53 minutes ago
Friday, May 7, 2010
Do baby pigs require milk? Reader question
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!