It’s actually very simple. In the first few weeks of a piglet’s life, mother’s milk is best for all. It’s one of nature’s beautiful creations. Mother’s milk ensures that the piglets grow up strong and full of vitality, but it’s also best for the sow to suckle her piglets herself. And it benefits the farmers to have the piglets suckle from their mother for long enough. After all, mother’s milk is the cheapest feed there is. But it’s best for ‘us’ too, because mother’s milk makes healthy pigs and they in turn make healthy meat.
All the farmers in the Keten Duurzaam Varkensvlees (Sustainable Pork Value Chain) have committed to the agreement that states piglets must stay with their mother, drinking her milk, for four weeks after they’re born. Only then are they taken away from their mother and weaned. It can be beneficial for a farmer, due to production considerations or lack of space, to wean them at three weeks. This raises their litter index. But if you look at the animals you’ll find it’s better for both mother and piglet to stay together longer. A four-week period fits better with their natural needs, and that’s why the KDV makes it compulsory for the piglets to suckle for four weeks.
Recovering from farrowing
Just like women, sows also need time to recover from giving birth. Fortunately for the farmers, the ‘nine months on, nine months off’ rule doesn’t apply to pigs, but sows do need time to recuperate after farrowing: the uterus has to get back into shape and milk production needs time to adjust and find the right balance. For the piglets it’s important that they stay with their mother for four weeks, because that prepares them for eating solids. It makes the transition to solids easier, also because their intestines are more developed and therefore better able to do without mother’s milk.
Animals that stay with their mother for longer are more robust, adapt to independence more quickly and have fewer problems. Since my goal is to have a chain with super healthy pigs, this good start in life is essential.
Is four weeks long enough though, you might be wondering. Yes, because you have to be realistic about what’s feasible. If the piglets stay with their mother too long they get too big, plus the sow can’t cope with it either. She won’t want to carry on suckling and will try to hide. So at a given moment in time, the piglets have to stand on their own four trotters. And the sow can get ready for the next litter.