Keep the right tools in the toolbox for post-weaning success

2014-06-22T06:00:00Z Keep the right tools in the toolbox for post-weaning successBy MARA BUDDE, Agri-View Dairy Editor Farm and Ranch Guide

Post-weaning is the most stressful time in a young pig’s life and can set back its health and growth if proper steps are not taken.

At World Pork Expo, Rebecca Bierlein, young animal specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition, presented “Tools for your Post-Weaning Toolbox” during the Purina Influence their Future through Young Animal Care Seminar to help hog farmers curb stress after piglets have been weaned.

Bierlein works with producers on swine management and nutrition in Ohio to create full value pigs and has experience managing facilities in Ohio and the Midwest.

“In my production days, my toolbox and what was in it were what I used as my resources for starting young pigs. I looked at it from every angle. One of the things with young pigs is you need to be prepared. I didn’t want to be reactive, I wanted to be prepared so I could respond to their needs,” she says from her experiences.

“My vehicle was stocked with what I needed in the field,” she adds.

Having a stocked toolbox at all times helped her and her teams to avoid delays and put off work because “as we delay pretty soon we just don’t do it.”

Bierlein’s goal is to help producers create a full value pig, a pig that is best suited to reach its full potential, either as a production animal or a carcass on the rail.

Long-term productivity starts at birth and is especially impacted during the most important time of life, post-weaning.

“At birth, the number one thing is getting those pigs warm and dry and drinking colostrum. We want to be very hands off once these things are established,” she says.

Thereafter, she says to first focus on the sow by providing proper nutrients in gestation to maintain a body condition score of 3 on a 5-point scale. The well-conditioned sow is better prepared to start newborn pigs off correctly.

Creep feeding the litters pre-weaning with a highly palatable creep feed will then position the pigs for weaning.

Bierlein’s main area of focus, however, is the post-weaning stage. When pigs are comingled and placed in a new environment they can become dehydrated rather quickly due to the new space and stress.

She says a lot of times pigs do not know how to use the drinking equipment. Bierlein has a trough available for water until she teaches them how to use the other drinking equipment.

“For me hydration is crucial initially,” she says, explaining that young pigs are made up of roughly 70 percent water.

To keep hydration levels steady, Bierlein suggests using a gel electrolyte source for hydration and nutrition, especially during weaning.

“The gel is a great resource, it’s always been in my toolbox,” she says. “Young pigs are going through texture changes, it’s very gentle so they aren’t going to be repelled by it. The gel allows for flexibility in their transition and helps those who aren’t feeling well, providing a level of comfort in the new environment. It can get those who are challenged and are falling away from the group back up on feed.”

When pigs are weaned they are metabolically and gut health-wise, a baby, Bierlein explains. The post-weaning ration helps to stimulate the gut and transition the young pig from the liquid diet of the sow onto a simple solid diet, one of corn and soy.

Here, she says it does not matter if the pig is 17 pounds or 12 pounds when weaned, their physiological functions are still in the baby phase.

“A baby is a baby. We try to keep that in mind and make the initial diet very palatable, gentle and allow for the enzymes [in the gut] to take over for a simple diet,” Bierlein says.

The gut is the highest level of immunity in the pig, and if that is not stimulated correctly, the body may be more susceptible to disease.

In addition to young pig nutrition, environment plays a significant role in the pig’s success.

“One of the key components to get young pigs off to a good start is providing them with an environment to do so, one that is conducive to health and growth,” she says.

Temperature, humidity and velocity of air should be measured so a good ventilation plan can be put into place.

Humidity should be kept in a range of 65 to 70 percent humidity, and she says if your barn is not in that range, adjustments are crucial.

“What feels good to us, may not feel good for pigs,” Bierlein emphasizes.

She suggests keeping a velocity meter, humidity meter and temperature gun to adjust room settings. As for air intake, “air velocity should run across the ceiling, flushing out the bad air and bringing in the good.”

Additionally, people are one of the most valuable resources on swine operations. Bierlein says that there needs to be wiggle room in standard operating procedures for alternative actions if the situation calls for it.

“We want our team members to grow, develop and become part of our industry. People have good ideas and we don’t want to limit them,” she notes. “We do have to give people the knowledge and education to do it [pig care] right. We just can’t throw them out there. Provide people with information. For example, provide updates on what is happening in the industry, your farm, in the market. Our workers are hungry for information.”

Especially motivate those who are directly involved with pigs, she says.

“You can’t be scared to get in there and work side by side with your team and your peers in the industry. You may learn something to help the future of your pigs and of your operation,” she says.

For more information, visit or contact Rebecca Bierlein at 419-773-0280,

Copyright 2015 Farm and Ranch Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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