Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

Post weaning gap:  health and economic consequencesMake the post-weaning gap shorter and raise the productivity until slaughter!

The following slides are an excerpt of the seminar we gave during VIV China 2014.

Weaning is a traumatic time for the suckling piglet, as the animal faces sudden social, environmental and nutritional stressors. During the first 3 to 4 days post weaning, it loses weight and may not consume enough feed or water to meet its needs. As a consequence, immediately after weaning, there is a significant slowing down of the weight gain rate, that drops below genetic potential. This is called post-weaning gap or post-weaning check or post-weaning growth drop.

Post weaning gap:  health and economic consequences

It has been demonstrated that post-weaning performance has a strong influence on the number of days necessary to reach market weight. As a consequence, pig producers set up a number of strategies to make the post-weaning gap as short as possible. The average duration is 7 to 10 days, while best farms around the globe manage to shorten it to 1 to 2 days.

Post weaning gap:  health and economic consequences

Shortening the post-weaning gap involves many productive and economic benefits:

  • 10% better daily weight gain during the whole nursery period.
  • Saving up to 7% in feed from weaning to slaughter.
  • Reduction of the days needed to reach market weight, averaging 8 to 14 days less.


Average daily weight gain during the first 14 days post-weaning is the most useful indicator of the performance during the post-weaning gap. Improvements on the nutrition, health and management during post-weaning are translated into better average daily weight gain during these two weeks.

This parameter is also positively correlated with:

  • Weight at the end of the nursery period.
  • Body weight at slaughter
  • Total days needed to reach market weight.

Therefore, once average daily weight gain during the first 14 days improves consistently in our farm, we should see statistically better productive results during the finisher period.

It should be noted that measuring average daily weight gain over short periods of time is less accurate because of variation in the filling of the stomach and the level of hydration of the animals.

Post weaning gap:  health and economic consequences


In the wild, the weaning process takes 16 to 20 weeks. The piglet has time to adapt.

On the farm, changes are fast. The hardest change for the piglet is the feeding system. The animal does not know how to feed itself:

  • 95% of the animals put the head in the feeder during the first day.
  • 80% of the piglets eat a small amount during the first and second day.  It may take some days to reach normal feed intake.
  • 5-10% of piglets will refuse completely to eat during several days.

This behavior is due to the natural wild instinct of the piglet. Starter feed is a novel feed source for the animal; it will eat a very small amount and then starve for some time, instinctively testing the feed for any toxic effect. After the experience of “safe feed”, the hungry piglet will eat a considerable amount, overfeeding, to reach a regular pattern afterwards.

If the piglets eat creep feed before weaning, the percentage of animals that eat starter feed during the first two days increases.

Post weaning gap:  health and economic consequences


In the slide above we discussed that piglets often overfeed after a period of starvation. Stomach of the weaned piglet is not adapted to solid feed, it is small and not able to expand, so when the animal overeats, feed passes without being digested into the duodenum.

Undigested feed in the duodenum is a substrate for pathogenic bacteria, and the growth of pathogenic bacteria may lead to digestive infections.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences


Gut health in weaned piglets depends on several factors:

A. Factors related to digestive anatomy:

1. Secretion of digestive enzymes: Enzymes are necessary for the proper digestion of feed. At weaning, the piglet does not produce enough enzymes to digest completely proteins and fats. Undigested feed in intestine can be a substrate for pathogenic bacteria.

Some compounds such as those contained in cinnamon are able to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes secreted by pancreas and intestinal mucosa, leading to a better feed use and a significant increase in growth.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

2. Secretion of hydrochloric acid: In stomach, hydrochloric acid has two main functions: the activation of pepsin, which is the enzyme responsible for protein digestion, and the maintenance of the stomach pH between 2.5-4. Acid pH in stomach is a powerful barrier against pathogenic microorganisms .

At weaning, the secretion of hydrochloric acid is low and the pH of the stomach is above 5, with two main consequences: the first is oor protein digestion, which means that undigested proteins will be present in the gut; and the second is the disappearance of the acid barrier,  which allows more pathogenic microorganisms to arrive to intestine.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

3. Structure of intestinal epithelium: The structure of intestinal epithelium is divided in villi and crypts. Many biochemical pathways that are responsible of feed digestion and absorption are located on the surface of these villi and crypts. The higher the villi and deeper the crypts, the more surface is in contact with feed and, as a consequence, feed digestion improves. If the animal starves, such as immediately after weaning, the epithelium becomes atrophied, assuming a “flat” structure, leading to poor feed absorption and making the feces and the intestinal content more watery.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

Some phytoactive ingredients have proven to enhance villi development. This is the case of phenylpropanoids, found in cinnamon and oligosaccharides present in chicory.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

B. Factors related to gut flora

In post-weaning piglets, it is easier for pathogenic microorganisms to grow without control in the digestive system because:

  • Gut flora is not stable due to the changes in feed. It will not stabilize until 20 days post-weaning.
  • Presence of undigested proteins in intestine.
  • There is not enough bydrochloric acid secretion in stomach, which means that more pathogenic microorganisms arrive to intestines.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

Some plants rich in oligosaccharides, such as chicory, are able to stimulate the growth of favorable bacteria without promoting the growth of pathogenic species.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

Other plants, such as cinnamon or marjoram, are able to exert a microbiocide effect, keeping the pathogenic microorganisms under control. This phyto-active ingredients have a wide spectrum of action, do not create resistance and do not have secondary effects such as slow down in growth.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences


The immune system of the piglet is immature at birth and depends highly on the supply of specific and non-specific immune factors from the sow, that are acquired through colostrums and milk. Without these immune factors supplied by the sow, the piglet cannot develop nor survive.  Shortly after birth, the supply of immune factors from sow to piglet begins to decline.

When the piglet is 2 weeks old, it is already capable of some active immune responses but its immune system does not reach maturity until 8 weeks of age.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

If the piglets are weaned between 21 and 28 days of age, the levels of immune factors provided by the sow are very low while the piglet’s active immunity is not fully developed. Cinnamon and vitamin E stimulate the active immunity and make the animal more resistant to diseases.

Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences


Post weaning gap: health and economic consequences

1) Pay attention to starter feed:

  • Use a specialized starter feed, also called link feed, for 7 to 10 days post-weaning.
  • Highly digestive ingredients (similar to creep feed). Inclusion of cooked ingredients, enzymes, organic trace elements, protected vitamins. Avoid anti nutritional factors.
  • Rich in amino acids but low in total protein (around 17%).
  • Practice restricted feeding for 12-36 hours post weaning.
  • Reduce or eliminate the presence of antibiotic growth promoters in link feed that can affect beneficial flora. Use phyto-active ingredients.

Effects of adding phyto-active ingredients to starter feed. Summary of several trials:

  • Weight gain during post weaning gap is improved by 13-20%.
  • Mortality is reduced by half.
  • Feed intake increases by 13%.
  • FCR improves by more than 3%.
  • Gut welfare improves and the appearance of is normal.
  • The need of antibiotics to treat diarrhea of bacterial origin is reduced.

2) Keep hygiene in mind

  • Biosafety, all in all out.
  • Pay special attention to the cleaning of the feeders.

3) Water is extremely important

The newly weaned pig has a very low water intake, around 1 litre of water in the first 3 days after weaning. Such low water consumption reduces the ability to digest feed and increases the occurrence of diarrhea. Moreover, if there is not enough water intake, toxins accumulate in the body and growth is reduced.

Therefore, it is necessary to stimulate water intake in the period immediately after weaning. Increasing the water flow in the drinker is a very effective way to achieve this target: increasing the water flow from 175 ml/min to 450 ml/min, the daily water consumption doubles and  feed intake and daily weight gain also improve.

Phyto-active ingredients to improve digestive health and boost growth can be added to drinking water, especially when the farmer has no control of feed composition because buys the feed from outside.

Summary of several trials with phyto-active added through drinking water:

  • Reduction of the ocurrence of diarrhea by 17%. Avoid dehydration.
  • Decrease of mortality by 3.5%.
  • Total replacement of antibiotic growth promoters.
  • Improvement of weight gain by 7-40% (depending on the length of treatment),  feed intake by 7.5% and FCR by 6.1%.

4) Keep a comfortable environment

  •  Allow extra space in feeders or put an extra feeder during the first 10 days.
  • Be sure the pens stay clean, confortable for the piglets and warm (27 to 29 ºC, depending on the weight of the pig). Avoid chilling and air spills.


We can summarize the content of the seminar in three main ideas:

  1. Post-weaning is a difficult period for the piglet but has a direct impact on the final productivity of the pigs.
  2. We need to provide excellent feed, good hygiene, abundant water and a comfortable environment.
  3. Phyto-active ingredients make the post weaning gap shorter, by improving gut health and enhancing immunity. Moreover, they can totally replace antibiotic growth promoters.


PigletPlus©, a premix powder special for swine, is a combination of phyto-active ingredients, organic acids and mycotoxin binders. Its carefully studied composition makes it the ideal product to provide beneficial plant ingredients through feed and to avoid problems caused by mycotoxicosis.

SupraPlus© is a liquid mix that contains phyto-active ingredients (marjoram, cinnamon, chicory), electrolytes, rapidly absorbed sugars and vitamin E, especially designed for weaned piglets.

For more information on this topic and on our products, do not hesitate to contact us through

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Pictures found in the following links: diagram of the digestive systemstomach, villi, gun, bacteria. Pictures of the piglets ©Shutterstock.

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