Colostrum contains essential maternal antibodies (immunoglobulins) which can kill bacteria and viruses, providing passive immunity to the piglets. This is very important because piglets are born without immune protection and it can take time for them to build their own active immunity. The colostrum also provides energy and very digestible nutrients essential for the piglets, so they can start suckling and grow faster.
Colostrum is produced by the sow just after the birth of the first piglet, and within less than 24 hours, its composition will change to become milk. Sufficient colostrum intake in the first few hours just after birth is therefore essential for pig performance.
How can colostrum production be optimised?
More research is needed to understand which factors are impacting colostrum production. It is clear that management of gilts, vaccination schedule and the health status of the farm, are factors that can influence the immunological characteristics of the colostrum. For instance, diarrhea outbreaks in litters from gilts are usually caused by the fact that these young sows were not exposed to the specific disease earlier. In terms of volume produced, as it appears that colostrum yield is not dependent on litter size, some publications indicate that at least 30% of hyperprolific sows do not produce an adequate amount of colostrum.
To help sows produce enough colostrum, you should pay attention to the following points:
- Try to reduce stress before, during and after farrowing
- Make sure sows always have access to fresh and good quality water
- Feed sows with suitable diets for gestation and lactation
- Keep in mind that when farrowing duration is too long, this can negatively impact colostrum yield
How can you make sure piglets drink enough colostrum?
To help piglets consume enough colostrum, you should organise your work schedule (batch farrowing) to be present during farrowing. If you notice a piglet that is unable to drink colostrum, you must help it. Keep in mind to be careful with synchronising agents (such as oxytocin) as they can increase the number of pigs stillborn when not used properly. You should pay special attention to smaller and weaker piglets and make sure they get their share of colostrum. Maternal sows’ colostrum is required for an efficient immunity. Although this is preferable, some studies indicate that it is not essential that the colostrum originates from the piglet’s own mother, but for sure it must come from a sow, to ensure that the antibodies are protecting against swine diseases. In this case, it is advised to use colostrum produced by a sow from the same herd, so that the antibodies are protecting against diseases which are specific to that herd. Some trials have shown that two hours after birth, 70% of the piglets have good levels of antibodies in their blood and that eight hours after birth, this number has increased to 95%. Therefore, you should avoid proceeding with cross fostering within the first six hours after birth. Since a piglet’s navel is dry around eight hours after birth, avoid moving them if their navel is not dry. At the same time, it is advised to do the cross fostering in the first 24 hours of life, before the establishment of teat order by litter mates. When doing the cross fostering, ideally, the small piglets should remain on the maternal sow, but in practice they are usually transferred to a second or third parity sow, because their teats are more accessible and easier to suckle. In large litters, split-suckling can be implemented to ensure the smallest piglets consume enough colostrum. To do this, remove the bigger piglets in the litter for about 30-45 minutes and give the smaller piglets an opportunity to drink colostrum.
New-born piglets, especially the smaller ones, are susceptible to hypothermia. Make sure they are under a heat source (such as a 150/175 W heat lamp), use extra curtains, or creep boards. You can also consider giving them an energy supplement in the first hours of life.
What quantity of colostrum should the piglets consume?
- 150g per piglet appears to be a minimum necessary to meet energy requirements (Rooke et al., 2002)
- 200g per piglet helped reduce mortality from 43.4% to 7.1% (Devillers et al., 2011)
- 250g per piglet should ensure a good health status and satisfactory growth (Devillers et al., 2011)
- When consuming 290g each, piglets were 2kg heavier at six weeks of age (Devillers et al., 2011)
- Cow colostrum does not contain the specific antibodies required to protect piglets against diseases such as necrotisingenterocolitis (NEC), Ecoli diarrhea, or erysipelas. Therefore, use it only as a source of energy