Doing the basics well, especially during the crucial first week after weaning, is the key to successful nursery management, says Shawn Morton, who operates a 7,000-head specialist nursery barn located just east of Red Deer, Alberta. He focuses strongly on what he calls The Three Basics feed, water and environment. Combined with careful attention to hygiene and health management, his approach is delivering excellent results.
Good hygiene essential
Good hygiene is essential to minimize the spread of disease, Morton stresses. Because pigs are weaned twice each week, on Mondays and Thursdays, there is always a room being prepared for the next batch of pigs. We let the rooms soak with a chemical detergent prior to washing, he explains. These products break down some of the film and deposits built up on the slats and penning.
The detergent is allowed to soak in for half an hour and then the room is washed with hot water. We wash our rooms completely including ceiling, fin pipes, feeders, etc., adds Morton. The room is then left to dry overnight at 20 C. The following day, the room is disinfected and then left to dry overnight.
Pigs are sorted immediately they enter the nursery. Each room has six large pens holding 90 pigs each and a further four pens at the front and back of the room that each hold 25 pigs. Pigs are sorted by sex and somewhat by size, Morton notes. The smallest, poorest pigs are put in the two small pens by the door, which classify as our sick pens. Pigs are penned by sex because the finisher barns operate a split-sex feeding regime.
We spend a lot of time on health management in the nursery, Morton stresses. Every day a health check is done which usually takes between two and three hours. Every pen in the barn is walked through and pigs are checked thoroughly for any health issues. For the first seven days after weaning we generally spend extra time.
If a pig is treated it is marked on the back, Morton continues. Each medication is given a colour so if staffing changes everyone knows what that pig has been treated with and for how long depending on the number of marks. Pigs that are very sick or have a chronic health problem are moved to one of the sick pens. If these start to get overcrowded the healthiest pigs are moved into the larger pen next to it.
The attention to health management results in a death loss of just 2.6 per cent. Our death rate is about where we want it, comments Morton. We tend to euthanize pigs with chronic health issues in the nursery because this reduces problems in the finisher barns.
Feed and water
Pigs are given a creep diet prior to weaning so they have some experience with solid feed and this helps in the transition period after weaning, Morton believes. Wet/dry feeders are used in the nursery and for the first 48 hours extra time is spent checking the feeder setting. During the first 48-72 hours we adjust the feeder so that feed covers the whole pan, he explains. We also carry a feed scoop and will add some feed to each feeder for the first day or two. After the first 72 hours, feeders are adjusted back so that only about 50 per cent of the pan is covered in feed.
In the sick pens a feed mat is provided for the first five days and a small scoop of feed is placed on the mat a couple of times a day. We have no starve-outs with the wet/dry feeders but the mat just gives the challenged pigs some extra help, says Morton. It also gives them a place to lie that is not slatted. For the first couple of days after weaning pigs tend to use the mats as a comfort zone and will often sleep on them.
The wet/dry feeders have water nipples in the pan and immediately after the pigs are sorted the nipples are used to put an inch or two of water in the pan. This is done three or four times on the day of weaning and then once the next day. It not only gets the pig interested in the feeders and where the water is but usually allows each pig to get a drink right away, Morton says.
Critically important is a warm, dry environment for the pigs to enter into at weaning, Morton believes. Rooms are always dry before putting pigs in and are set at 22 C while sorting and then warmed to 28.5 C, he notes. Over the first seven days, the set point temperature is held at 28.5 C and the fans are set at minimum ventilation. Pigs are in the nursery for about 46 days on average and the ambient temperature is brought down to 21 C by the time they leave.
Over an average 46 days in the nursery, pigs grow from a startingweightof sixkgtoabout27 kg when they move to finishing, growing at a very respectable 460 grams/day, with a feed efficiency of 1.57. Shawn Morton s attention to detail clearly pays off.