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The effect of an 18-hour delay in solid feed provisioning on the feed intake and performance of piglets in the first weeks after weaning

Millet, Sam, Hees, Hubèrt Van, Janssens, Geert P.J., Smet, Sarah De
Livestock science 2019
body weight, castration, feed conversion, feed intake, females, learning, males, pelleted feeds, piglets, weaning
It is generally accepted that early post-weaning feed intake affects post-weaning health and performance. Especially piglets that have not consumed creep feed before weaning have to learn to recognize solid feed. Weaning is a stressful event with an important impact on the animals. The associated stress level may affect their learning capabilities. Consequently, the question arises whether the first day after weaning is the best day to discover their new type of feed. An experiment was therefore designed to study the effect of delayed provisioning of solid feed on feed intake and performance of piglets. In total, 144 piglets (8.1±1.1 kg, mean±SD), weaned at 4 weeks of age, were tested. They were assigned to 24 pens, blocked per sex (i.e. castrated male or female) and weight group. Prior to weaning, piglets received a commercial creep feed. Per body weight class and per sex, each pen was randomly assigned to one of the 2 treatments: control (C) and delay in feed provisioning (DF). For the control treatment, the pelleted feed (6 mm) was already present in the feeders when the piglets arrived in their pens (13:00-14:00h). In the DF pens, the feed was provided the next morning (08:00). Feed and water were provided ad libitum. In the first week after weaning, it was not possible to observe differences. However, the DF pigs showed a higher feed intake during the first three weeks of the experiment (455±25 vs 430±37 g/day, P=0.003), which was apparent throughout the entire experiment (4-9 weeks: 594±30 vs 569±48 g/day, P=0.046). This resulted in higher body weights 3 weeks after weaning (7 weeks of age) in the DF vs C pigs (16.1±1.5 vs 15.6±1.6 kg, P=0.005). However, at the end of the experiment at 9 weeks, differences were no longer significant (23.9±2.1 vs 23.4±2.0 kg, P=0.285). Feed efficiency did not differ between the groups (P=0.456 for the entire experiment). Further research into the underlying mechanisms of the observed differences are mandatory for developing improved management practices of weaned piglets.