The most important time in the life of good ?performing pigs is likely to start during gestation. As from that moment, until roughly six weeks after birth, the young piglet is ‘programmed’ by nature. The right nutrition will help the animal live up to its potential.
Agriculture is an increasingly vital industry. The challenge faced by the farming industry, in terms of global pressure, is to double food production and half the pressure on the planet to feed 9 billion people by the year 2050. Worldwide, the productivity of farm animals is 30-40% below their genetic potential because of suboptimal conditions and health status. Therefore, innovations aiming to narrow the gap between genetic potential and performance at the farm level are needed to meet the challenge of helping to feed the increasing global population sustainably.
Trouw Nutrition R&D has developed a programme dedicated to reducing the gap between genetic potential and performance on farm to 20%. By providing farmers with natural, sustainable ways of improving animal health and performance, its LifeStart programme promises value through science and good life performance.
The key scientific principle behind this programme is known as ‘metabolic programming’. It highlights the fact that environmental and nutritional influences during early life have a profound and long-lasting effect, both in humans and in animals. In 1992, the British researchers Charles Hales, University of Cambridge and David Barker, University of Southampton, demonstrated the long term influence of early life events by relating the increase in susceptibility to type 2 diabetes in adulthood to inadequate early nutrition in humans.
In swine, there are indications that differences in methyl donor supplementation of the feed of the F0 (grandparent) has an effect in carcass traits up to the second generation F2. This, thus, shows that diet-induced epigenetic modifications also have a trans-generational effect in our target species, the pig.
Furthermore, the principle of metabolic programming also describes a window of opportunity, which is a timeframe in early life where interventions could take place in order to re-program the system. The critical timeframe varies depending on the target species. For pigs, it is postulated that the window of opportunity for intervention starts in the gestational phase and lasts up to six weeks of age. This timeframe allows to develop tailor-made programmes dedicated to reducing the gap between genetic potential and actual performance on farm. By bringing together world-class expertise on animal health and nutrition with practical farm management experience, it is possible to find sustainable ways to improve productivity.
Pig farming has provided an ideal test-bed for the systematic application of metabolic programming, because the results are relatively easy to measure and compare. The pig industry faces unique challenges as farm and litter sizes expand in the relentless search for sustainable efficiency. The LifeStart programme has the potential to help the global swine industry take a quantum leap forward by supporting piglets in better preparation for growth.
Early high quality nutrition is important for the best start. High amounts of dry matter feed intake, while piglets are still with the sow, support early development of the gastro-intestinal tract. During the first days of a piglet’s life, the stomach and intestines grow rapidly. The sow’s colostrum and early nutrition are essential in promoting the intestinal development required. Moreover, pre-weaning nutrition can induce accelerated maturation of the digestive system to prepare the piglet for greater and healthier growth.
Furthermore, newborn piglets have very few immunity cells in the gut and its associated lymphoid tissues. Initially, they are protected only by the maternal immune factors provided through the sow’s colostrum and milk. In the first phase of life, piglets develop their own immune system but this is a slow process. At the age of weaning, the immune system is not yet mature and the impact of abrupt removal of maternal protection, coupled with stress and potential infections creates an immunity gap. Adding functional nutrients that augment immune development in the young animal feeds can provide a competent immune system in later life, while reducing the need for antibiotic interventions.
A smooth transition from the pre- to the post-weaning period can be achieved by feeding high quality feeds before and after weaning, and having a phase 1 diet that perfectly matches the weaner feed. This can reduce the neophobic instinct to ingredients present in the weaner diet, enhance faster feed intake and reduce the detrimental effect on gut integrity due to fasting. Furthermore, it reduces the post-weaning feed intake dips, see Figure 1. All of these can be translated into higher growth and better faeces consistency, allowing higher within-batch homogeneity in later phases.
Trouw Nutrition conducted a trial with diets up to six weeks of age. Supplementing Milkiwean Yoghurt next to the sow’s milk, during the first two weeks of life, increased within-batch homogeneity at weaning, resulted in improved gastrointestinal tract development, ensured higher cell proliferation and increased gene activity at intestinal level. There was also the added benefit of higher growth in later phases.
Combining a supplement of Milkiwean Yoghurt with the Milkiwean high quality diets up to six weeks of age yielded higher weight at the end of the nursery phase and up to slaughter. The main advantage was seen in the most vulnerable population, the light weight piglets. This implies that the extra supplementation of milk replacer, combined with a high quality starter feed, has an advantage in terms of within-batch homogeneity and body weight gain, see Figure 2, reduction in days to slaughter and reduction in cycle/year; all resulting in economic benefits for the farmer.
High quality nutrition in early life, with emphasis on the first six weeks of life, improves the uniformity of litters because smaller piglets tend to catch up in size. Furthermore, the additional growth obtained in the first six weeks of life leads to higher slaughter weight and a reduction in days to slaughter. The impact on farm economics is significant as it leads to higher farm throughput and more meat produced per m2.
References available on request.