Supplemental Nutrition For Piglets

Piglets that are born smaller and later than their littermates are at a disadvantage. They can’t compete well for milk and are most vulnerable to chilling. Offering a supplemental source of nutrients those first few hours of life can improve the piglet survival rate. 

John Patience is a professor of applied swine nutrition at Iowa State University. He says it’s critical that they nurse as soon as possible to absorb colostrum from the sow, which helps protect them from environmental pathogens. Once they’ve had some colostrum, there are a number of ways to get nutrition into the piglets.

"There is the idea of cross-fostering maybe to a sow that has not had as big a litter so she has extra capacity for piglets. It can also be a nurse sow that has weaned off her litter," says Patience. "And then the third option is an artificial milk replacer of some kind that we can provide to the pig in a number of ways."

The best way to ensure piglets get the milk replacer into their stomach is to use a syringe and put the liquid on the back of the piglet’s tongue, which stimulates it to swallow. The more common method is to put the milk replacer in a dish in the farrowing crate.

Depending on your resources, Patience says balancing cost and labor to feed the small ones can be a difficult decision.

"The little piglet, just after birth, is used to nursing every few hours. And that means if you’re going to feed that pig artificially, then you need to provide it with this product every few hours," he says. "So, in many cases, the cost and the labor becomes prohibitive."

Learn more about supplemental piglet nutrition.