Special Edition: Early Animal Nutrition

Role of pre-weaning supplements for pigs highlighted in Alltech Young Scientist competition

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: North america

The regional finalist for Alltech’s Young Scientist competition from Europe has focused her agricultural research on ways to improve the performance of pre-weaned piglets.

Sophie Hazelden, an undergraduate student at Nottingham Trent University, explored the potential for improved piglet performance using a combination of feeding supplements with piglets pre-weaning. Her project looked at the use of a creep feed and a peat supplement.

We caught up with her at One Alltech’s Idea Conference in Lexington, Kentucky to hear more about her work.

“The research I’m looking at, at the moment, is piglets in their pre-weaning stage, while they’re still with the sow, and it’s based on supplemental feeding to try and improve performance,” ​she said. “The pre-weaning stage can be quite critical in terms of impacting lifetime performance.”

The project found that the combination of supplements improved feed intake by the piglets, but did not alter average daily gain, she said.  

The study raised several questions about the role a peat supplement can play in piglet nutrition and on other aspects of piglet gut health, she added. 

She is also evaluating the role the peat product plays in microbiome development, and how exactly is it working within the piglet. “How is this working and why is it working?”

Research details and next steps

In the project, 24 sows and their piglets were given one of four diets, she said. Piglets in the control were only given sow’s milk, while others were offered peat supplements, creep and a one to one combination of both additives.

The peat product is a type of sterilized soil additive sometimes used in production in the UK, she said.

“It’s based on the fact that, in the UK, 40% of pigs are still bred outdoors, initially, and they often do grow quicker,”​ she said. “That could be due to the micro-organisms in the soil, and it’s sort of trying to mimic that but in an indoor unit, that’s where the idea comes from.”

Piglets were weighed on days 4, 21 and 27, she said. “We looked at average daily gain between each time frame and across the whole pre-weaning stage at how their average daily gain changed,”​ she added.

The research project also recorded details like feed intake, but gain was used as the primary performance metric, she said.

Young scientists program  

In the Young Scientists competition, students are nominated by professors at their universities; they must submit a research paper to take part in the regional legs, said Alltech.

Four regional competitions are held in North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific and Europe, the company said. Each region has a winner that becomes an Alltech Young Scientist (AYS) finalist and competes in the global competition.

Undergraduate students compete for a $1,000 cash prize at the regional level, the company said. At the global level, the winning undergraduate student receives $5,000 prize and a fully funded PhD position.  

During the Alltech conference in Lexington, finalists get a chance to work with researchers and industry members in a mentorship capacity, the company said. They also present their projects to a series of judges.

“I’m still in shock and can’t believe I’m here,”​ Hazelden said of the experience.

The winner for the undergraduate section of the competition was announced on Tuesday - the prize went to the finalist from North America, Joshua Gukowsky.

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