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'The idea is that a healthy, strong piglet should combat disease better' - tackling piglet mortality on Cargill's radar

By Jane Byrne

03-Jul-2014
Last updated on 17-Jul-2014 at 09:22 GMT2014-07-17T09:22:48Z

Piglet mortality during the neonatal phase, from birth until weaning, can often run as high as 18%, and, in a bid to address that, Cargill recently launched a global nutrition program to help improve piglet livability.

We caught up with Brooke Humphrey, Cargill Animal Nutrition’s global swine technology director, to hear more about the triggers for its neonatal feeding model and the research that supports it.

The program, which initial research has indicated can increase piglet livability as much as 6%, is focused on optimizing piglet nutrition in conjunction with a best practice production model. It also aims to increase piglet weight during the first 28 days of life.

Humphrey said the platform constitutes nutrient recommendations for lactating sows and neonatal pigs, in tandem with a new software application to support lactating sow nutrition in the company’s MAX system.

"The specific ingredients used in the neonatal feeding model will vary by region, based on the availability, cost and a customer’s specific needs," he added.

Healthy, strong piglets

When asked if the impact of the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus on the US industry was a factor in the design of the program, the swine specialist said "the products and offerings are designed for pigs assumed to be healthy and not challenged by viral or bacterial infections. However, the idea is that a healthy, strong piglet should combat disease better."

Cargill did not run trials in environments suffering from a PEDv outbreak and, therefore, it does not have evidence to suggest the new neonatal nutrition model "would or would not minimize the mortality rate among piglets with PEDv," said Humphrey.

He said the primary trigger for the program was the challenge of perinatal mortality of piglets, which is "a problem that has been identified by our customers across the globe, and the causes of which can be manifold, from trauma to scours to nervous disorders to deformity to lameness or respiratory factors.” 

Research trials

In the development of the feeding model, Humphrey said the team first analyzed the results of 221 previous neonatal pig trials from the last 30 years throughout the organization. “We then built 10 additional trials, which were completed during the past 15 months, and which validate the effectiveness of the program,” said the Cargill swine expert.

The team also ran six sow lactation trials involving 2,795 sows in 2012 as part of the development phase, he said.

“And to support piglet feed preference, we used our learnings from animal trials to understand which ingredients and optimal inclusion levels were required,” said the swine expert.

Following the initial laboratory and trial results, the neonatal program was tested by customers in Germany and Korea to ensure it was effective.

Such in-field trials, said the company, demonstrated that the average piglet birth weight, in some cases, increased from 1.3kg to 1.7kg, while average weaning weight went from 6.5kg to 8 kg. 

"The neonatal piglet program is going to be rolled out globally," said Humphrey," and Cargill is currently working to tailor it to suit pork producers in environments with low or no usage of antibiotics or heavy metals.” 

Tackling sow nutrition

Meanwhile a study published in the June 2014 edition of the journal Livestock Science showed linseed oil in the maternal diet positively influenced piglet pre-weaning growth.

The Belgian researchers say supplementing sow gestation and lactation diets with n−3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can be beneficial, as these PUFA are essential for the development of the foetus. 

Docosahexaenoic acid, said the authors, can be directly supplied from the maternal diet through addition of fish oil, or it may result from the conversion of dietary precursors such as alpha-linolenic acid by the addition of linseed oil.

Recent studies assessing the effects of n−3 PUFA on sow reproduction have produced equivocal results, the authors said. So, with that in mind, they decided to investigate the effects of linseed oil and fish oil in the maternal diet of a large number of sows - 734 sows in total - on their reproductive performance in the current and subsequent gestation. 

They also looked at the effect of diet on the farrowing process, piglet weight and vitality. 

From day 45 of gestation and during lactation, sows were fed a palm oil diet or one of six n−3 PUFA diets, each containing different concentrations - 0.5%, 1% or 2% - of linseed oil, fish oil or their combination.

The results showed that sows fed linseed oil had 0.9 more live born piglets and 0.5 more weaned piglets compared to fish oil fed sows. In the subsequent gestation, linseed oil fed sows had 1.3 and 1.5 more live born piglets compared to sows fed fish oil or palm oil, respectively.

No dietary effects were observed on piglet birth weight and litter weight, but linseed oil supplementation resulted in a higher piglet weight and litter weight at 5 days of age, compared to piglets from sows fed fish oil or palm oil, said the researchers. 

Adding n−3 PUFA to the maternal diet had no effect on piglet vitality, they added, but it increased the duration of farrowing.

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