Soft Weaning Piglets

52 Weaners in a Cohort

This is a cohort, a mixed group of piglets from several sows all weaned at about the same time. They just moved to the house garden which is a wintering space while our fields are snowed over. This is the first group that we have done an experimental new soft weaning technique.

Typically when we wean we move the sows out of the farrowing paddock. Then the piglets either stay in that area or we collect the piglets and move them to a new area. This is a hard weaning. They go off of mothers milk abruptly. In the warm months they’ve been eating soft pasture plants for quite a while but in the winter the hay is not quite a substitute for them although the bigger pigs thrive on it.

These weaned piglets already been eating hay, winter’s pasture, and dairy for a while, along side their mothers but I have wondered if we might do the weaning a little more softly. The reason for wanting to change things is that some piglets go down hill a bit right after hard weaning.

To do a soft weaning a single sow gets left with the piglets and they all get to continue nursing on her for an extra week. Because she can’t produce enough for the entire group none of them are getting their full feed ration from her at this point. This softly shifts them to depending on the pasture, hay and dairy for their food. It also gives them a chance to wean off the mother’s antibodies and build their own resistance.

This is more like the natural summer process of weaning which produces better piglets than winter. In the summer the piglets shift more gradually to pasture which is easier to digest than the winter hay. The process might get spread out over four weeks. We’re doing it a little faster than that at the final soft weaning phase in observance of the wet nurse sow’s health. We don’t want her to get drained down from caring for so many piglets. This idea came to me from Angela and Jolie as well as their daughter Happy who have a long history of adopting and wet nursing other sow’s piglets.[1, 2, 3, 4]

Even with this soft weaning I do find that we must watch carefully for the rare piglet who does well on mother’s milk but does not do well on other foods. There were two in the above group. They’re thin, still lost weight even with the soft weaning and are in an outdoor ICU in the garden where we can watch them and keep them from being laid on by their buddies who would just as soon use them for pillows. Pigs are like that.

The group in the photo above is the first soft weaning we’ve done. It seems to have worked fairly well. A second group is starting soft weaning today in the south field so in a month we’ll have two significant data sets on how this works. Just from having watched the first group I suspect that this is what we’ll move to in the future.

If you click on the photo at the top you can see a much larger version which you can save to your desktop as a background or wallpaper file. A piglet fix for those in need…

Outdoors: 72°F/43°F Sunny
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Daily Spark: A watched plot ever thickens.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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10 Responses to Soft Weaning Piglets

  1. Testing Sweet Captcha…

    Let me know how it works for you.

  2. Judy says:

    testing back at ya! interesting captcha!

  3. Kylie says:

    Hey Walter, trying to get across all facets of pig raising and found this post really interesting. You mention you set up an outdoor ICU – what was involved in this and what did it look like? Did you have to hard wean the piglet (ie – did you take from the general pasturing area into an area closer to the house). Also, how do you typically decide which sow to leave in with the piglets? I am thinking a Yorkshire, since you have mentioned they are good mothers, but other than that, do you look for particular physical characteristics or behavioural traits? All very interesting – thanks again for creating such an invaluable resource.

    • ICU = Intensive Care Unit which is a place to put an animal that needs separation from others so that it can get the special attention it needs to survive. The ICU for small animals is a 65 gallon plastic drum with feeder, water, hay and a blanket on top when needed. Animals that go into the ICU get noted as feeders rather than breeders and put on the track to slaughter. When they improve they are moved to hospice which may include other animals and is close to use so we see them many times a day. Note that we use the first and most ancient definition of hospice: “a house of shelter or rest for pilgrims, strangers, etc., especially one kept by a religious order.” as opposed to the terminally ill care facility which is a more modern definition related to palliative care. The reason for the ICU is to give intensive care and to protect the animal from other animals – pigs and chickens will kill another who is ‘different’ either intentionally or simply by crushing them if they’re weak. The reason for the hospice is to keep them closer to us as opposed to far out in distant fields so we can continue to give them supportive care yet they are able to return to a semblance of normal life. Perhaps half-way house would be a better term but that’s too long to say in daily chores.

  4. Kylie says:

    That is brilliant, Walter. For the little ones, what do you use to substitute the milk that they would be getting from their mother/wet nurse? Also, do you encounter any issues with re-introducing the feeder once recovered (any tips on how to do that?). On that point, how do you introduce new pigs to the herd from outside (ie not from a litter that took place on the farm)? Thanks again!

  5. Ashley says:

    I love reading your posts. You have such small innovative touches that show you really consider what impact you have on your herd.

  6. Sarah Poyser says:

    Hi Walter,
    At what age do you wean your piglets.
    I went to 7.5 weeks with mine and it was too long for my large white with her 8 piglets.

    • We typical wean around six weeks. However, that can vary with the season, planned future breeding and farrowing timing as well as the condition of the sow. If she’s getting peakid then she needs to be weaned, or her nutrition needs to be boosted, calories in particular. A sow who gets peakid loses points. A sow who maintains condition through nursing gains points, especially through winter nursing. At 7.5 weeks I would say your piglets are ready to wean. Much longer than that takes a super sow or heavy feeding.

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