Improving post-weaning pig nutrition

Improving post-weaning pig nutrition
Aug 24, 2021

Scientists are investigating ways to promote nursery pig health through enhanced feed while still limiting antibiotics 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer 

Researchers across Canada are contributing to the research goal of improving post-weaning feeding of pigs to help reduce feed costs and antibiotic use. 

Moving to the nursery “is a transition period for the pigs,” Dr. Dan Columbus. He’s a research scientist at the Prairie Research Centre, adjunct professor in the department of animal and poultry science at the University of Saskatchewan, and lead on the project. 

“They’re being weaned, they’re put on a different diet, but they’re still developing, especially from an immune system and gut development perspective,” he explained. “So, we want to make sure that we’re not just meeting the requirements for growth but meeting the requirements to allow them to develop properly and set them up for success later on.”

One approach includes the use of functional amino acids.  

“As nutritionists we’re used to thinking of amino acids as the building blocks of proteins for muscle. But they clearly have functions other than just for growth,” Columbus said. “Some of them have a strong role in development of the immune system or components of the gut.”

The researchers are testing those functional amino acids to see if feeding more of them will enhance their support of the pig’s development, “and in our case allow them to respond to a disease challenge or a stressor, while still supporting growth,” he explained. 

The first project investigated “a mix of three functional amino acids, and supplementing those at 120 per cent of the requirement, so 20 per cent above what we’d normally include for growth,” Columbus explained. “The three that we looked at were methionine, threonine, and tryptophan because they are the three that have been identified as having large roles specifically in immune function and response to disease challenge.” 

In that study, scientists exposed the nursery pigs to a Salmonella disease challenge. 

“We found that yes, the three amino acids supplemented in those diets improved growth and it actually improved the immune status of the animal, and in some instances reduced the inflammatory response,” Columbus said. 

In addition, “nobody has really looked at whether supplementing these diets in advance of the challenge would have any further benefit,” he explained. So, in the next study, scientists investigated a proactive use of functional amino acids.

“We used the same mix of amino acids and we fed it either at two weeks or one week before the challenge, or immediately at the time of the challenge to look at the recovery,” he said. “And we actually saw a linear response, so the more adaptation time you give them, the better the growth response was after the disease challenge.”

Over the next year, Columbus will be testing functional amino acids at the commercial level, to see if findings from the research station experiments translate to a commercial pig production setting. 

“We follow them all the way to market and can get an economic perspective,” he added. 

The research is part of Swine Cluster 3 and includes scientists at the University of Manitoba and University of Guelph working on additional research outcomes having to do with improving post-weaning swine nutrition.  Projects will be wrapping up in March 2023.

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