Those Critical First Days: Supplemental Nutrition

Many liveborn piglets die because they starve. Disadvantaged piglets are most affected because they cannot compete well for milk and they are most vulnerable to chilling. Improve your piglet survival rate by giving a supplemental source of nutrients the first few hours of life.

The economic benefit of providing supplemental milk to piglets depends primarily on the preweaning survival rate of piglets in the herd and on the anticipated profit from the piglet. In general, if the average preweaning survival rate of piglets in the herd is over 90% and the market value of the piglets is low, the cost of the extra labor to feed the small ones may not be recovered.

Commercial milk replacers have proven effective after the piglets receive an adequate dose of colostrum. Some people use products containing medium chain fatty acids (MCT) in lieu of milk, but research results on their effectiveness are mixed. Use a stomach tube or a syringe to give the supplemental milk to the piglets.

Supplemental Iron

Iron is necessary to prevent anemia in piglets. Iron deficiency anemia develops rapidly in nursing piglets because of low iron reserves in the newborn piglet, the low iron in sow’s colostrum and milk, the lack of contact with iron in the soil, and the rapid growth rate of piglets. With no access to soil, iron deficiency anemia may result within 7-10 days after birth.

Iron can be administered either by injection or orally when pigs are one to three days old. Injection is preferred because iron given orally is not as well absorbed by piglets, thus reducing the quantity of iron that reaches critical tissues.


Creep Feeding

Creep feeding is recommended beginning at about 10 days of age for piglets weaned at three weeks of age and later. Sow milk yield typically plateaus at about 12-16 days of lactation indicating that sufficient nutrients will not be available thereafter to sustain maximal piglet growth. For piglets weaned at less than three weeks of age, the value of creep feed is questionable, because they often consume very little feed. If creep feed is offered, use techniques to ensure piglets consume it.

Some important tips are: Use the proper diet in a mini-pellet form; make sure fresh water is available and that the feed is fresh, and ensure both are easily accessible.


Where piglet flow management allows it, split weaning is a technique that can give slower growing piglets a boost just before weaning. The process involves weaning the heavier piglets in a litter a few days before weaning the smaller ones. This allows smaller piglets access to a larger milk supply with less competition. To ensure that smaller piglets in the litter will benefit from split weaning, wean the heaviest piglets three to five days early.

This technique may shorten the weaning-to-estrus interval in sows, especially in those left with just a few piglets for the last couple days of lactation. This may slightly alter breeding schedules.