North American Swine Industry Opts for Older Weaning Ages

Farmscape Article 2011 December 31, 2005


Veterinarians from Alberta and Manitoba report the big trend we're seeing today is the dramatic shift back to older weaning ages. Dr. Malachy Young, the Manager of Nutrition and Research with Gowans Feed Consulting in Wainright, Alberta, and Dr. Mike Sheridan, a Partner with Sheridan Heuser Provis Swine Health Services in Steinbach, Manitoba were both on hand to address Manitoba Hog Days 2005 in Brandon earlier this month.


Weaning Ages Swing Since 1977

“Weaning ages have taken interesting swing over the last few years,” states Dr. Mike Sheridan. “Certainly when I first graduated [in 1977] sows would wean at 28 to 35 days. Piglets were very large usually not suckling very much and would do reasonably well.”


He explains, the problem is that with modern genetics, the robustness of the pigs and their ability to grow,  [they would] draw down the sow’s reserves through milk demand which is hard on the sow. That resulted in a significant switch from weaning at 28 days down to 21 days. “Then about 10 to 15 years ago there was a real move to early weaning, trying to break some really severe disease cycles. This was generated primarily out of the United States,” he says.


Weaning Ages Drop as Low as 16 Days

Dr. Malachy Young estimates, “Over the last 15 to 20 years we’ve gone from weaning at probably 26 to 28 days of age down to 16 to 18 days. The big driver of this has been, in North America, to move get the pig away from the sow. A lot of the herd health people, veterinarians, have moved to wean the pig at a younger age because he still has immunity to a lot of diseases and get him away from the sow.”


He continues, “In doing so they haven’t considered a 16 day old pig verses a 20 day old pig, the difference in the actual maturity of those pigs.”


Dr. Sheridan observes, "I think what we have now is the fight back to a more reasonable wean age that is best for the sow from a reproduction perspective, her body reserve perspective and also looking at it from the pig's perspective.”


He says, “[When] he or she is a little older, has had a little better opportunity to get infected while protected by its mother such that when it gets mixed in the nursery, it’s already well on it’s way to much more robust immune status.” He adds, “They’re much better prepared at older age for handling the feed stuffs that we are giving to them without some of the secondary reactions that you get to introduction to a grain based ration.”


Later Weaning Eases Management-Lowers Costs

Dr. Young agrees, “There is a move to older weaning ages definitely. We’re seeing it across North America. Canada probably did not go as low as they did in the States, but we’re seeing a move back to older weaning ages.”


He explains, “Moving to an older weaning age, the physiological maturity is quite different. He’ll grow better in the nursery and grow finish. The complexity of the diets he needs to be fed in the nursery is lower, so lower cost diets can be fed in the nursery. The quality of management required in the nursery is lower compared to if we wean them at a much younger age, at 14 to 16 days. You need a much higher quality management there and higher temperatures to maintain those pigs and get them to grow better.”

He continues, “On the sow side it’s pretty clear as you go from 14, up to about 23-24 days, our subsequent live born increases by about 0.1 pigs for each day you increase weaning age. Also we get improvements in farrowing out and also decreases in wean to estrus interval.”


Weaning Ages Still Vary

Dr. Sheridan observes, “We’re seeing a sort of a bipolar mode. The larger facilities are moving away from the 16 to 18 day range to try and get closer to a 19 to 21 day range. Many of the more independent farms, some of the Hutterite colonies, people that have slightly smaller units and will see the pigs right from birth to their send off to the market place are wanting even more robustness in these piglets.”


He explains, “[They’re] trying to get better utilization of their facilities through more robust faster growing pigs and so they’re starting to move back up over the 21 days, to the 24, 25, 26 day range which is kind of a win-win. It’s a win for the piglets and it’s a win for the sow reproductively. I suspect the pendulum has kind of swung back and may not move from there again.”


Dr. Young acknowledges, “[The] ideal weaning age will be farm and potentially genotype specific.”

However, he stresses, moving to the older weaning age definitely is beneficial from the growth rate from wean to finish and also reproductive performance from the sow.


Staff Farmscape.Ca