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Micro-supplements can make a difference for piglet growth

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Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
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On Canadian pig farms, breeding sows are more fertile than ever before with most sows giving birth to more piglets per litter. However, producers are finding that the weight difference between piglets in the same litter is greater smaller piglets are not strong enough to survive.

Do larger litters cause avoidable nutrient deficiencies in piglets? Jacques Matte, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre has been investigating this question. He led a team in the Canadian Swine Research and Development Cluster that tested whether adding supplements to piglet and sow feed could reduce health and growth problems in piglets.

The research focused on copper along with vitamins A and D because they are very important to piglet and sow health. These micronutrients support the immune system, the digestive system (including beneficial bacteria within the microbiota) and the antioxidant functions of their metabolism. However, these micro-nutrients may be deficient for pigs raised indoors.

For piglets

The trials concluded that the best way to increase copper and vitamins A and D in piglets during lactation is through oral supplementation and exposure to certain types of artificial radiation.

"Repeated UVB radiation during lactation appears to be the only treatment that allows a gradual and continuous increase of vitamin D in piglets' blood, which doubles in comparison to that of control piglets who are weaned at 21 days old."

- Jacques Matte, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

This improvement in the amount of copper and vitamins A and D in piglets ends with weaning and cessation of supplementation. During and after weaning, bovine colostrum is the best supplement to give to light-weight piglets to improve their growth and quality of their microbiota.

For sows

To create more long-term effects on piglet health and growth, Jacques Matte and his team explored an alternative way to provide supplements to piglets by feeding the supplements to sows in late gestation and during lactation.

Supplementing copper and vitamins A and D increased the weight of the newborn piglets and reduced the weight difference between piglets in the same litter. At weaning, the composition of their microbiota improved. With weight gain and enhanced immunity due to more beneficial bacteria in the microbiota, the piglets' disease resistance and growth potential were enhanced.

Research is ongoing to determine the optimal amounts of micronutrients to feed sows and piglets. Since some of these supplementing practices have been tested on a commercial scale and can be easily applied, they will soon be able to be adopted in pig production.

Key discoveries (benefits)

Photo gallery

Close-up of Research Scientist Jacques Matte
Jacques Matte, Ph.D., director of the research project on micro-supplements for piglets
Close-up of a piglet about to receive its vitamin micro-supplements
A piglet from the Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre about to receive its micro-supplements

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