Health impacts of early weaning
Early weaning stress can profoundly alter immune and physiology responses, and clinical outcomes to subsequent infectious pathogen challenge. Weaning on most farms occurs when the digestive capacity of the piglets have not developed. This means that weaned piglets have difficulties coping with solid food. Additionally, disease resistance is low, temperature needs are high, and breaking the piglet–sow bond creates severe stress to both mother and baby, which means they are both more susceptible to disease.
As soon as the piglets are weaned, they are confronted with a sudden large proportion of non-milk food and the levels of digestive enzymes to break down these products are low.
Scouring (severe diarrhoea) is a major problem across Britain’s pig farms. Piglets are dosed with drugs on a daily basis to counteract this. Young pigs also do not produce the enzymes to digest fibre. Fibre from wheat and barley can reduce uptake of nutrients and cause non-specific colitis.
Early weaning encourages pigs to injure one another and promotes disease – meaning continued reliance on antibiotics and other medication.