a1 Animal Sciences Group of Wageningen UR, PO Box 65, 8200 AB Lelystad, The Netherlands
This study tested the hypothesis that late weaning and the availability of creep feed during the suckling period compared with early weaning, improves feed intake, decreases stress and improves the integrity of the intestinal tract. In this study with 160 piglets of 16 litters, late weaning at 7 weeks of age was compared with early weaning at 4 weeks, with or without creep feeding during the suckling period, on post-weaning feed intake, plasma cortisol (as an indicator of stress) and plasma intestinal fatty acid binding protein (I-FABP; a marker for mild intestinal injury) concentrations, intestinal morphology, intestinal (macro)molecular permeability and intestinal fluid absorption as indicators of small intestinal integrity. Post-weaning feed intake was similar in piglets weaned at 4 weeks and offered creep feed or not, but higher (P < 0.001) in piglets weaned at 7 weeks with a higher (P < 0.05) intake for piglets offered creep feed compared with piglets from whom creep feed was witheld. Plasma cortisol response at the day of weaning was lower in piglets weaned at 7 weeks compared with piglets weaned at 4 weeks, and creep feed did not affect cortisol concentration. Plasma I-FABP concentration was not affected by the age of weaning and creep feeding. Intestinal (macro)molecular permeability was not affected by the age of weaning and creep feeding. Both in uninfected and enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli-infected small intestinal segments net fluid absorption was not affected by the age of weaning or creep feeding. Creep feeding, but not the age of weaning, resulted in higher villi and increased crypt depth. In conclusion, weaning at 7 weeks of age in combination with creep feeding improves post-weaning feed intake and reduces weaning stress but does not improve functional characteristics of the small intestinal mucosa.
(Received September 04 2009)
(Accepted April 24 2010)
(Online publication May 21 2010)