Piglet Nutritional Challenges at Weaning
Written by: Kevin Fischer, Form-A-Feed Nutrition and Production Specialist
One of the biggest challenges pigs go through in their lives is the first few days after they are weaned. This applies to all mammals as each of them are given special survival tools from their mothers. While the macro nutrients found in sow's milk such as protein and fat are required for piglet growth and development, sow's milk also contains micro components which are just as important and even more challenging to replace when piglets transition to a dry diet. Two of the most critical micro components are immunoglobulins and nucleotides.
Immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies, are protein molecules which function as a part of the immune response by binding to particular antigens (pathogens) and aiding in their destruction. Milk derived immunoglobulins are the first and richest source of Ig we can provide to a piglet.They provide the piglet with a source of natural immunity specifically tailored to the pathogens the sow has been exposed to. In an ideal world, this Ig profile would be an exact match to the pathogens in the piglets environment. While this passive immunity is critical to the piglet, it only lasts a short time and should only be thought of as a bridge to the piglet developing its own innate immunity.
Historically, the swine industry has used porcine plasma to assist the weaned pig's immune system as it is a good source of Ig. The downfall with plasma is the Ig profile may be a poor match to the pathogens in the weaned pig's environment and thus would provide limited protection. In other words, it is a hit and miss approach. This coupled with the risk of spreading diseases such as PEDv has severely reduced the usage of porcine plasma.
Replacing plasma with specific egg derived antibodies is a novel, safe, and effective approach to boosting the weaned pig's immunity. These antibodies are produced by vaccinating layers with specific swine pathogens (those most likely to be a challenge) and allowing them to produce antibodies against them. These are then passed on in their eggs in a similar fashion to how a sow would pass on her Ig via milk.
What's the difference in these antibodies? The egg Ig are larger than the naturally produced swine Ig and therefore have a greater surface area to bind pathogens. Additionally, they have a stronger affinity for bacteria and virus, allowing for better adhesion to the pathogen. Combined, these factors allow for the use of a lower inclusion of Ig due to their increased effectiveness relative to plasma. This has allowed us to completely remove porcine proteins and the associated risk from our starter feeds.
Nucleotides are an important part of the pigs gut development. Milk from all mammalian species contains nucleotides. They are the building blocks of DNA and RNA and are especially important to the epithelia cells on the villi in the small intestine as the grow and die very quickly. The milk from humans, dogs and sows are all very rich in nucleotides. However, cow's milk is rather deficient. Because of this, dairy by-products do not offer a source of nucleotides in starter feeds. In the US, all human baby formulas must be enriched with a source of available nucleotides to aid in recovery from diarrhea. When a pig is weaned, it is cut off from its source of nucleotides. This adds to the stress of the transition from milk to dry feed and further impairs the weaned pig from absorbing critical nutrients. To ease the blow of this sudden removal of nucleotides from the piglet's diet, we are including yeast-derived nucleotides in our starter feeds.
We now have a bridge from weaning until starter feed intake is adequate to maintain and initiate growth at day 4 –5 post-weaning. Wean Defense is a heavy dose of Ig and nucleotides to assist the weaned pig when there is a known history of enteric diseases such as Rotavirus, Clostridia, and other diarrhea causing pathogens. It has also been shown to stimulate feed and water intake. This water suspendable product should be offered through your water system for the first five days after arrival in the nursery.
Contact your Form-A-Feed representative for more information on Wean Defense and how it can assist your weaned pigs bridge the gap from sow's milk to dry feed.