Creep feeding leads to healthier, stronger pigs

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Creep feeding help piglets develop strong immune and digestive systems that will help them perform strongly in life. (Photo credit: Art Frio)

Creep feeding in pig production has many benefits, particularly in helping piglets develop strong immune and digestive systems that will give them a good start. But it can be expensive and is an added cost that some producers are unwilling to take. ISA Q TAN and the Asian Agribiz team investigate how producers and practitioners in the region feel about it.

Megan Edwards

Creep feeding is the practice of introducing solid feed to suckling piglets to prepare their digestive system before weaning. Most swine nutritionists in the region recommend it to their clients. They note that its advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Swine nutrition consultant Megan Edwards told Asian Agribiz that she strongly recommends creed feeding to her clients.

“The advantages are mainly around digestive development, immune development, and behavioral adaptation—learning to eat and drink separately,” she explained.

“Creep feeding allows for digestive enzymes required to utilize cereal-based diets to develop before weaning. We can use fiber within creep feeds to enhance stomach and colon capacity which will improve digestion and appetite post-weaning. We can allow the piglet to develop oral tolerance to ingredients like soybean meal while it still has passive immune protection from sow’s milk.

“We can seed the microbiome of the pig to speed up the microbiome evolution process of increasing alpha diversity, thereby creating better resilience.

Wasu Kasimani

“We can provide supplemental nutrition to those piglets within a litter who otherwise struggle to compete for teat access, which would result in better uniformity.”

Essential

For Wasu Kasimani, General Manager of Chau Yang, an integrated pig farm in Malaysia, creep feeding is essential.

“Like human babies, they need a transitional phase from mother’s milk to solids, this will help them to grow consistently. Drastic changes could cause digestibility issues where it can cause them to stop growing at some points, something that is to be avoided,” Dr Wasu explained to Asian Agribiz.

Art Frio

For Art Frio, a regional swine nutrition consultant based in the Philippines, the practice is also essential. “Creep feeding is 100% needed. When pigs eat early, they can be weaned early,” he told Asian Agribiz.

He also pointed out that the quality and quantity of sow’s milk decline after 14 days, so creep feed would help supplement it. Furthermore, piglets that can eat at weaning will be eating in the first three days in the nursery. This will reduce post-wean lag and the potential for diarrhea.

Chandra Destiawan

Chandra Destiawan, Assistant Manager for Swine Feed at Gold Coin Indonesia, told Asian Agribiz that giving creep feed will lead to rapid growth, better piglet size, low mortality, and dry feed adoption.

A good creep feed

Dr Wasu said a good creep feed “consists of whey powder, soy meal, milk by-products, and plasma protein among others.”

He added that it can come in many forms, including crumbles or gel form.

“Mainly, the feed must be palatable for the piglets, to entice them to eat in small amounts 4-5 times throughout the day. The feed also needs to be fresh, so bacteria doesn’t develop via the raw ingredients and ferment, causing stomach issues for the piglets,” he remarked.

For Dr Edwards, creep feed should have the following characteristics or specifications:

• 25-40% cooked cereals.

• Contain >7% lactose.

• Have a limited amount of soybean meal (<5% ideally).

• Contain source of passive immune protection like spray-dried porcine plasma or hyper-immunized egg antibodies.

• Have Low Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acid ratio to reduce inflammation.

• Contains a source of medium-chain fatty acids for easy fat digestion and to support liver function.

• Contain emulsifiers to boost fat digestion and optimize energy extraction.

• Have low acid-binding capacity to support stomach function.

• Have less than 2.0% undigested crude protein, so use high quality proteins.

• Have more inert fiber than fermentable fiber. Inert fiber should be greater than 5%.

• Use good quality premix.

Creep feed comes in different forms. Whatever form the feed, it must be palatable for the piglets to entice them to eat. (Photo credit: Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs)

Timing

Ideally, the piglets should have two weeks of active eating before weaning.

Mr Frio said he recommends giving creep feed at 10 days of age and continuing it until after weaning, preferably using the same feed type.

Dr Edwards agreed. “It takes about 4-7 days to encourage active eating so I would suggest introducing creep feed from 7-10 days of age for pigs weaned between 24-28 days of age. I also recommend using the same diet post-weaning for 4-7 days to avoid additional digestive stress,” she explained.

Phet Nantavisai

This is a practice done by Thaifoods Group (TFG) in Thailand. At TFG’s pig farms, piglets are weaned after day 21, COO Phet Nantavisai told Asian Agribiz.

“We implement creep feeding in a transition period. We give the feed in the first or second week after birth and before they are weaned. We let the piglets know that this is edible, and we train them to eat it,” he said.

According to Mr Phet, a concern with post-weaning is that pigs will dehydrate because they would not consume feed or water. But by training them with creep feed, this can be avoided.

“We practice creep feeding in all our farms. I think this is the industry norm,” he said.

Cost concern

With its many advantages, the one main disadvantage to creep feed is cost.

Mr Phet noted that creep feeding is expensive and some small-scale pig farmers may not implement it.

Meanwhile, Mr Destiawan said that with feed cost increases, Indonesian producers must first calculate return on investment to see if it is worth pursuing.

For Dr Edwards, the risk of feed wastage amid high feed cost is the one disadvantage of creep feeding.

In the Philippines, Mr Frio said resistance to the practice usually comes with the introduction of additional work without the farm staff understanding its importance.

Such disadvantage and resistance notwithstanding, more producers are realizing the advantages of creep feeding and choosing to implement it in their operations.

For related stories, please see:
Piglet health starts in the gut
Micro-enteral nutrition concept for piglets gaining ground in Asia
Strong piglet immunity boost overall performance

Editor, Asian Pork Magazine, Manila, Philippines. Isa is the in-house expert on African swine fever, as her deep knowledge on the subject is imbued in articles such as, ‘Strategic testing and extraction help farms survive ASF’.