Special Edition: Early Animal Nutrition

Novus investigates optimizing sow diets for piglet growth

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A Novus International roundtable on swine nutrition pointed to ongoing challenges in swine production and areas where research could improve piglet growth and development.

Mercedes Vázquez-Añón, senior director of animal nutrition research and facilities at Novus, said: “The goal [of the forum] was to really get in-touch with the industry and understand what the issues were."

The roundtable focused on swine because that has been a smaller market for Novus, she said. “It was a way to make sure that we were on track with our research and offerings and ensure that we truly understood the customer,” she added.

“Our presence with poultry is bigger, therefore we have more opportunities for touchpoints to make sure we are on the right track with customers,” said Vázquez-Añón. “This particular roundtable will benefit us greatly, and help us make sure we are on track with what we are doing with swine.”

There have been advancements made on genetic lines for sows to improve production, with the end result being bigger litters, said Vázquez-Añón. 

However, that increase in productivity can lead to high variation in the weight of the piglets, she said. Management practices are easier if piglets are similar in size.

“We discussed [in the event] the physiology of the sow, it doesn’t limit the litter size, but it limits the weight of the piglets,” she said. “So [we want to see] how can nutrition improve the nutrient supply to the placenta and then to the embryo.”

Trace mineral research 

Novus had been tracking use of trace minerals in sow diets; an earlier study found such maternal dietary intervention was linked to higher weights in piglets and uniformity in piglet size, she said. “They were born bigger and remained heavier throughout the process – we were able to carry on the benefits to carcass weight."

While there was evident impact from the sow diets on the development of the embryo and the life of the piglet, there is little understanding of the mechanism involved, she said. 

Similar work being done in poultry suggested the diet given to breeding chickens influenced the gene expression in the embryo, she said. “It doesn’t change the DNA, but it is deciding if the DNA or gene will be read, or expressed, or not."

In poultry, the feeding of zinc to breeder chickens resulted in chick immune development in the gut, she said. “In weaned pigs, gut health is one of the biggest challenges, so perhaps we are improving gut health and immunity, and allowing the chicken and pig to reach its full potential."

Novus is currently designing studies to examine a nutrition program with chelated minerals to see what influence such inputs have on the development of the embryo and the consistency of the piglets in the litter. “You have to have a model that is responsive to something, then you can be more specific about the mode of action."

The project is expected to start his year and it may yield evidence by spring of next year, she said. “First, we want to see that we can have an impact in the development of the fetus, and then [we will determine] how that happens."

Genetic developments, AA requirements 

The participants also discussed the different nutritional approaches for improving blood supply to the placenta, she said. “You’re improving the physical capacity of the gestating sow to carry the litter, and then improving the blood supply to the placenta."

However, she said, it may be easier to make gilts that are proportionally larger and better able to carry more piglets, than to address the flow of blood to the placenta.

The nutritional requirements of sows during lactation when they have larger litters was also on the agenda: “Researchers were providing evidence that the amino acid requirement for new lactating sows should be higher than what we are currently recommending to be able to maintain the production of milk that will support more piglets.”

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