Can Micro-Supplements Improve Piglet Growth?

A piglet from the Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre about to receive its micro-supplements. ( Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada )

Do larger litters cause avoidable nutrient deficiencies in piglets? Canadian researcher Jacques Matte, a scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Sherbrooke Research and Development Center, has been studying how adding supplements to piglet and sow feed could reduce health and growth problems in piglets.

Breeding sows are more fertile than ever and giving birth to more piglets per litter. But the weight difference between piglets in the same litter is greater than ever before, according a release from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Sometimes, smaller piglets are not strong enough to survive.   

Matte’s 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, the release said. However, these micro-nutrients may be deficient for pigs raised indoors.

Piglet health
He discovered 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,” Matte said in the release.

This improvement in the amount of copper and vitamins A and D in piglets ends with weaning and cessation of supplementation. Bovine colostrum is the best supplement to give to lightweight piglets during and after weaning to improve growth and microbiota quality.

Sow health
Matte and his team also explored alternative ways to provide supplements to piglets by feeding the supplements to sows in late gestation and during lactation.

Copper and vitamins A and D supplementation resulted in increased weight of the newborn piglets. It also reduced the weight difference between piglets in the same litter. At weaning, the composition of their microbiota improved, the release said. Piglets’ disease resistance and growth potential were also enhanced because of the weight gain and enhanced immunity stemming from more beneficial bacteria in the microbiota.

Research continues to better understand the optimal amounts of micronutrients to feed sows and piglets.       

More from Farm Journal's PORK:

How Can We Feed Pigs to Improve the Microbiome?

Healthy Pigs Start With A Healthy Gut

Breaking Down the Microbiome