The modern Flemish pig breeding farms face important technical and economic challenges: perinatal piglet mortality is high, rearing the increasing numbers of large litters (>20 piglets/litter) is a major challenge, and the abrupt weaning of pigs causes a decline in performance and an increase in the susceptibility to infections. Consistent with these problems, there is an extremely high prophylactic antibiotic use. Together with the pork industry, we want to give impetus to address these challenges. This project aims to introduce and optimize innovative concepts in piglet rearing in order to raise more resilient piglets in a profitable way. 'Resilience' is defined as the ability of the animal to restore its homeostasis if it is disturbed under normal physiological conditions. The innovative concepts we will optimize and introduce in the pig breeding farms are: 1 / interventions at the neonatal big: split-suckling, drenching of bioactive substances, and 2 / interventions to prepare for the process of weaning: multi-suckling with foraging. Split-suckling involves splitting up the litter into smaller groups which alternately get the chance to suckle colostrum and milk. Up to now there is much discussion on which criteria are best used for making the groups and what the optimal timing of the suckling periods is. Bioactive substances (antioxidants, bovine colostrum or whey protein concentrates, and oligosaccharides) can be administered via booster preparations, or enclosed in artificial milk and creep feed. Which bioactive substances will result in more resilient pigs in a profitable way is the main focus of this UAntwerpen PhD. The concept of multi-suckling involves opening the farrowing crates at a certain age of the piglets. This allows the piglets to interact and to suckle also other sows in order to maximize feed intake.
The different rearing strategies that will be optimized in this project are relatively easy to implement in existing breeding systems in Flanders and do not require large investments. Nevertheless, we want to optimize the knowledge on the effects on performance, resilience of these concepts and make an inventory of the labor costs these concepts request. Knowing the effects (short and long term) on performance and resilience will facilitate introducing the concepts into the pig farms and reduce the prophylactic use of antimicrobials.