Conventional weaning of piglets at the young age of 3 to 4 wk is associated with reduced nutrient intake, reduced growth, altered behavioral patterns, and a greater susceptibility to diarrhoea. Our studies aimed to determine whether Intermittent Suckling (IS; piglets are temporarily separated from their sow for several hours on each day from a certain age until weaning) during an extended lactation improves the adaptation of piglets to weaning. More specific, we investigated how IS regimens, differing in separation interval, timing and duration, affected 1) piglet pre- and postweaning growth and feed intake, 2) piglet behavior during the suckling period, 3) postweaning gut characteristics. With regard to separation interval, distributing the daily 12-h separation period over two 6-h separation intervals did not yield a profit with respect to piglet growth or feed intake. Considering timing, onset of IS at an older age (3 wk instead of 2 wk) markedly improved feed intake stimulation. Although 1 wk of IS before weaning (4 wk) improved postweaning feed intake and growth and prevented the postweaning villous atrophy compared to conventionally weaned piglets, it did not prevent a profound growth check shortly after weaning. However, combining 1 wk of IS with an extended lactation (weaning at 5 wk) improved postweaning adaptation markedly in terms of growth and feed intake. Increasing the duration of IS during this extended lactation from 1 to 2 wk further improved, although slightly, growth and feed intake shortly after weaning. In conclusion, IS is a promising management strategy to improve the adaptation of piglets to weaning, by preventing postweaning detrimental effects on piglet nutrient intake, growth, and small intestinal morphology. These effects are most profound when IS is combined with an extended lactation. In addition, IS was not associated with the development of behavioral patterns indicative for piglet distress
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