Maximizing high value pigs at weaning with the use of an inexpensive supplemental milk feeder - Ontario Pork - Completed Research
Monday, August 10, 2020

Completed Research

Ontario Pork has a call for research proposals once a year. These projects were approved for funding by the board on recommendation of the research committee. If you have questions or need further information about the research posted here please contact Cristiane Mesquita at

Completed Research

Maximizing high value pigs at weaning with the use of an inexpensive supplemental milk feeder

Maximizing high value pigs at weaning with the use of an inexpensive supplemental milk feeder

Project 14-005 - Lead Researcher: Tim Blackwell and Cristiane Mesquita, OMAFRA

Researcher: Tim Blackwell and Cristiane Mesquita, OMAFRA
Students: Kaushalya Kuruppu, veterinary student, University of Guelph

Funded in 2014 and completed in 2015  FINAL REPORT

The ongoing genetic improvements in pig production have resulted in increasing litter size without an increase in the number of available mammary glands on sows. This has made it challenging for pork producers to wean extra piglets, particularly on some Ontario sow farms where fewer sows farrowing each week limits the opportunities for cross-fostering pigs from large litters.  Supplementing milk in litters where sows are unable to adequately feed all their piglets is a practice that will save many of these extra piglets. There are several milk replacer delivery systems on the market.  Some of these systems are expensive to install and are labour-intensive. This project was undertaken to develop a cost-effective milk replacer feeding system to minimize labour and investment for producers interested in feeding milk replacer. 

Eight Ontario farms were provided with acidified milk replacer and milk feeders. Six versions of milk feeders were created and tested over the course of the study. Improvements were made according to producers’ feedbacks. The most successful designs involved a feeding trough and reservoir tube.  The two milk feeder versions most popular with producers were similar, except for the reservoir capacity which was either 1.5 liters or 6 liters. All materials necessary for constructing the milk feeders were available at local hardware stores.  

Figure 1. 6L milk replacer feeder.

When producers were using the 1.5 litre capacity feeder, they reported that all piglets, regardless of body condition, were competing with one another and engorging on milk, especially after it had been empty for several hours.  It was apparent at this time that the palatability of the milk replacer was higher than expected at the onset of the trial. In order to make more milk available and to attempt to reduce competition at feeding time, the milk feeder size was increased from 1.5 liters to 6 liters. With the 6 liters milk feeder, there was less competition around the feeder because milk tended to be available for several hours at a time. However, it was noted that pigs would drink freshly made up milk more readily than milk that had been left in the trough throughout the course of the day.  

Except for two farms, milk was offered once a day averaging 2.8 liters per day. The cost per pig was calculated by dividing the cost of milk replacer used by the number of weaned piglets in a treated litter. It ranged from CAD$0.09 to CAD$9.75 per pig weaned, depending on the amount of milk offered daily, number of days piglets were fed milk, number of pigs in the litter, and frequency of feeding. Producers reported that feeding milk replacer increased creep consumption in the farrowing crates presumably by teaching pigs early that there were alternative sources of nutrition beyond the sow’s udder.  Despite the extra labour and initial extra cost, most producers implied that they would continue to use milk replacer as a routine practice on their farms in order to help the underprivileged pigs.  

Overall, this study demonstrated the feasibility of feeding milk replacer to piglets in a cost effective manner using an inexpensive feeder design.  Improvements in milk replacer palatability likely resulted in all pigs in a milk replacer-supplemented litter consuming milk replacer.   This was a consistent observation across all 8 farms.  All pigs consumed milk replacer regardless of body condition, thus increasing the cost of feeding milk replacer to the targeted, under-nourished individuals in a litter.  Limit feeding, rather than ad lib feeding, milk replacer improved piglet survivability and ensured that the process remained cost effective.

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