Skilful feeding of suckling piglets

In order to achieve homogeneous weaning groups even in larger litters, it has been proven useful to feed the piglets already in the farrowing pen.

In practice, there are various approaches to raising live-born piglets safely and achieving high weaning weights even in larger litters. In particular, the aim is to increase the survival chances of smaller and less vital piglets. Optimised management in the farrowing house therefore includes all measures that support the sow in her rearing performance.

In addition to the timely colostrum intake of the newborn piglets, litter balancing or the use of nurse sows, the supplementary feeding of milk replacers plays an important role here. It relieves the sows and contributes to the best possible nutrient supply of the piglets.

Automatic or manual

Feeding is often done manually, although more and more technical systems are being offered on the market. In automatic feeding systems, the milk is pumped through pipes directly into the farrowing pen. These systems can differ significantly from each other. The farmer should carefully weigh up the advantages and disadvantages before installation.

The milk replacer must also meet the requirements of the respective system. Often the fat content in these milk replacers is reduced to prevent churning due to the intensive technical stress (Our recommendation: BEWI-MILK Piglet Cup). For all systems, a strict cleaning interval must be followed in order to keep the hygiene status in the lines high. Otherwise, diarrhoea can quickly occur in the piglets.

With large litters, the sow’s milk yield is increasingly reaching its limits. Supplementing with additional feed – from liquid to mushy to solid – can help here. This should cover the piglets’ need for highly digestible energy, amino acids, vitamins and trace elements in the best possible way and prevent an energy deficit in the piglets’ first days of life. For this purpose, the milk replacer should be adapted to the needs of the suckling piglet (Our recommendation: BEWI-MILK Piglet Premium). The enzyme activity in the digestive tract of growing piglets changes rapidly during the first weeks of life and is primarily geared to the digestion of milk at the beginning of its development. Only in the further course of development and especially towards the end of the suckling phase does the enzyme activity, which is required for the digestibility of plant nutrients, increase significantly.

After the start of supplementary feeding, it takes three to four days until the piglets eat appreciable amounts. Therefore: Start as early as possible, but offer small amounts several times.

Various products are available on the market for supplementary feeding of piglets. They range from high-quality colostrum supplements with immunoglobulins or electrolyte drinks (directly the day after birth) to numerous milk replacers from various manufacturers and prestarters. The areas of application are as varied as the products themselves. The earliest period of use is for special products enriched with colostrum powder and immunoglobulins, which can already support the piglets on the day of birth (Our recommendation: BEWI-SAN Piglet Start). The maintenance of the animals’ health already begins at this time, which requires an immediate and adequate supply of colostrum. Studies show that piglet mortality increases significantly if the colostrum supply is inadequate.

Influence of colostrum intake on piglet mortality

Despite the best knowledge and with regard to management measures, the colostrum quantity can be insufficient in larger litters. Sophisticated supplementary feeding concepts can help to improve the specific and non-specific immune response of the organism and thus support the health and performance of the suckling piglets from the first day of life.

The healthy gut

“The healthy intestine is the root of all health”. What was already recognised thousands of years ago by Hippocrates (Greek physician, 300 BC) is confirmed today in modern animal nutrition. Therefore, it is important to influence intestinal development in a positive way as early as possible. A healthy intestine is decisive for the development of a healthy and high-performance piglet and provides the basis for success in further rearing and fattening.

In order to promote a healthy gut microbiota, numerous products are now available on the market. These range from simple electrolyte drinks to more complex supplementary feeds. The latter try to positively influence the development and colonisation of the gut through a special formulation and partly by using pre- and probiotics (Our recommendation: BEWI-SAN Digest). The intestine does not only play the central role in the digestion of nutrients. It is also the headquarters of the immune system and even small imbalances can upset the symbiosis and its important function. An intact intestinal wall is essential for a functioning intestine. It forms the barriers that prevent pathogenic intruders from entering the blood and having a negative impact on animal health and performance.

An intact intestinal flora – the totality of all microorganisms – is therefore particularly important for maintaining an intact intestinal mucosa. The aim is to build up the immunity of the piglets as early as possible or to strengthen it sustainably. A strong immune system, a stable intestinal flora and a high intestinal health form the basis for an optimal development of the animals.

The supplementary feeding of piglets with liquid milk replacers, colloquially also called “piglet milk”, is widespread. It is important to note that these milk replacers should only ever be considered as a supplement. Its composition should be similar to that of sow milk and consist mainly of whey-based and highly digestible components.

Choosing the right piglet milk

With the use of special milk replacers, piglets can be supported in the best possible way in the early suckling piglet phase and the transition from liquid to solid and animal to plant based feed can be facilitated. Accordingly, their composition is adapted from whey-based to increased proportions of vegetable protein sources.

For example, hydrolysed wheat protein, soy protein concentrate or also pregelatinised wheat starch are used. The piglet’s digestion is trained specifically for starch and plant protein, thus stimulating enzyme production. In addition, the cereal-based milk replacers, also called liquid prestarters, can save feed costs (Our recommendation: BEWI-MILK Piglet Grow). The supplementary feeding of piglets has a positive effect on performance both before and after weaning. Trials show that with the help of the additional milk replacer, higher feed intakes and thus also higher daily gain and weaning weight can be achieved.

The use of milk replacers also reduces piglet losses and increases the number of weaned and saleable piglets. This brings advantages for both the piglets and the sow. Less stress, reduced germ pressure and more homogeneous piglets are the result. This also has a positive effect on the development of the pigs after weaning until they are slaughtered.

Depending on management, genetics and litter size, the benefit of supplementary feeding from birth to weaning varies. It has been shown that piglets that receive supplementary feed while still in the farrowing pen eat significantly earlier and achieve higher daily gains even after weaning. The absence of a “weaning gap” has a positive effect on the development of the animals.

Average daily gain of piglets after weaning (until day 28) as a function of supplementary feed intake; source: Sulabo et al. 2010

The short-term overeating of the piglets is also prevented and the risk of weaning diarrhoea is significantly reduced. By getting the piglets used to solid vegetable nutrients and enzyme training, they are prepared in the best possible way for the critical phase of weaning.

In conclusion, feeding the piglets in the farrowing pen, vital and largely homogeneous groups of weaned piglets can be guaranteed, even with large litters. Especially the lighter piglets benefit from supplementing the sow’s milk. Their chances of survival are significantly increased and, in addition to the economic success, a valuable contribution is also made to animal welfare.


  • Supplementary feeding of the suckling piglets increases the chances of survival, especially of the smaller animals.
  • After colostrum intake, supplementary feeding should be started as early as possible.
  • Getting the piglets used to solid feed prepares them for the critical phase of weaning.