Creep feeding: little and often

11-04-2007 | |
Dr Ioannis Mavromichalis International consulting nutritionist, Ariston Nutrition, Madrid, Spain

Once a farm decides to adopt creep feeding, several questions pop up, like: what to feed the piglets and possibly even more important: how to do that? The secret, if there is such a thing, is in the old but wise advise of ‘little and often’.

Right! In the previous blog, we discussed briefly the importance of creep feeding and hopefully established under which conditions, or put better – over which age, piglets benefit from this practice. In brief, pigs weaned below 21 days of age are unlikely to benefit from creep feeding, whereas those weaned over 35 days of age definitely thrive on it.

The next decision that must be made once a farm decides to adopt this technique regards the type of feed to use.

Clearly, all kinds of feed are not suitable for the highly immature digestive system of a newborn piglet. Without doubt, whole milk pellets would be most preferable, but pigs are raised (hopefully) for profit and thus a compromise must be made!

Buy the best feed
To this end, the soundest advice is to buy the best feed you can find with the available money. It is beyond doubt that a high-quality, complex creep feed that matches the milk-oriented digestive system of piglets should be the best candidate for a successful outcome.

Such feeds are usually produced by specialist companies with long experience in tracing, mixing and pelleting high quality ingredients into complete feeds, usually pelleted, that contain high levels of cooked cereals, milk proteins and lactose, fish meal and animal plasma (where permitted) and low levels of soybean meal or other ingredients rich in antinutritional factors.

No doubt, such diets are expensive, but considering the relatively low consumption (~250 g per piglet) usually achieved under the best conditions with the best available formula, such an expense does not seem totally inappropriate when one considers the tremendous benefits of creep feeding (that is, when done properly).

In my opinion, it is best to ‘invest’ in the best possible creep feed to offer the first few days, followed up by a more conventional diet (for example the first post-weaning diet), until weaning. This ensures pigs get the best possible start on dry feed, without overspending!

Now, the next logical question is ‘how it is done’! The secret, if there is such a thing, is in the old but wise advise of ‘little and often’.

Yes, it is labour intensive and yes, it’s not fun after the first few times, but pigs are biological organisms and that’s the way they work. Given spoiled or stale feed they simply refuse to eat it, or even explore it (!), for the sake of mother’s warm milk. Hardly possible to blame them!

So, start with a small quantity of fresh creep feed (~50) from a newly opened bag and offer it on an open plate or spread it on their sleeping mat. Preferably do so between sow feeding times because pigs know they are going to get a good milk meal right after the sow eats!

Clean up leftovers
Next time around the farrowing barn, clean up any leftovers and replenish with another portion of creep feed, even though some litters did not consume their share.

To this end, it’s best for the creep feed to be kept outside the farrowing barn so that it does not pick up the smells pigs are used to. I cannot say with confidence that an aroma added to creep feeds helps, but it certainly does not harm the process, especially if feed must remain in open feeding carts between feedings.

Once piglets consume with confidence their portion, it probably is a good time to switch to a less expensive product, or even wean them!

And, one final remark. Pigs eating creep feed must also drink fresh water. So, make sure they have access to it all the time and that they know how to use the drinking devices!