10 most important facts about colostrum for piglets

Colostrum is the first milk produced by the sow 24 hours after parturition. Suckling of colostrum by piglets is essential for good growth, good immune system development and a healthy intestine. Therefore, proper colostrum management in the farrowing room is important. This article describes the 10 most important facts about colostrum to help you support your newborn piglets in the best possible way!

Piglets drinking at the sow

10 important colostrum facts for piglets

Did you know that….

1. The amount of colostrum a sow produces ranges between 1.91 and 5.31 kg1.

2. The amount of colostrum that a sow produces is independent of litter size2,3.
That means that when a sow gets more piglets per litter, the colostrum production is not increasing with the amount of piglets born. Therefore the average colostrum intake per piglet is decreasing when litter size increases. There is way more competition at the udder to drink colostrum by the sow!

3. Older sows produce less colostrum compared to younger sows.
Parity 2 and 3 sows tended to produce more colostrum than gilts and older multiparous sows2.

4. A piglet should drink at least 160 – 170 g/kg BW2 colostrum for survival.
The more colostrum a piglets drinks, the higher the survival rate. Colostrum is an important energy source for piglets. After birth, piglets need to maintain their own body temperature and therefore they need a lot of energy. Mortality in the first days after birth is often related to insufficient colostrum uptake.

Research data Quesnel

Source: Quesnel et al. (2012)

5. The colostrum composition differs from the milk composition4.
The first milk that a sow produces until 24 hours after parturition is called colostrum, and thereafter a sow produces milk. Colostrum has a higher crude protein level and a lower fat level compared to milk.

Research data_colostrum_sow milk.

6. A sow starts to produce colostrum before farrowing.
Therefore the right feed and feed scheme is important to manage the udder pressure around farrowing. Besides that, it is important that the sow has a sufficient energy level for a smooth farrowing process, as that may help the piglets to all drink enough colostrum of the right quality.

7. Piglets are born without immune protection.
During gestation, piglets do not receive antibodies from the sow via the umbilical cord and are thus born without immune protection against pathogens. Piglets receive antibodies (or immunoglobulins (Ig), for instance, IgG) via the colostrum of the sow. Piglets that drink less colostrum are thus more vulnerable to diseases. Therefore sufficient uptake of colostrum is important to obtain immune protection.

8. The IgG concentration in colostrum decreases gradually after the start of parturition5,6.
After 6 hours, there is only 50-65% of the initial concentration left. And after 24 hours, only 10-15% of the initial IgG concentration is left. Therefore it is important that a piglet drinks colostrum as soon as possible after birth.

9. The gut wall of piglets closes 24 to 48 hours after parturition.
After 24 hours, the immunoglobulin uptake in the gut is limited, which makes a quick intake of colostrum important. It is therefore also important that piglets drink colostrum and no piglet milk replacer the first 24 hours after birth. A piglet milk replacer does not contain antibodies that are important for immune protection. Therefore Nutrifeed advice providing a piglet milk replacer only from 24 hours after birth onwards.

10. Split suckling might help to ensure that all piglets consume a sufficient amount of colostrum.
Separate the first-born bigger piglets with a filled tummy from the litter for 2-3 hours to help the later-born smaller piglets with drinking colostrum.

1 Devillers et al (2004), 2 Devillers et al. (2007), 3 Krogh (2017)
4 Denkavit research, 5 Klobasa et al. (1987), 6 Le Dividich et al. (2006).

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