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Is feeding less creep feed a false economy?

By ForFarmers’ Young Animal Feed Advisor, Emma Slater

With rising raw material costs and pig prices under pressure the focus turns to cost savings- and with feed responsible for up to 60% of the overall cost of production it’s often one of the first areas to be scrutinised. Furthermore, as a result of the cost per tonne, creep feed is one area which can be challenged. 

But does reducing creep feed quantities or opting for lower spec nutrition really result in savings later down the line? Or is it, in reality, a false economy?

If a producer feeds 6kg of starter feed to pigs at weaning, allocated as 1kg, 2kg and 3kg of 1st, 2nd and 3rd stage starter respectively a price increase of, for example, £50 in a 1st stage diet, £30 in a second stage diet and £20 in a 3rd stage diet, equates to just 17pence per pig.

The impact of compromising this critical phase of feeding cannot only be felt in the early growth stages, but over the subsequent lifetime performance of the pig. In the above example, simply reducing the allocation from 6kg to 5kg per pig, may only result in a 2pence per pig saving, but what might it cost you on performance?

A 10g reduction in daily live weight gain in the first 14 days post weaning, can result in 1.3 days longer to slaughter. This might not sound a lot, but assuming pigs are consuming on average 2.5kg/day plus at this stage, this equates to additional finisher feed costs of approximately £1 per pig: far outweighing the early 2pence saving in the early stages.

Put another way, cutting down 1kg of starter for 1000 pigs saves £20, but by slowing down growth as a result, you could end up spending £1000 on finisher feed getting them to slaughter weight. And remember, despite the relative higher costs of starter feed, this early feeding stage equates to just 1% of the overall feed consumption of a grower-finisher.  

Feeding to match the nutrient requirement of the stage of production is key to success and decisions should always been driven by the nutritional needs of the piglets. The nutritional and physiological needs of a 20kg pig is considerably different to that of a newly weaned 7.5kg pig, hence the reason why phase feeding is common practice on many farms. VIDA piglet starter diets are designed to support gut development as well as meeting their nutritional requirements for lean tissue growth.

Afbeelding: piglet eating FF LR

Weaning is a period of significant stress for a piglet as they transition from milk to a predominately plant-based diet. There are ways to ease this transition with supplementary feed pre-weaning, but even then at weaning, and in the first few weeks post weaning, a piglet is still developing its digestive enzyme and capacity to utilise feed efficiently. The ForFarmers’ VIDA regime is carefully formulated to support this development, providing a combination of highly digestible ingredients and encourage intakes.

TOP TIP: Avoiding extreme or sudden changes to the feeding regime in the first two weeks post weaning, and more specifically, the first 5-7 days post weaning, is recommended to encourage good intakes, quickly. Using highly palatable and easily digestible feed ingredients will promote intakes further.  

It’s also important to consider the genotype, health and age of your piglets. The younger the piglet, the greater the need for a complex diet to minimise poor post weaning performance. Our producers who feed VIDA have noticed feeding more of a 1st stage starter is required from compromised pigs, whether that be the smaller pigs or the larger milkier pigs than need extra support post weaning. This approach also helps reduce variability in the herd. This is important as significant variation early on often becomes more apparent in the later stages where pigs are being drawn for slaughter, and again when intakes are the greatest resulting in increased costs.

Transferring piglets from a starter diet on to a link diet such as ForFarmers’ Ultima or Maxima Link as part of the VIDA starter feed range should be gradual to encourage a smooth transition, and it’s always important to consider bodyweight and maturity of the pig when transferring over to a link diet. If pigs are transferred too early the nutritional requirements may not be met for protein deposition.  From a health point of view, it is also important not to overload the gut with feed that can’t be digested efficiently, this can lead to dysbiosis and post weaning diarrhoea.

In conclusion, whilst creep feeding is, on face value, the most costly nutritional phase of pig rearing, it is also the growth phase which is critical to get right as the piglet faces so many challenges in these early days. Reducing investment here can be a significant false economy with impacts to growth and performance later on in the cycle- far outweighing any pence per piglet saving in the nursery.