reduces the risk of injection reactions and abscess formation, but crucially it minimises the stress associated with vaccination at weaning.
The weaning process can also be a stressful event for a stockperson. It’s also worth noting that using a one-shot vaccine reduces the number of injections that need to be given, saving physical handling, reducing the time required and reducing the risk of self-injection. There is also a time saving benefit versus PCV2 and M. Hyo vaccines that need to be mixed before administration.
Suvaxyn Circo+MH RTU Emulsion for Injection for Pigs contains inactivated recombinant chimeric porcine circovirus type 1 containing the porcine circovirus type 2 ORF2 protein and inactivated Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, strain P-5722-3. For active immunisation of pigs against porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. POM-V
For further information please see the product’s SPC or please contact your veterinary surgeon or Zoetis UK Limited, Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Tadworth, Surrey KT20 7NS. www.zoetis.co.uk Customer Support: 0845 300 8034. Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible). Date of preparation: March 2017.