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Can Micro-Nutrients make a Macro Difference for Piglets?

Given how piglets scramble for a teat like Boxing Day shoppers at Best Buy, they clearly need their nutrients. Yet in light of the demands of the weaning phase, are piglets getting enough through natural means to ensure optimal health and performance? Addressing that question and possible solutions was the focus of the research project “Nutrients with extra-nutritional value for newborns: Micronutrients and colostral biofactors”.
 
As a result of larger and larger litter sizes depressing average birth weight and litter weight consistency, there has been some concern in recent years about the adequacy of pre- and post-natal nutrient transfer from sows to piglets.
 
Nutrients and Mother Nature
 
“We rely a lot on Mother Nature for the nutrients pigs require,” said Dr. Jacques Matte, research scientist at the Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. “In fact, the period of nutritional dependence of piglets to their mother (in utero + colostrum + milk) at 135 days, is equivalent to the whole post-weaning period (starter + grower + finisher).”
 
While no one likes to criticize a mother, all of this begs the question: Is Mother Nature efficient enough in actual husbandry conditions?
 
To find an answer, Dr. Matte and Dr. Frédéric Guay – professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Laval University – screened plasma blood concentrations of micronutrients in sows and piglets during the neonatal period. Micronutrients are essential elements required by organisms in small quantities throughout life to support a range of physiological functions that maintain health.
 
Through this process, three critical micronutrients were identified: vitamin A, vitamin D and copper.
 
“In nature, the transfer of these micronutrients may not have been critical for evolution of the species because they were abundant in the environment of newborn piglets,” said Dr. Guay. ”For example, UV light provided vitamin D, there were plants rich in vitamin A, and the soil was a source of trace minerals like copper.”
 
With the realities of modern pig production, however, those sources are no longer an option. Researchers thus looked at the best route of administration of the three selected micronutrients, including transmitting them directly to the piglets themselves and/or indirectly through the sow diet.
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