“We have been providing additional water troughs for the first three days until the pigs find that there is water at the feeder too.”
HOG BOSS – HARTLAND COLONY, ALBERTA
In my last article, I described the breeding herd management at Hartland Colony, located near Bashaw, Alberta, which not only weans 30 pigs per sow, but achieves exceptionally good weaning weights, an average of around 8.5 kg at 25 days.
After weaning, the objective is to get these pigs eating and growing as quickly as possible. The colony’s Hog Boss Martin Waldner says there are five key points to address – good hygiene, an adequate supply of clean water, high quality feeds, a suitable environment and careful management.
The barn has eight nursery rooms, each with two pens of 200 pigs. At the end of each batch, rooms are washed and left to dry for at least 24 hours.
“It’s really important that the pens are clean and dry before pigs are brought in and we always ensure that the room temperature is at least 80 F (27 C),” said Waldner. “It’s also essential to make sure there is clean water in the drinking bowls, that nipple drinkers are functioning correctly and that there is some fresh, dry feed in the bottom of the feeders.”
The inside of the feed hopper should be just as clean as the outside, with no lumps or wet feed, he adds.
At weaning, pigs are split by sex, given a circovirus vaccine and weighed on a platform scale en route to the nursery. The first few days after weaning are critical, Waldner believes.
“We monitor the pigs very closely for the first day, making sure there is feed and water in the bottom of all the feeder pans,” he said. “Feeders are adjusted a couple of times on the first day because a lot of feed can be wasted if they are not adjusted properly. After the first week, rooms get checked by walking through at least three times a day.”
In a system with large groups of pigs, it’s essential that sick or disadvantaged pigs are removed promptly, Waldner emphasizes.
Waldner is convinced that water intake is the most critical aspect of getting pigs off to a good start. The 12 wet-dry feeders in each room have two nipple drinkers each over a water trough each side of the feed tray. In addition, there are 12 hanging water nipples per room.
“It is very important during the first two or three days to make sure that pigs know where the water is,” Waldner stresses. “We have been providing additional water troughs for the first three days until the pigs find that there is water at the feeder too.”
It can take pigs up to 36 hours to find feed and water, so it’s important to look for signs that indicate whether or not they are consuming enough, he said.
“If there is no water in the bowl, it could be a sign that the pigs don’t know how to operate the nipple or perhaps the drinker is blocked. I look for signs like pigs diving into the water bowl when I fill it manually, which shows they are not getting enough.” Hanging water nipples are adjusted once a week with a hand winch so the height is at the shoulder level of the smallest pig in pen.
The ventilation system was designed to give very precise control of temperature, with an automatic temperature curve set in the computer. In winter, air enters from the attic and is pre-heated with a hot water fin pipe to 57 F (14 C) in the hallway. Each room has one hot water heater with a water temperature of 160 degrees and rated at 45000 BTUs.
“Temperature is set on a curve starting at 84 F (29 C) on day 1, to 80 F (26.7 C) at day five, then down to 65 F (18 C) at day 50 when the pigs are removed,” notes Waldner. “I like to peek into the room to check lying behaviour prior to opening the door. If they are lying evenly in the pen, I know that the temperature is right”. Humidity is also controlled and set at 60 to 65 per cent.
Pigs receive a creep diet for the first seven days in the nursery, when they are changed over to a starter diet for three weeks, moving on to a starter #2 for the last three weeks. “While the first-stage creep is being fed, we set the feed pipe so that the feeder is only one-quarter full, which helps keep the feed fresh,” Waldner said. The equipment used for feeding allows a series of four diets to be delivered through the same feed line. “There is an air valve on the line above each feeder, which opens up to deliver the correct feed for the age of pigs in the pen,” he explains. “When all the feeders are full and feed starts coming back through the feed line, the feed line is automatically emptied and the next diet is fed.”
Performance of pigs in the nursery reflects the incredible attention to detail shown by Martin Waldner and Dave Stahl, who looks after the nursery. During the seven-week-growth period, pigs average 630 grams/ day, reaching a weight of 39 kg at removal, with a death loss of less than two per cent.
Bernie Peet is president of Pork Chain Consulting of Lacombe, Alberta, and editor of Western Hog Journal