What is good for small piglets might not be good for big piglets: The consequences of cross-fostering and creep feed provision on performance to slaughter

Major improvements in sow prolificacy have resulted in larger litters but, at the same time, increased the proportion of piglets born light weight. Different management strategies aim to enhance the performance of, and limit light-weight piglet contribution to, BW variation within a batch; however, consequences on heavy-weight littermates are often neglected. This study investigated the effects of different litter compositions, created through cross-fostering, and the provision of creep feed on preweaning behavior and short- and long-term performance of piglets born either light weight (≤1.25 kg) or heavy weight (1.50–2.00 kg). Piglets were cross-fostered at birth to create litters with only similar-sized piglets (light weight or heavy weight; UNIFORM litters) and litters with equal numbers of light-weight and heavy-weight piglets (MIXED litters); half of the litters were offered creep feed and the remaining were not. Piglet behavior during a suckling bout and at the creep feeder was assessed; a green dye was used to discern between consumers and nonconsumers of creep feed. The interaction between litter composition and birth weight (BiW) class influenced piglet BW at weaning (P < 0.001): piglets born light weight were lighter at weaning in MIXED litters than those in UNIFORM litters (6.93 vs. 7.37 kg); however, piglets born heavy weight performed considerably better in MIXED litters (8.93 vs. 7.96 kg). Total litter gain to weaning was not affected (P = 0.565) by litter composition. Teat position affected heavy-weight piglet performance by d 10 (P < 0.001), with heavy-weight piglets in UNIFORM litters being disadvantaged when suckling the middle and posterior teats. Creep feed provision did not affect BW at weaning (P > 0.05) for either BiW class. However, litter composition significantly affected daily creep feed consumption (P = 0.046) and fecal color (P = 0.022), with heavy-weight piglets in UNIFORM litters consuming the highest amount of creep feed and having the greenest feces. In addition, a lower number of heavy-weight piglets in UNIFORM litters were classified as nonconsumers (P = 0.002). The weight advantage heavy-weight and light-weight piglets had at weaning when reared in MIXED and UNIFORM litters, respectively, was sustained throughout the productive period. In conclusion, reducing BW variation within litter (UNIFORM litters) was beneficial for piglets born light weight but not for piglets born heavy weight; the latter were disadvantaged up to slaughter. Although heavy-weight piglets in UNIFORM litters consumed the greatest amount of creep feed, this was not able to overcome their growth disadvantage compared with heavy-weight piglets in MIXED litters.

Resource: 2017. J. Anim. Sci. 95 (11): 4926-4944

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