Piglets

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Dairy before weaning boosts pig performance

Investing in a piglet at a young age will have a positive effect on the technical performance of the animal until slaughter. Feeding extra milk, which is high in dairy protein and fat, between the initial sows milk and weaning, offers the piglet building blocks to survive and grow.

Raising a piglet to become a robust finisher is not an easy job. On its way a piglet must overcome difficulties, such as learning to eat (anything other than sow milk), weaning, several feed changes and placement into new units. Research at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, found that birthweight and weaning weight have a great influence on a pig’s potential growth as a finisher (Table 1). Investing young in a pig therefore offers an improvement in performance for the rest of the animal’s lifetime and increased economic benefits.

Looking at current developments like reducing the use of antibiotics but also increased litter sizes, it can only be concluded that it is even more important to invest in a piglet before weaning. Besides that, it can be concluded that weaning a piglet at three or even at four weeks is in fact really challenging. According to further research carried out at Wageningen University, 40% of piglets fed dry feed before weaning, do not eat (Table 2).

This shows that these piglets aren’t ready to physically eat dry feed and can hardly digest the material once they start eating. Their digestive system simply lacks the right enzymes and intestinal flora to take the nutrients into their system. This not only results in wasted resources but worse, it leads to intestinal atrophy, diarrhoea, and weight loss in the piglets after weaning. Furthermore, this doesn’t just apply to large litters.

Soybeans are the most available vegetable  protein source with a balanced amino acid profile and good  digestibility. <em>Photo: Shutterstock/Valentyn Volkon</em>
Soybeans are the most available vegetable protein source with a balanced amino acid profile and good digestibility. Photo: Shutterstock/Valentyn Volkon

 

Bridging the gap

The feed additive industry is doing a good job at looking for the right alternatives to support piglets through these transitions. Adding certain additives can help to improve a piglet’s gut health for instance. However, if the piglet doesn’t eat, how can the additive really do its job?

Looking at the feed management of pigs in general and piglets in particular, based upon the previous information, it can only be concluded that there is a gap between the sows milk and dry feed (weaning), at least for a lot of piglets. It is also known that the sows milk is not enough to raise the piglets in some cases. One solution for this is feeding milk. Feeding extra milk is a very logical step to take, based upon natural and high quality nutrients. Milk is a product that is highly palatable and can therefore be the first step for a piglet to start eating anything other than sows milk from a teat. Milk can be given manually, a few times per day. Automatic systems are also available, but regardless of whether this is administered manually or automatically, hygiene is an important factor.

In practice farmers are often put off by the costs of feeding milk. Indeed, milk ingredients, for example, skimmed milk powder and whey protein concentrates, as well as high quality refined oils, are more expensive than the average feed ingredient, like cereals. However this initial investment will improve technical performance throughout the pigs life. Looking at data where pigs of a lower or higher (approximately 7 kg compared to 8 kg) weaning weight are followed until slaughter, growth differences of over 30 grammes per pig per day can be reached. Calculating this effect back to euros, an approximate difference of €2.60 can be made. Of course this is highly dependent on actual market prices and very specific per country, but still it shows that there is quite some financial room to invest in early feed intake. Especially since the intake per pig in the farrowing unit is low in volume.

2 stage feeding strategy

While keeping an eye on the costs, Nukamel has developed a feeding strategy named Porcomel that is both economically interesting and nutritionally balanced. To start with, the piglet is offered a milk that is high in dairy protein and fat, which combines highly digestible proteins, such as casein and whey. Here, low-heat and fresh milk ingredients are selected in order to assure the intactness, digestibility and potential bioactivity of the proteins. As an energy source, short-to-medium-chain fatty acids, originating from the milk fat as well as from added refined coconut oil are applied, having additional benefits on antimicrobial action. All of these ingredients are in a higher cost-range, but without a doubt are required to give the newborns a good start. A balanced development of the gut, its digestive capacity, its microflora, while retaining the integrity is crucial to lowering mortality rates and obtaining optimal growth from the beginning.

After approximately 10 days the piglets switch over to a transition-product based upon the combination of dairy and vegetable ingredients. Ingredients like rice and wheat concentrate gradually help the piglet learn how to digest vegetable components. In the selection of these ingredients it is vital to take into account that abrupt changes are unwanted. A transit product means a gradual change is made from solely milk to the inclusion of strictly selected vegetable ingredients. In this context, origin, particle size, absence of anti-nutritional factors, solubility and consistency, among other things are all taken into account. These factors assure that gut integrity is maintained at all times.

The strength of this two-fold concept is a top-notch product at the start, combined with a ‘learn-to-eat and digest’-stimulating product to aid the weaning process. The concept thus involves keeping some crucial parameters constant, like tastiness, recognisability, gut health improving micro- and macrocomponents, to ensure a good intake. The digestive tract of the pig will start to develop the proper enzymes and the intestinal flora will shift gradually. Besides that, these components can make the product more economically viable for the farmer thus leading to a more profitable product.

The benefits of dairy in dry feed

Raising a pig on milk or fluids only, doesn’t teach him to start eating dry feed. It is not only the composition or the taste the piglet has to get used to, but also the physical fact that it’s a dry, mostly pelleted product. Palatability can help a great deal in starting to eat dry feed, therefore it is very interesting to use high amounts of dairy in the creep feed. This way the piglet can recognise the smell and taste. Secondly the digestive tract can gradually get used to vegetable components. Thirdly, dairy components do not only include highly digestible protein and fat, but exactly the right nutrients. The range of amino acids that are available in dairy are matching with the needs of a piglet. One of the products advised to use in creep feeds is Nukamix 30, which is based on well-selected ultrafiltrated whey protein concentrate (WPC). WPC has a high biological value because the proteins are easy to digest. Nukamel has a long experience in selecting WPC of different origins and processing methods. Therefore only WPC’s are selected with a guaranteed level of immunoglobulins. It can be concluded that including dairy in a creep feed does not only add protein, fat and lactose, but offers many additional benefits to the animals.

Anne-Marie van Bussel

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