A novel approach to young pigs intestinal health and function

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A novel approach to young pigs intestinal health and function





The key productivity hurdles for young pigs are pre-weaning mortality (PWM) and a smooth transition through weaning. There are many aspects to successful management of young pigs but these hurdles are always a challenge.


Various strategies are used to try to overcome these hurdles. Milk replacer, electrolyte solutions, and quick-start drenches are all used by producers to give extra energy and fluids to piglets. Antibiotics, probiotics, pre-biotics and plant extracts are all used in an attempt to modify the intestinal microflora.


None of those strategies actually work to improve the function of the intestinal cells (enterocytes), which are the engines that are responsible for absorbing any nutrients. A more focused approach is to nourish the intestinal cells themselves and help them to do the best job they can of absorbing nutrients. Px by Tonisity is a novel isotonic protein drink that contains protein and key amino acids in a highly palatable formula, designed to nourish the intestinal cells. The formula of Px is based on fundamental physiology.


Tonisity has taken great care to investigate how best to use Px and to demonstrate the return on investment to producers. Over the last two years, Tonisity has conducted over 27 trials involving over 760 litters and 9600 pigs on production farms in the USA, United Kingdom and Spain. Key findings from those trials are presented here. This research has shown that Px has a positive impact on pre-weaning mortality and post-weaning weight, as well as other key parameters.


The most recent study was conducted in a farrow-to-nursery operation with 7200 sows located in Minnesota, USA. Seventy-three sows and their litters were enrolled in the study. Treatment litters were given 500 mL of 3% Px liquid in an open pan, from days 2-8 of age. Control litters nursed the sow as usual. Piglets were weaned at approximately 19 days of age (range 15-21).


The results of this study confirmed previous findings. First, it is beyond doubt that neonatal piglets will actually drink Px voluntarily from an open pan. The average consumption of Px in this study and others showed a steady increase from day 2 - 4 of age. After day 4 most litters will be consuming the entire 500 mL each day.


Figure 1.  Neonatal Piglets Drinking Px



Other productivity results were quite remarkable. Three key benefits were found.


(1)  Pre-weaning mortality (PWM) was significantly lower in the Px group (10.3%) compared to the control group (15.0%) (P = 0.029). This represents a 33% reduction in PWM. Table 1. Pre-weaning Mortality Survived  Died  PWM


Table 1.  Pre-weaning Mortality



(2) Px pigs had a higher average daily gain (ADG) by the end of their first week. At day 8, the Px group had gained an average of 1.55 kg [3.4 lb], compared to the control group that had gained an average of 1.25 kg [2.75 lb]. The difference in net gain between groups at day 8 was statistically significant at P = 0.0002.


(3) The effect of Px in the first week of life continued through weaning and into the post-weaning stage. At day 35, differences in body weight and ADG were significantly different (P = 0.041) between groups, with the Px pigs weighing 9.8 kg [21.6 lb] and the control pigs weighing 8.78 kg [19.3 lb].


Why did this happen? No antibiotics. No extra calories. What's the deal?


The basis of Px is to nourish the enterocyte. Enterocytes are the final gateway for the absorption of proteins and carbohydrates into the body. If the enterocytes are working efficiently, then the body is able to absorb more nutrients. Px contains ingredients which support the efficient function of the enterocytes.


We (Tonisity) wanted to scientifically test the idea that Px would help the growth of the intestinal epithelium. The usual approach to assessment of intestinal structure begins with microscopic measurements of the intestinal villi, which are the finger-like projections that line the small intestine and serve as the anchor for all intestinal cells. Villus height is used as a marker of intestinal health, and villus height decreases in the presence of inflammation or bacteria. The thickness of the mucus layer is also measured as an indicator of intestinal health and its ability to resist infection. The mucus layer helps to prevent bacterial adhesion and also contains antimicrobial molecules that are secreted by the intestinal cells.


With the approval of the ethics committee at the University of Lleida in Spain, 12 sows and their litters (134 piglets) were enrolled in the study. Half of the litters were given Px by open pan, 500 mL/litter from days 2-8 of age, just as in the Minnesota study. Half of the litters nursed the sow normally, to serve as the control group. At day 9 and at day 21 of age, 9 piglets from each group piglets were slaughtered and intestinal samples were submitted for histopathologic examination and detailed microscopic measurements. The pathologist was not told which samples were from which treatment group, and was therefore an independent observer.


Statistical analysis showed that villus height was significantly higher (P < 0.05) in pigs that received Px in the first week of life, even when the pigs were slaughtered 2 weeks after the Px finished. The thickness of the mucus layer also tended to be greater ( P = 0.087) in the Px pigs.


Table 2.  Intestinal Morphology Pre-Weaning



Figure 2.  Histopathology Comparison of Intestinal Jejunal Sections


 Left: Control Right: Px


Also, the PWM in this study was significantly lower in the Px group (4%) compared to the control group (19%), with P = 0.015, representing a 75% reduction in PWM.


Transition to Weaning


The transition from sow's milk to dry feed is also a problem for every pig and producer. Px is very tasty to pigs (watch this video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLPTSs5sVgt-Wa4vKvruJQdK3DazxVr9Jp&v=OjdKBNEJj00 ) . We suspected that pigs would increase their feed intake if we mixed Px with creep feed for 1-2 days before weaning and 2-3 days after weaning,


The labor of mixing liquid with dry feed to make a gruel is real, but the potential returns are also very substantial.


Tonisity has investigated this strategy quite carefully. The key questions were (1) if making gruel, does Px give any advantage over gruel made with plain water? (2) do pigs like gruel better than dry feed? (3) would all pigs benefit from being given gruel?


The first step was to test whether or not Px-gruel gives any advantage over water-gruel. On a small farm in Northern Ireland, farrowing about 30 sows / week, 12 sows and their litters were enrolled in the study. As for previous studies, half of the litters were given 500 mL of Px from days 2-8 of age, and half of the litters nursed the sow normally. Weaning in that farm normally occurs at 28 days of age.


To begin the gruel trial, Px litters were again given 500 ml Px solution in an open pan to re-introduce the taste of Px on day 25 and 26 of age. On day 27, Px litters were given a gruel consisting of Px mixed with creep feed in the ratio of 1.5 L Px to 1 kg dry feed. Control litters received a similar gruel which was made with plain water. On day 28, all piglets were weaned and moved into weaning pens. Px piglets continued to receive Px-gruel for the next 3 days until day 32 of age, while Control pigs were given gruel made with water for the same period. Dry feed in the usual amounts was available to both groups in their weaning pens.


Pigs were weighed individually when they were 2, 25, 32, 63 and 94 days old. On day 32 of age, weaning weight differences were 370 grams [0.8 lb]. By day 94 (13 weeks of age, 9 weeks post-weaning), Px pigs were 4.78 kg [10.5 lb] heavier. Px pigs had gained an average of an extra 4.49 kg [9.9 lb] in the 9 week nursery period with no extra feed or special treatment.


Table 3.  Weight Gain through Day 94


Clearly, these results were very encouraging. However, it was a small trial of only 130 pigs and we wanted to be more clear about the comparison between ordinary feed, Px-gruel and water-gruel.


The next trial was done on a larger farrow-to-finish farm in Spain. Fifty-two sows and their litters (608 piglets) were enrolled. As for previous studies, half of the litters received Px 500 mL/litter from day 2-8 and half did not. At 15 days of age, the litters were split into 3 subsets and given either dry creep feed, water-gruel or Px-gruel for the next 3 days (all feeds ad lib). All gruel was made using the ratio of 1.5 L of liquid (water or 3% Px solution) to 1 kg of dry feed. On day 19, pigs were weaned and sorted into pens by bodyweight (heavy, medium, light) while still remaining within their feed groups. Heavy was defined as > 5.8 kg [12.7 lb], medium 4.1 – 5.8 kg [ 9 – 12.7 lb] and light < 4.1 kg [< 9 lb].


All pigs continued to receive their gruel or dry feed ad lib for at least 2 days after weaning and were then tapered off gruel over another 3-4 days according to body weight. Light and medium pigs were tapered off more slowly.


Feed intake was measured for each group and normalised to dry matter intake (DMI), which

equalised differences between the volume and weight of the gruel and dry feed. The number of pigs that required antibiotic treatment in the post-weaning period was also tracked.


Again, with the approval of the ethics committee at the University of Lleida in Spain, a total of 36 pigs were slaughtered at days 24 and 28 of age for intestinal histopathology examination.


The results of this trial are quite detailed, and are available upon request. The key findings however, were that:


(1) Total DMI in the Px-gruel group was significantly higher than other groups in both the pre-weaning and post-weaning periods. By 6 days post-weaning, all 3 feed groups had arrived at the same DMI. This is shown in Figure 3 and Figure 4 below.


Figure 3.  Daily DMI from 1 to 3 Days Before Weaning (g/pig/day)


T1 (red) – dry creep only, T2 (green) – water-gruel, T3 (blue) – Px-gruel




Figure 4.  Daily DMI intake for 6 days Post-Weaning (g/pig/day)


(2) The difference between feed groups became more apparent when the pigs were analysed by weight class. The percentage of Light and Medium pigs that gained weight during the 6-day post-weaning period was higher in the Px-gruel group.


Table 4.  Number and percentage of piglets with positive ADG in the first week post-weaning, by group of treatment (T1, T2 and T3) and size (H, M and L).



Odds ratios were also calculated for each group. Light pigs in the Px-gruel group were 3.25 (225%) times more likely to have positive ADG than the dry creep group (P = 0.050) and 1.7 times (70%) more likely to have positive ADG than the water-gruel group ( P = 0.43). Medium pigs in the Px-gruel group were 2.44 (144%) times more likely to have positive ADG than the dry creep group (P = 0.032) and 1.68 (68%) times more likely to have positive ADG than the water-gruel group ( P = 0.202).


(3) The effect of Px-gruel upon intestinal structure and function was assessed with intestinal histopathology and (indirectly) through the number of pigs that required antibiotic treatment in the post-weaning period.


The changes in intestinal morphology were significantly different between the Px pigs and the other pigs, but all changes related back to whether or not the pigs were given Px in the first week of life. This makes a certain amount of sense, given what we now understand about the early impact of Px on intestinal cell growth.


Also interesting was the fact that dry-creep pigs were 1.7 (70%) times more likely to be treated with antibiotics in the post-weaning period (P = 0.068). This suggests another benefit of Px during weaning and will be a subject of further investigations for Tonisity.




When given to piglets at days 2-8 of age, Px provides measurable returns on PWM and nursery weights. This is accomplished through the effect of Px on intestinal cells. When liquid Px is mixed with creep feed at weaning, additional benefits are seen, particularly in under-weight piglets.


Tonisity is committed to working with producers to show a real return on investment. Better guts, better pigs, better yields.



For more of the article, please click here.


Article made possible through the contribution of Tonisity

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