Joanna Palmer, a nutritionist for Smallholder Range, offers some essential advice on winter feeding and how to ensure your pigs remain in optimum condition
It’s important to carefully consider the type of feed you choose for your pigs, based on their breed and the production system in which they are kept. The rare and traditional breeds of pig favoured by most smallholders and small-scale farmers can very quickly become overweight on high-protein, commercial feeds.
Feed rations such as the Smallholder Range offer more suitable diets for the traditional breeds because they are lower in protein and energy, but higher in fibre. This combination helps to promote slower, more natural growth rates, with the emphasis placed firmly on the longevity of the breeding animal and the quality and flavour of the meat produced from their offspring.
Body condition scoring is a useful, hands-on tool for assessing the muscle and fat coverage on a growing pig and, thus, its overall condition. Pigs should be assessed over the shoulders, ribs, spine and hips, through a combination of sight and touch, using the palm of the hand. At a healthy weight and condition, a pig will have a spine that can be felt when you run your hand firmly along its back. A spine that can be seen or felt very easily with a light touch, indicates that the pig is too thin. But if you can’t feel the spine – even with firm pressure – it’s likely that the animal is overweight. On a scale of 1-5, where 1 is emaciated, and 5 is obese, you should aim to achieve an ideal average body condition score of 3 across the whole breeding herd.
While some fluctuations in body condition are natural through the breeding cycle, keeping these to a minimum, and preventing significant weight losses and gains through careful feeding, will help ensure good reproductive performance. A sow breeder pencil is an ideal feed for maintenance, pregnancy and lactation, with the nutritional requirements of sows being met at every stage simply by varying the quantity of feed being given.
‘Flushing’ sows and gilts for three weeks before mating, by feeding their breeder feed on an ad-lib basis, can help increase both ovulation rate and litter size. Once mated, the feed level should be reduced to around 2kg per animal, per day, for the first month of pregnancy; overfeeding at this stage can reduce litter size.
After that, adjust feed rates so that sows reach farrowing at an ideal body condition score of 3.
Depending on the breed and size, between 1.5 and 2.5kg of a sow breeder feed per day is usually appropriate for most sows during the first three months of their pregnancy. It’s only during the final three weeks of gestation, when the majority of the piglets’ growth and development of the udder occurs, that feed intake should be increased.
Feed amounts should be increased gradually from farrowing to 3-3.5kg per sow, per day. During lactation, the amount of feed a sow requires will depend on the number of piglets she is suckling. Milk production peaks at three weeks after farrowing, and places considerable extra nutritional demands on the sow, so feed amounts should be increased accordingly. If the sow is suckling more than six piglets, she’ll require an additional 0.5kg per day for each additional piglet, or to be fed ad-lib. A sow’s feed requirements may exceed her appetite, which can affect milk yield and cause a loss of body weight. So condition-scoring should be a regular occurrence, allowing adjustments to be made to individual sows’ feeding plans at the earliest opportunity.
Boars tend to need very little extra feed above a maintenance ration of 1.5-2.5kg/day of breeder feed, unless they’re mating with a large number of sows in a short space of time. If this is the case, their activity levels will increase and they’ll require more feed. It’s important not to allow boars to become overweight, as this will greatly affect their physical ability and energy levels which, in turn, will have a knock-on effect on their reproductive performance!
While the sow’s milk will provide all the essential nutrition piglets need in their first weeks of life, a pig starter pellet can be fed from around two weeks of age onwards. The introduction of a feed at this age helps to promote gut and digestive enzyme function so that, by the time the piglets are weaned, their digestive systems are capable of efficient digestion of food other than milk.
The amount fed should be gradually increased so that, by the time piglets are 5-6 weeks old, they’re gaining the majority of their nutrition from the pelleted feed. Having piglets happily established on a solid feed before they’re weaned, means that they’re less likely to suffer digestive upset or growth setbacks once milk is no longer available.
Whether you’re rearing pigs for meat or as replacement stock, the aim is to produce a steady growth rate. At weaning, piglets can be fed starter pellets on a free access basis, before being changed on to a weaner/finisher pencil at any time between seven and 14 weeks of age. The starter pellets and weaner pencils should be mixed for 7-10 days; as the proportion of weaner pellets is increased, the starter pellets can be decreased. This encourages a smooth changeover and helps avoid any sudden changes in the diet that could upset the digestive system.
Adlib feeding can continue until the youngsters are about 15 weeks old, when it then becomes necessary to restrict feed intakes by moving to a routine of feeding twice a day. Depending on breed, age, size and condition, weaners should be fed between 1.5kg and 2.5kg of weaner pencils per day, split over their two meals.
Feeding pet pigs
Generally speaking, all small breeds of pigs – including Pot-Bellied and KuneKune – thrive on a high-fibre diet that, in the wild, would consist mainly of grass, nuts, berries, insects, fruits and vegetables. These types of pigs, and any that are kept as pets (regardless of their breed) tend to gain weight very easily. Keeping your pigs at healthy body weights is essential as obesity can be a serious problem, causing long-term health implications as well as foot and joint issues from excessive weight-bearing. Allen & Page Pot Bellied Pig Food is specially formulated to provide pet pigs with a balanced diet that’s higher in fibre and lower in calories than other pig feeds.
Providing pigs with as much outside space as possible not only allows them to fulfil their natural desire to forage, but also helps to increase their activity level, which burns calories and contributes towards keeping body weight in check. Exercise also promotes the development of lean muscle.
As a maintenance diet, an adult pig will need to eat 1-2% of its body weight per day in total feed, so any extras – such as fruit and vegetables – should be included in this daily feed allowance. The feed should be split into several, smaller meals and fed at intervals throughout the day. Placing feed in several different places in the pigs’ enclosure, and even hiding some, will encourage their foraging instincts, and help to alleviate boredom by extending feeding time.
Ensuring adequate trough space or spreading feed out across a large area will reduce competition at feeding times, and help ensure that even the more timid members of the herd get their fair share of feed.
NEVER FEED SCRAPS!
To prevent the introduction and spread of potentially devastating, notifiable animal diseases – such as Foot & Mouth – it’s illegal to feed catering waste, kitchen scraps, meat or meat products to farmed animals.
This also means that any fruit and vegetables you intend to feed your pigs cannot enter your kitchen, or be purchased from an establishment that also sells meat, and you certainly can’t feed your pigs any leftovers from the family meal table!
In outdoor herds, changing from sow breeder pencils to larger rolls or cakes can be beneficial during the winter, as they’re easier for the pigs to find in wet and muddy conditions. Minimising feed wastage isn’t only financially beneficial, but it also means pigs will be receiving the full amount of nutrition available to promote growth and maintain condition.
Cold, winter temperatures may mean pigs require more feed to maintain condition, as they’ll be utilising body reserves simply to keep warm. So, to prevent weight loss, ensure that arks are well bedded with fresh, clean straw for added insulation, and always house pigs in social groups so that they can huddle together to conserve body warmth.
A constant supply of clean, fresh water is also vital for all-round health and performance. A lactating sow will consume copious amounts of water to maintain milk production, and any reduction in intake will quickly affect the growth of her piglets. Keeping water troughs clean and unfrozen is an essential, winter task.
FIND OUT MORE
For more information about feeding your pigs, contact the friendly Smallholder Range Advice Line on 01362 822900, or visit: smallholderfeed.co.uk
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