Friday, May 7, 2010

Do baby pigs require milk? Reader question

I got this question as a comment in a previous posting, and it's a good question, worth talking about. 

"Bruce,

I have a question for you- when someone buys a 6-8 wk old weaner pig, is it advisable to feed it milk replacer? That is what we did when I was a kid but I noticed milk replacer where I live is $120 for 50lbs. I can get sweet whey for $61 for 55 lbs, so was wondering if that would work instead. What do you think? Any advice is appreciated. Thanks. "

A pig can eat everything that we can, and a lot of things that we can't.  The range of food you can give a pig and have it thrive is pretty amazing. 

Milk or whey, or dairy products in general, are a commonly used food for pigs; both industrial and home-grown, and they'll put weight on a pig pretty quickly.  What happens when you give a pig more calories than it can use in growth is that it goes into fat on the pig.  So in the industrial pig farms they carefully measure out the food to the pig, calculating how much they can give it to maximize growth but minimize fat, as the modern ideal for pigs is a very, very lean pig. 

So fresh milk, or powered, or whey (a by-product of cheesemaking) are fine to feed to your pig.  Should you feed it to a young pig boils down to how the young pig was raised. 

The industry deals with "EW" pigs -- early weaned.  These are pigs that are very small; 10-12lbs, and they're weaned at 3-4 weeks of age.  This is done to allow the producer to get 3 litters of pigs per year out of the sow vs. 2 for a more traditional scheme.  The early weaned pigs typically require more calorie support than do the older weaned piglets, and that can mean some sort of dairy supplement is called for. 

I usually sell my weaners at 6-7 weeks of age.  At that age they are well-established on solid food and drinking water and are ready to go.   my pigs start showing interest in solid food around 2 weeks old, and gradually increase their intake until at 5 weeks most of their calories are solid food.  That's when I'll physically seperate the pigs from the sow the week before they go to market.  I'll watch them to make sure that their stool is solid and that they continue to thrive, and then off to market they go.  If they do not do well, and this happens with some of the smaller pigs -- the runts and pigs that have had some sort of challenge during their life; stuff like mom stepped on them and bruised them -- and if they're not doing well I'll put them back on the sow for another week or so. 

If I were to take a pig directly off the sow and that pig hadn't had much experience with solid food, the transition from sow milk to solid food can be rough on the little guy, and in that case I would feed some sort of dairy and gradually reduce it, to help the pig transition.   For the pigs I sell I've already done that transition; when they leave my farm they're all set, but not every farm has the same husbandry. 

Hope that answers your question, and thanks for asking it!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks! That is very helpful. I really appreciate reading your blog and learning from you. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

When you get a runt or other piglet that needs supplement, what do you recommend using? I know there are powdered formulas out there and have heard mixed reviews. Would a standard powerded milk be okay as in the case of the EW or older piglets?

We are experiencing our first litter sometime in the next week. This will be her 4th litter so hoping her experience will help our inexperience!

I'm glad we ran across your blog, it has been very informative and fun to read!
Tammy R.

Bruce King said...

Generally speaking a runt is an animal that is underweight relative to its littermates. There are a variety of reasons for this difference in size; birth defect, problems in pregnancy, parasites, difficult delivery, etc.
My experience, and yours may vary, is that most runts will reach slaughter size slower than the other pigs in the litter. I give them the extra time, but I take special note not to select that animal for breeding.
I haven't found there to be any particular food or feeding regimen that will give a runt the same size as its littermates.

Tammy R. said...

I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. I was wondering if there was a particular formula you used when you had to give one the time? I found a homemade recipe online using evaporated milk and egg yolk - similar to one I have used for kittens.
We raised a purchased runt a couple years ago and noticed the difference in growth between him and the others, I'm sure if we end up with any they will turn into "luau" pigs instead of feeding them out as we did before.
Thanks!

rick brown said...

i need help. i found a baby pig on a pile of dead pigs. i brought him home.6 days ago.he was not able to walk,but now he is walking fine.my concern is i cant get him to eat anything other than milk replacement.i've tried corn meal, pelets ground up and soaked in milk.i am afraid that he is not getting what he needs.he weighs approx. 10-15 pounds.what do i need to do

Bruce King said...

Baby pigs can do fine on whole cows milk or milk replacer until they're about 40 pounds. Don't worry about the pig not eating the solid food just make the food available to them so that they can eat it if they choose to most baby pigs want a very tasty food I use either puppy Chow or use cat food because it has a high protein and it's tasty and they like it you can also use a dairy product like yogurt or cheese or cottage cheese something like that as a replacement as well


What you want to watch for is that the pug continues to gain weight and continues to be active it's when they lay down and don't eat or drop weight that I start to worry it sounds like you did a good job with this little pig

rick brown said...

thank you for your help.he seems to be very active.