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Piglet Nutrition Research Feeds Hunger for Knowledge

By Geoff Geddes, for Swine Innovation Porc

What do toddlers and pigs have in common? Apart from an appetite for destruction, they both depend on proper nutrition for a strong start in life. Researchers know this only too well, and they’ve responded with extensive studies on the care and feeding of piglets. From pretreatment and probiotics to post-weaning diets, science is scrutinizing this critical aspect of pork production and yielding promising results in a number of areas.

Newborn nutrition

“Micro” may mean “small,” but micronutrients play a big role in piglet development. Micronutrients are essential elements needed in small quantities throughout life to support a number of physiological functions that maintain health.

The research project “Nutrients with extranutritional value for newborns: Micronutrients and colostral biofactors” looked at three critical micronutrients that are transferred from sows to piglets before and after birth: vitamin A, vitamin D and copper.

At one time, newborn piglets obtained these micronutrients naturally from UV light, plants and soil, but all three sources are hard to come by in the modern pig barn. This prompted researchers to look at how best to provide the three key micronutrients, examining direct transmission to the piglets and the indirect route via the sow diet.

The study found that micronutrients were most effective when provided via oral administration at 2 and 8 days of age and combined with UVB exposure every second day during lactation. When properly administered, micronutrient supplementation to sows benefited piglets through improvements to birth weight consistency and microflora.

As a next step, researchers will use these results to determine the optimal amounts and methods for the addition of micronutrients to diets. Knowing what, when and how to supplement your animals can give you the greatest return for the least  investment, something every producer can appreciate.

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