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Swine Cluster 4 (2023-2028)

Activity 13 | Animal Care

Assessing the impact of weaning management practices, handling and transport of weanling piglets at different ages

Project Lead: Luiene Moura Rocha, Centre de développement du porc du Québec Inc. (CDPQ)

Status: Ongoing

Why is this project important?


Weaning piglets aged around 21-28 days is a necessary but difficult transition. Separation from their mothers (sows), abrupt dietary changes, and disruptions in social dynamics all contribute to significant stress. Subsequent transport to the nursery adds another layer of stress, including handling, exposure to unfamiliar environments, and integration with new piglets. These combined factors can lead to post-weaning problems like diarrhea, reduced health, and slower growth, impacting both piglet welfare and productivity.


Despite advancements like pre-weaning socialization, important knowledge gaps remain regarding the intricate relationship between pre and post weaning management practices and their long-term impact on piglet performance, welfare, and health. While the pork sector currently has a number of indicators to assess animal welfare during loading and unloading of market pigs, the same cannot be said for piglets.

This research aims to address these gaps by focusing on optimizing best practices throughout critical stages, including weaning, handling, transport, and pre and post transport care. The study will investigate how these practices affect piglet health and welfare, with a particular emphasis on validating animal-based welfare measures for effective stress and health monitoring on-farm.


By understanding the impact of factors like transport stress, weaning age, and pre and post weaning handling on piglet welfare, growth, immune response, intestinal microbiota, and antibiotic use, the study aims to identify optimal management strategies across different weaning ages. This will ensure the delivery of robust and resilient animals to the nursery stage, maximizing piglet performance, health, and welfare at both 21 and 28 days of age.


What will researchers do?


The proposal aims to address the knowledge gaps by:


  • Investigating the impact of weaning management practices, handling, transport, and post-transport condition on piglets’ welfare and on their physiological condition upon arrival at the nursery.


  • Investigating the relationship between the physiological condition of weanling piglets upon arrival at the nursery and the use of antimicrobials during the nursery phase.


  • Studying the impact of weaning management, handling and transport on the health status, intestinal microbiota, and performance of weanling piglets.


  • Identifying animal-based measures for assessing welfare during weaning and evaluating their correlation with health, intestinal microbiota, antimicrobial usage, and growth performance in piglets weaned at different ages.


  • Determining the most promising pre and post weaning management, piglet handling and transport strategies to ensure the welfare of weanling piglets in commercial swine operations.



What will be the benefit of this research?


  • Gain a better understanding of the link between weaning practices and piglet health, antibiotic use, gut health, and growth.

  • Identify optimal management strategies for enhanced piglet welfare during

  • Weaning, handling, transport, and post-transport care.

  • Develop cost-effective, on-farm monitoring through animal-based welfare


  • Empower producers with early detection tools to improve piglet health and potentially reduce antibiotic use.

  • Strengthen the competitiveness of the Canadian pork industry by addressing animal welfare concerns and enhancing piglet health and performance.



What has been done so far?


Researchers have identified the first group of sows to be inseminated in May and the first trials begin in October 2024.



Project status: Currently in progress. Results expected in 2028.




  • Dr. Yolande Seddon, University of Saskatchewan

  • Dr. Frederic Guay, Université Laval

  • Dr. Danyel Bueno, Dalto Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

  • Dr. Antony Vincent, Université Laval

  • Dr. Jennifer Brown, Prairie Swine Centre

  • MS.c Marie-Pierre Fortier, Centre de développement du porc du Québec Inc.  (CDPQ)

  • Dr. Daniel Rico, Deschambault Animal Science Research Center

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