Breeding sows to keep farrowing and weaning groups tight goes a long way in helping growing pigs flourish, and sets the stage for tight, even closeouts in finishing, says Paul Ruen, DVM, Fairmont (MN) Veterinary Clinic.

The goal is to reduce the number of small and lightweight weaned pigs that can end up plaguing wean-to-finish performance, adds Jeff Kurt, DVM, clinic associate.

The veterinarians offered these tips to top production:

  • Hit your breeding targets in order to farrow the number of pigs needed to keep pig flow consistent.
  • Limit crossfostering. To get a quality pig weaned, keep litters intact as much as possible. Studies on porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) have shown crossfostering does a good job of moving the virus around. The practice also disrupts litters and impacts pig flow.
  • Don’t save pigs back. If you save pigs back that didn’t make minimum weaning weight, you potentially save disease back, Ruen says.
  • Maximize weaning age. Older weaned pigs weigh more, have less variation within the litter, and produce fewer weaned pigs weighing less than 10 lb., Kurt says.
  • Properly prepare barns for newly weaned pigs. Make sure to wash barns, loading chutes and trucks between groups. Consider using a dedicated chute to offload the newly weaned pigs to eliminate possible spread of pathogens from the previous group of finishers just marketed. “Everybody washes the barn, but lots of times people forget the entry,” Kurt says. Clean all equipment, boots and coveralls.
  • Clean all leftover finishing feed out of feed bins to prepare them to be filled with starter feed.
  • Reset ventilation controls and warm up the barn to 70° F the night before filling. “Even if you are using zone heating, you still need a reasonable temperature for those pigs to come into,” Ruen says. Follow recommendations for cfms (Figure 1).


  • Target feed consumption at 0.3 to 0.5 lb./pig/day the first week after weaning. Failing to consume at least 0.25 lb./day may result in more fallouts or sick pigs, Kurt says. Use mats and comfort boards to boost feed consumption early. “These systems may waste a little feed, but they encourage young pigs to eat and help them get used to dry feed,” Ruen says.
  • Provide easy access to water so little pigs stay hydrated, Kurt says. Sixty-five to 70% of a pig’s total body weight is water. Table 1 lists water intake recommendations. Having feeders adjacent to waterers encourages consumption of both.
  • Take water samples from different grower barns, periodically, to check for high levels of manganese, iron or sulfur, which can lead to bacterial growth, diarrhea, weight loss and disease.
  • Add zinc oxide and copper to starter diets to help maintain intestinal health.
  • Identify starter diets that aid young weaned pigs to establish a firm stool consistency. Loose stools 4-5 days postweaning usually are a sign that pigs are not getting most of the nutrients out of the feed.
  • Consider infrared, zone heaters vs. heat lamps, as they provide broader heat coverage and better environment.
  • Vaccinate sows/piglets prior to weaning to lessen common bacterial problems postweaning, such as E. coli.
  • Identify common pathogens that may affect weanling pigs, such as E. coli, rotavirus and salmonella. Work with your veterinarian, Kurt encourages.
  • Watch for common respiratory pathogens, such as PRRS, swine flu and Haemophilus parasuis, but also for lesser known pathogens such as Mycoplasma hyorhinis that may prevent weaned pigs from getting off to a good start.
  • If pigs are not eating properly or are becoming lethargic, ask your swine veterinarian for a diagnostic workup to pinpoint the cause of health issues.