A General Guide To Pig Nutrition & Feeding

Pig’s optimal nutritional requirements change based on a variety of factors.

When feeding pigs, it is important to consider factors such as pig age, weight, and environment. With the festive season on its way, the Riverina Nutrition Team has collated a general guide to pig nutrition and feeding.

Pig feeding can be divided into the following stages:

  • Farrowing/creep,
  • Weaner;
  • Grower;
  • Finisher; and/or
  • Marketer stage.

Farrowing/ Creep Stage

For the first 3 to 4 weeks of their life, piglets will consume milk from sows and may consume a little bit of dry feed. 

The main reasons for providing creep feed to piglets are:

  • To allow the piglet to become accustomed to dry food so they can transfer from liquid feed to dry feed easily
  • Boost the piglet’s nutrient intake, reducing the sow’s milking pressure and body resource loss so that sow can return to ovulation quicker. 

The major focus of this stage is to make sure piglets are healthy and get used to dry feed. Apart from very good digestible ingredients such as cooked grains and animal proteins, creep/ starter feed may also include milk products as a source of lactose for energy, acidifier to eliminate bad bacteria in the gut, nucleotides to improve the immune system, and bacteria binders or toxin binders.

Riverina Piglet Creep Crumbles is a complete feed for growing piglets that contains high energy and protein to help pigs grow during the farrowing/creep stage.

Weaner Stage

After the farrowing stage, there is a 4-6 week weaning stage in which weaners from different farrowing pens are kept together. The digestive system of piglets at 3-4 weeks of age should be able to utilise all the common food ingredients.

Weaning lag is a major problem in this stage as weaners face numerous challenges and stressors, such as:

  • Fighting due to mixing pens with other unfamiliar piglets;
  • Difficulty of eating solid food;
  • Difficulty of finding/drinking water; and
  • Changing environment (from a cosy hut to a more open pen).

Strategies to reduce weaning stress include:

  • Providing creep feed (or the same feed of farrowing stage) in the first week of the weaning stage and then gradually changing to a weaning diet to reduce the stress of changing feed;
  • Showing piglets the locations of the drinking point and how the water drinker works. Once piglets start drinking, they will feed with fewer problems; and
  • Providing good quality, highly digestible ingredients and avoiding high levels of soybean meal. Although weaning pigs are able to utilise all food ingredients, oligosaccharides and soluble NSP (non starch polysaccharides) in soy meal is still likely to cause some detrimental effects on intestinal health. For this reason, soy meal inclusion levels are restricted to under 12%.
    Riverina Pig Weaner Pellets provide a complete feed solution during the second stage feed in the Riverina Pig Feeding Program.

Abnormal behaviours, such as belly sucking/biting, can occur in weaner pigs, usually as a result of pigs not being able to find water and/or feed or not being used to dry feed. When piglets are hungry, they will suck or bite their pen mates’ bellies to look for milk. When piglets are stressed, they may also bite others’ ears and tails. Ensure that there is adequate feeding space and drinkers, and that there is no blockage in auger and water pipes. Water temperature may also affect water consumption.

Grower Stage and Finisher Stage

The growing stage can be between 9-18 weeks, depending on which market the pigs are going into. If pigs are going into the porker market, where the maximum dress weight is 70-75 kg, then you can start feeding finisher feed after 16 weeks of age to ensure that pigs will be ready in week 20. If pigs are going into the baconer market, where the maximum dress weight is 95 kg, an extra 2-4 weeks is required. The finishing stage (or marketing stage) is 3-4 weeks before slaughter.

Riverina Pig Grower Pellets are suitable for feeding grower and finisher pigs in backyard and free-range settings, as these pigs tend to be sold in lighter body weights. For commercial piggeries, we suggest using both a commercial grower feed and a finisher/marketer feed to target both porker and baconer markets.

If piglets are sound and healthy, there should not be many issues during the growing and finishing stage. The main problems that occur during this stage are fat pigs, tail biting, prolapse, and twisted bowel.

Fat Pig

Pigs generally will not put on too much fat before 18 weeks of age. Once pigs get mature, they start putting on more fat. With a regular feeding schedule and proper feeds, P2 fat levels of modern pig breeds should be under 14mm when they reach 24 weeks of age. Factors that may make a pig put on more fat include:

  • Illness, particularly during an early stage (also combined with lower body weight);
  • Irregular feeding;
  • Finisher feed containing very high energy; and
  • Increasing feed consumption during winter time (generally pigs will put on an extra 1-2 mm of back fat).

Tail Biting

Most cases of tail biting involve feeding stressors (such as not enough feeding space, being too crowded, or a feed trough that has been occupied by dominant pigs) and running out of water. Most of the victim pigs of tail biting cases are in good size as they have dominated feed space, and most of the villain pigs of tail biting are small due to less access to feed. In a few cases, pigs may develop tail biting habits from extreme weather changes.

Prolapse

Prolapse generally happens in finisher pigs and sows and it can cause serious problems in which pigs will generally be condemned in the abattoirs, if not dead, before making it into market. Both finisher and sow diets contain relatively high fibre, so prolapse will not happen easily. However, pigs are likely to develop prolapse if they consume enough feed contaminated with mycotoxin, especially in young pigs.

Twisted Bowel

Most cases of twisted bowel happen when the feeding space is not sufficient or feed supply has run out for a long period of time. Once pigs gain access to feed, they fight for it and consume too much. Those pigs with a full belly who still fight for feed may become afflicted with twisted bowel and eventually die from it.

Meat Quality

There may be PSE (pale, soft and exudate) meat and DFD (dark, firm and dry) meat issues after slaughter. PSE meat results from short term (acute) stress before slaughter caused by accelerated lactic acid accumulation in the carcass after slaughter. With lower than normal pH (lower than 5.4), the carcass has low water binding capacity and the meat looks pale and watery. DFD meat, on the other hand, results from long term (chronic) stress before slaughter, caused by very low glycogen stored in muscle and remaining higher than normal pH (higher than 6.0). The carcass will look dark and be easy to spoil. PSE meat usually involves long transportation and poor treatment before slaughter (such as fighting among animals before sticking and overcrowding in abattoir pens), however, DFD may be caused by improper management during the farm stage (such as starvation). Avoid any unnecessary stress to keep the value of the meat.

The graph below shows the average data of pig growth rates and feed intake from personal experiment data and customer records collected over time.

If you would like to learn more about pig nutrition and feeding, reach out to our Nutrition team here.

Jason Lu, Animal Nutritionist, M.App.Sc., M.Ed., more than 25 years of experience in monogastric animal nutrition and behaviour.