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Copper Boosts Pig Growth, and Now We Know Why

Copper Boosts Pig Growth, and Now We Know Why

By Lauren Quinn, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Pigs have better feed conversion rates with copper in their diets, but until now, scientists didn't fully understand why. Existing research from the University of Illinois shows copper doesn't change fat and energy absorption from the diet. Instead, according to new research, the element seems to enhance pigs' ability to utilize fat after absorption, resulting in increased energy utilization of the entire diet.

Our results indicate copper hydroxychloride is enhancing metabolism of fat, and that's how the pigs get more energy. And that, we believe, can explain why pigs have better feed conversion rates when we feed this copper source in the diets," says Hans H. Stein, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois and co-author of a new study in the Journal of Animal Science.

In the study, Stein and his collaborators fed pigs one of two diets. Both primarily contained corn, soybean meal, and distillers dried grains with solubles, but one diet (a control) contained only 20 milligrams of copper chloride per kilogram. The experimental diet was identical, except it also contained 150 milligrams of copper hydroxychloride per kilogram.

Pigs consuming the experimental diet experienced greater average daily gain and gain-to-feed ratio, representing better feed conversion and economic savings for producers.

Stein's previous work showed fat and energy digestibility didn't change with inclusion of similar rates of copper hydroxychloride. So, to really understand copper's effects on post-absorptive fat metabolism, the researchers evaluated gene expression in tissue samples from the pigs.

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