Giving Pigs the Right Start

Swine producers know it is critical to get newly-placed pigs started on the right foot. Starting pigs is a significant piece of the puzzle that ensures your animals will transition well from weaning into the finishing stages. These are a few things that you can do each time you start pigs to ensure a smooth and easy transition from the sow to your nursery barn. Washing the barn before the arrival of new pigs is a huge factor in the health of your newly placed pigs. Ensure that the barn is properly washed and disinfected to eliminate disease or biosecurity issues. Allow proper downtime after washing to give the disinfectant time to do the proper job. Ensure the office, boots and any other clothing items that may be worn in the barn are cleaned and sanitized.


The pigs placed in your barn will feel the stress of weaning. One way to help get them comfortable is to control the environment in which they are placed. Temperature and ventilation play significant roles in pigs’ comfort and stress levels. It is vital to make sure set points are where they should be and use adjustments as needed. The time of year and other weather factors will play roles in the adjustments that may be necessary. Upon arrival, a good setpoint range of temperature is between 85-89 degrees. On the ventilation side, 2CFM/pig is recommended. However, it is crucial to watch the pigs. If they are crowded or too spread out, changes must be made. Keep in mind the humidity level; a reasonable level is below 65%. As the pigs age and grow, temperature requirements decrease, and ventilation requirements increase.


Often, growers don’t give sorting pigs the attention it deserves. After the pigs are in place and the rejects are separated, it is vital to group smaller pigs into their own areas. This will allow these pigs to thrive and grow without being pushed around and falling behind. As the grower, it also gives you the ability to keep a watchful eye on these smaller pigs, allowing for any treatments and changes that may be needed. Efforts, such as gruel feeding in smaller creep feeders within the pen, can be taken to encourage these pigs to start on feed and grow properly. When gruel feeding, it is crucial to keep it fresh and clean out pans daily to boost intake.

Feed and Water

Feed is an essential factor when starting pigs. More than likely, these pigs are coming straight off the sow and have not been introduced to feed. Getting the first feeding phases right for the coming pigs is crucial. Pigs have differing genetics, sizes, and health statuses. Make sure the pig’s feed meets nutritional requirements and encourages pigs to simply eat. Starting with a few stages of pellets allows for even consumption and encouragement of eating. Also, using milk products or other proteins in the feed helps start pigs eating right and adjusting from the milk they lived on up to weaning. Techniques like mat feeding help get pigs fed and find feeders faster, thus driving feed consumption and reducing fall-back pigs. As a grower, check feed troughs and make sure they are clean and free of any manure or anything else that may cause a pig not to want to eat. Diets and feed should be tailored to the pigs that are coming. Genetics and strains of pigs may all need different diets to get them eating and adjusting to weaning.

Although often overlooked, water is a vital piece to the puzzle of starting pigs. Pigs must maintain hydration, and adequately having waters positioned in the pen can help with hydration. Cup waters allow the pigs ease of drinking and accessibility to water right upon arrival. Proper water flow should be 1 cup per minute in the nursery, if not 1.5 cups per minute. Having enough waterers in a pen and placed evenly allows enough room for the pigs and encourages them to drink. Pigs should not be forced to pile on one another to get a drink. Consider adding a few more cup waterers in your pens if this is happening. Keep in mind that the better the water consumption, the better the feed consumption, which will get those pigs off to a great start.

When starting pigs in their new barn, we should realize that details matter. Walk the pens and watch the pigs, paying attention to the feeders, waters, and environment. Adjust as needed. Time spent in the barn observing the pigs can help prevent a train wreck before it happens. Don’t be afraid to get a second set of eyes on the pigs and barn. The easier start the pigs have, the better it will be down the road. As growers, you cannot control everything, but putting in the time and controlling the factors you can pay  huge dividends down the road!