Susan Kerr, DVM
October 26, 2016

Q.

I’m interested in trying creep feeding in my swine litters next spring to improve their growth rates. Do you have any advice on implementing it?

A.

Effective creep feeding can help farmers get pigs to market sooner and/or heavier. The practice involves creating an area young animals can “creep” into for self-feeding with a nutrient-dense supplement. Adult animals are excluded from the area with hog panels, cattle panels or anything else little pigs can get through but bigger pigs can’t; something metal is best so you can dis­infect it between litters.

Creep feeding prepares piglets’ intestinal tracts for the change to solid food at weaning time, and they start developing enzymes needed to digest nonmilk foods. Without exposure to creep feed before weaning, the dietary change at weaning is quite drastic and can cause reduced feed intake, diarrhea, weight loss and stress, predisposing piglets to illness. With access to creep feed starting around 4 to 7 days of life, piglets get used to eating solid food and they establish essential intestinal microbial populations well before weaning. This results in increased daily gain and greater post-weaning feed intake and feed-to-gain ratios.

Why Farmers Creep Feed

Creep feeding helps minimize weight variation among littermates. Sows with large litters may have trouble supporting all piglets, and smaller piglets on less-productive mammary glands may not grow well. Access to high-quality creep feed can address nutritional deficits and keep the whole litter growing competitively.

Creep feeding can also benefit sows: The extra nutrition provided to her piglets takes some of the nutritional load off the sow, so she won’t lose as much body condition and be in better shape to rebreed on schedule. Keep in mind, though, that creep feeding doesn’t guarantee that all litter mates will achieve similar weaning weights just because they have free-choice access to a good ration; it just greatly improves the chances.

Choosing The Right Creep Feed

Unless you are very experienced with creating and mixing homemade rations, it’s safest to purchase a commercial creep feed. Quality can vary greatly. The best have high concentrations of milk products, particularly lactose, aka milk sugar. Pellets result in less waste than meals. Commercial products have age-appropriate protein, energy, vitamins and minerals required by piglets, including the right amount of essential amino acids such as lysine. If you develop your own ration, it may cost you as much as a commercial ration to add these ingredients piecemeal.

Regardless of which creep feed you use, it’s critical to store it properly—below 82 degrees F and below 70 percent humidity—to keep it dry, clean and fresh. This helps prevent mold, exclude rodents and their potential for fecal contamination, and encourage intake.

Advice For Doing It Right

Piglets won’t need much creep feed preweaning; each should consume a total of about 1 pound from start to weaning at 28 days or so. If you wean early (before 21 days of age), creep feeding won’t have much benefit. More benefit is seen the later piglets are weaned.

Initially, you may have to set some piglets inside the creep area so they get familiar with going in and out of the area: Ensuring easy and plentiful access to feed is paramount to this technique’s success.

To introduce creep to piglets, start with a flat, disinfectable surface, such as an old cookie tray. Locate it away from corners, waterers, heat lamps and the defecation area to keep feed fresh and reduce soiling. Put a small amount of the feed there two or three times each day, when the sow is standing up and eating and the piglets can’t nurse. Before putting fresh feed down, remove residual feed and clean the feeding surface.

Feed only as much as the piglets will eat. Don’t offer more than the pigs eat, but do increase feed over time as the intake of the piglets increase. Most of the piglets won’t eat much of the creep at first, but a few will start and others will be curious and mimic their littermates. Fresh feed, plentiful clean water and sanitation are very important at this stage.

Monitor each piglet’s growth and watch for poor growers because they may need individualized encouragement to increase creep feed intake. Avoid dusty feeds, and try feeding creep mashes or a gruel, which is more digestible to piglets, if they don’t take to the creep readily.

Feed intake is a critical concern immediately after weaning, so offer creep feed as the sole ration for a few days post-weaning to maintain intake and reduce stress and gastric disorders. Gradually transition to the first post-weaning ration.

Keep good records about added feed and labor costs versus pig growth rates and prices received to determine if creep feeding pays off for you.

For farmers who are interested in raising pigs, two good online resources are the Pork Industry Handbook and the Pork Gateway resource page. Best wishes getting your little piggies to market!


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