Synergistic technologies improve health, performance and productivity of piglets

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Synergistic technologies improve health, performance and productivity of piglets

Dr. Stephanie Ladirat, technology director, NUQO©



Synergistic technologies improve health, performance and productivity of piglets


Improving welfare and reducing stress at the farm can lead to higher product quality, less losses and ultimately higher productivity. This article introduces new strategies to reduce stress while improving performance of piglets. The author emphasizes the interest of new concepts, as well as the benefits for animals, farmers and customers.


Weaning transition: A major challenge for pigs


Nowadays, piglets are weaned and exposed to solid feed at an early age with the objective of increasing the number of litters and the productivity. However, early weaning is often associated with high stress and it may result in lower growth, intestinal disorders and other stress demonstrations.


Two of the major challenges faced by piglets at weaning are the separation from the sow and the change from liquid to solid feeding at a time when the physiology and immune system of the young animal are still under development. Because of the new environment and the new type of feeding, piglets experience a lot of stress and their feed intake drops dramatically. It can then not only take days for the piglets to recover, but it might as well compromise future growth, result in heterogeneous litter with a higher proportion of so-called 'weak piglets', and impair piglet's health. Reduced feed intake, indeed, does not only limit the amount of nutrients that are ingested by the young piglets, but it also depletes the gut of nutrients at a time when its development is key. When the gut development is impaired, the absorption of nutrients is sub-optimal and weaned piglets are more susceptible to diseases, such as diarrhoea. Additionally, stress might have various impact on the behaviour of young piglets: it can, for instance, increase the occurrence of damaging behaviors between pen mates, like tail biting. These are typical behaviors observed after weaning, that reflect welfare problems and their consequences on farm productivity.


To sum up in a nutshell, when piglets are stressed after weaning, their feed consumption is reduced, which leads to a slower gut maturation, and therefore not only results in a delayed and heterogeneous growth but also in health challenges and welfare problems which all impact farm productivity.


Stimulating feed intake of piglets after weaning to overcome stress


Stimulating solid feed intake in suckling piglets is important. This early feeding seems vital for a good post-weaning performance. It is therefore critical to find strategies that initiate early feed intake, stimulate the number of piglets consuming the feed, and enhance its consumption level to create more robust piglets. Fortunately, pigs are opportunistic and omnivorous feeders and known to consume an extensive variety of food. They also likely have a high number of taste buds among mammals, only second to big ruminants (and perhaps rabbits) (Chamorro et al., 1993). This creates opportunities to develop solutions that positively stimulate the appetite of piglets and help overcome the stress created around weaning.


New concepts have recently emerged to secure feed intake, reduce health challenges and improve the well-being of animals. These concepts are based on the combination of several molecules acting as sweet taste enhancers and few specific molecules naturally occurring in plant such as cinnamon or anis.  Ingredients of such hybrid solutions have been carefully selected to trigger multiple modes of actions:

    ·  The different ingredients act synergistically to create a unique and more intense taste through a multi-sensorial approach, which stimulates the curiosity of the piglets and raise interest for feed during the weaning period

    ·  Sweet-taste enhancers act to enhance feed intake but also to support the development of the gut (Moran, 2010), which later improves the absorption of nutrients and the feed efficacy

    ·  Finally, molecules naturally occurring in plant such as cinnamon or anis improve intestinal health and reduce inflammation (Conforti, 2010; Liu, 2012)


Such concepts are brought under a granulated form to ensure optimal dispersion in feed.  They offer all-in-one and cost-effective solutions to overcome the challenges triggered by-post weaning stress. 


Several field trials have been conducted to determine the effect of such concepts during the post-weaning period. Figure 1 shows a summary of results measured or observed during these experiments (NC: Negative Control, TC: Tested Concept).

As usual, many measurements and observations were made, and few important parameters were consistently improved during experiments:

    ·  Feed intake was systematically improved, even though the amplitude of the response varies with tests

    ·  Interestingly, the homogeneity of group was improved, due to a reduction of weak / light piglets

    ·  Finally, the feed efficacy was improved, also for animals fed with positive control till 6 weeks post weaning


From these observations, it seems that supplementing such hybrid concepts to weaned piglets give good hope to better overcome damages from stress at weaning. Besides, expending application of these concepts to the sow may also help to further mitigate stress at weaning.


Leveraging prenatal exposure to prevent stress at weaning


During the last decade, few scientific publications have demonstrated how an early ingestion of feed could be stimulated by facilitating information transfer from sow to piglets, both through flavor learning in utero and social learning. Scientists have evaluated if young animals could learn about flavors from the maternal diet that appear in the amniotic fluid and mother's milk, and thus reduce neophobia for similarly flavored food types at weaning (Oostindjer, 2010). Flavor learning could be beneficial for piglets, which after the rather abrupt weaning in pig husbandry frequently show a period of anorexia, reduced health, and stress-induced behaviors.


To validate their hypothesis, this research team set up the following experiment : Sows were offered anise-flavored (F) or control (C) food during late gestation. Piglets were cross-fostered after birth, with each sow fostering 5 piglets from an F sow and 5 from a C sow. During lactation, sows were offered F or C food, resulting in FF, CF, FC and CC piglets. Piglets were weaned on day 25 and were given both control and flavored food for two weeks using a double food choice approach.



Figure 2 summarizes some of the findings of the research work. This is of course not a field evaluation or 'real-life' but these results highlight some interesting opportunities: Scientists concluded that exposing piglets prenatally to anise flavor from the maternal diet resulted in a higher food intake in the first days after weaning, a higher growth postweaning and a lower prevalence of stress-related behaviors and diarrhea.



Improving health of young piglets to secure future results.


Taken together, these experiments support the fact that supplementation of such new hybrid concepts can improve welfare of the young piglets and, in the meantime, improve piglet performance. Such all-in-one concepts involve multiple modes of action that stimulate intake, reduce stress of young animals after weaning and secure long-term performance. Obviously, these concepts are stable and easy to use in feed but also compliant with the local regulatory environment, for instance regarding ingredients authorized for piglets or sow. More importantly, the observed technical benefits were converted into return of investment to support the profitability of farms, indicating that these concepts represent also sustainable alternatives for the future of pig farming.  


For more of the article, please click here.

Article made possible through the contribution of Dr. Stephanie Ladirat, technology director, NUQO©

Video >
Technical Paper >
Subscribe Technical Forum eNewsletter
Please input your name.
Please input your company name.
Please input a valid email address.
Please input your job title.
Please select your business category.
By clicking Submit, I am agreeing to receive eFeedLink eNewsletter and understand that the information I've provided here will be saved by eFeedLink. eFeedLink guarantees that your details will not be shared with any third parties.