THE increased litter size from modern sows means that pig producers invariably have to face a high percentage of uneven and lightweight piglets that have a poor appetite after weaning, remain small and do not grow as fast as their potential, according to Dr. Viorica Popa with BOCM PAULS International.
The feeding program for baby pigs has a direct effect on gut development and affects the performance of the pigs, Popa said. Every 10 g per day of extra daily liveweight gain immediately after weaning results in 1 kg of extra liveweight at the end of the production cycle. The aim should be to increase feed intake, especially in the first two weeks after weaning.
For piglets weaned at a very early age or for lightweight piglets, BOCM PAULS has adopted a special feeding program based on a ration fed as a "porridge" via new electronic feeders. The diet is specially designed to support and stimulate optimum development of the piglet's gut through a balance of high-quality ingredients, an announcement said.
The program offers a nutritious and simple solution to the problem of feeding very young and small piglets of 4.0-4.5 kg liveweight. Popa said the diet can help ease the change from sow's milk to solid/semi-solid feed for several reasons, including:
* Piglets are more familiar with the presentation of the feed;
* Piglets do not have to learn to balance their dry feed intake with water from a drinker as quickly;
* The feeders can be programmed to provide feed in a similar manner to the sow's milk letdown, i.e., small amounts every hour. This reduces the risk of overeating and Escherichia coli scours;
* Avoidance of dehydration helps achieve a high daily feed intake;
* The warm porridge provides a more suitable medium to enhance the effect of enzymes added to aid digestion in the small piglets, and
* It results in less wastage of feed and water.
The porridge feeding system was introduced in a newly renovated rearing unit with refurbished buildings and new stock, BOCM PAULS said. Some of the newly arrived piglets were very variable in size and were underweight at weaning. This should not be the case with new stock housed in new buildings on a liquid feeding system.
It was decided to move the underweight piglets (less than 4.5 kg) into a nursery and put them on a warm porridge diet fed through a transition feeder.
Feed in this form during the postweaning period has an important influence on voluntary feed intake, Popa pointed out. The soft consistency of the warm porridge and the noise the piglets make during consumption is associated with the sound of suckling on the sow, which, along with a special signal from the feeder, attracts other piglets and stimulates feed intake.
From a nutritional point of view, Popa said, the more often warm porridge is fed in small amounts during the day, the better. Feeding time remains stable at 30 minutes per hour to stimulate the intake of dry food.
In a trial involving a total of 143 piglets at a 850-sow unit run by Ioan Szabo and Melinda Szekeres in Band, Romania, a control group was fed dry pellets from BOCM PAULS. In the other groups, the piglets received feed in porridge form on a "little and often" basis, then moved to choice feeding, with dry pellets being introduced.
In groups 1-4, the piglets began to eat the porridge feed immediately, while those in the control group needed an acclimation period of approximately 1.5 days to eat the same amount of feed as the piglets on the porridge feeder. The average growth rate of the pigs on porridge was 244 g per day, compared with 197 g per day for those fed dry pellets.
The piglets' behavior was observed during the trial. Those on the porridge diet were more restful and less aggressive than the dry pellet-fed piglets, the announcement said.
The results of the trial showed that when lightweight piglets can be housed separately in the nursery and fed warm porridge, they will show a good response in terms of liveweight gain, and the incidence of infections and scouring will be decreased, BOCM PAULS reported.
"While many pig farmers will be well aware of this approach to feeding baby pigs, there are still those who have not adopted the system and are, therefore, not fully exploiting the potential of their piglets, with a negative effect on financial returns," BOCM PAULS international director Tony Suckling said.
Based in the U.K. and now part of the ForFarmers Group, BOCM PAULS manufactures, sells and distributes more than 2 million metric tons of animal feed per year.
DNA editing technology
The science behind "pig26" has been published in Nature's online, open-access journal Scientific Reports.
This work successfully applied molecular scissors that cut the genome at precise, predetermined sites (termed DNA editing), with pig26 becoming the first farm animal in the U.K. to have its genes edited, according to The Roslin Institute in Scotland.
Two types of molecular scissors were used in this study: ZFNs and TALENs. Both of these engineered enzymes cause site-specific cleavage of the genome. This is followed by repair of the DNA cut site by the cells' natural DNA repair mechanism, an announcement explained. This repair mechanism is error prone, hence the generation of mutations at the directed cleavage site.
Professor Bruce Whitelaw, who led this research at The Roslin Institute, said, "Genome editing technology through the precise generation of advantageous genetic variation offers significant advantages over the traditional methodology."
This innovative technology combines efficiency and precision, which enables predetermined, accurate changes to be made to the genome of pigs. Previously demonstrated in combination with animal cloning technology, the institute said this recent work demonstrates for the first time that gene editing can be performed in the fertilized egg (or zygote), thus significantly broadening the use of DNA editing tools in livestock.
The successful production of pig26 represents the first step in a project addressing African swine fever, Whitelaw said, adding that he believes this technology could also be successfully applied to other pig diseases, including influenza, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and foot and mouth disease.
He said, "This technology offers the real prospect of enhancing the ability of farm animals to combat disease."
The Roslin Institute research involved international collaboration with the University of Minnesota, Recombinetics Inc. and Genus PLC, with support from the U.K.'s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council.
Scientists are working across animal species in order to solve some of the riddles of human diseases.
The pig, the jellyfish and the zebrafish are being used by researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark to, among other things, gain a greater understanding of hereditary forms of diseases that affect the nervous system such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, autism, epilepsy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
In a recently completed project, the researchers focused on a specific gene in pigs — SYN1 — that encodes the protein synapsin, which is involved in communication between nerve cells. Synapsin occurs almost exclusively in nerve cells in the brain. Parts of the gene can, therefore, be used to control an expression of genes connected to hereditary versions of the aforementioned disorders.
The SYN1 gene can, with its specific expression in nerve cells, be used for generation of pig models of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. The reason scientists use pigs is because the pig is well suited as a model for investigating human diseases, the announcement said.
"Pigs are very like humans in their size, genetics, anatomy and physiology. There are plenty of them, so they are easily obtainable for research purposes, and it is ethically easier to use them than, for example, apes," said Aarhus senior scientist Knud Larsen.
Before the gene was transferred from humans to pigs, the scientists had to ensure that the SYN1 gene was only expressed in nerve cells. This was where the zebrafish entered the equation.
"The zebrafish is, as a model organism, the darling of researchers because it is transparent and easy to genetically modify. We, thus, attached the relevant gene, SYN1, to a gene from a jellyfish (GFP) and put it into a zebrafish in order to test the specificity of the gene," Larsen explained.
Jellyfish contain a gene that enables them to light up. This gene was transferred to the zebrafish alongside SYN1 so that the scientists could follow where in the fish the activity occurred as a result of the SYN1 gene.
"We could clearly see that the transparent zebrafish shone green in its nervous system as a result of the SYN1 gene from humans initiating processes in the nervous system. We could, thus, conclude that SYN1 works specifically in nerve cells," Larsen said.
The results of this investigation pave the way for use of the SYN1 gene in pig models for research into human diseases. The pig with the human gene SYN1 can presumably also be used for research into the development of the brain and nervous system in the fetus.
Vitamin supplementation for sows is always important because changes in facilities and ration ingredients and increased production capabilities mean that vitamins must be supplied to sows through the ration, according to Jon Bergstrom, senior technical support manager for DSM Nutritional Products.
Feeding the correct amounts of high-quality vitamins can affect sows' structure, reproductive capabilities and long-term profitability, he said.
"On average, sows don't have enough litters to reach their breakeven point financially until the third parity, so we have a big opportunity for increasing profitability in the industry," Bergstrom said, citing research that shows that the average breeding sow achieves only 2.5 litters in her lifetime and that nearly 30% of replacement gilts fail to produce a single litter.
"Nutrition is a major component of reaching production potential, and vitamins are an important part of nutrition," he added. "Vitamins are often overlooked, but they are essential for life and all of the metabolic functions in the sow."
Bergstrom said it is the combination of vitamins that helps sows perform to their full potential. In particular, vitamin D3 can help build and maintain a strong skeleton, prevent lameness and promote reproductive capabilities; vitamin E is essential for an effective immune system, and vitamin A can help sows return to estrus and produce healthier piglets.
"In the past, vitamin requirements have been primarily based on studies designed to determine levels that would prevent deficiencies," he said. "In order to have optimum production, you need to provide vitamins at levels far above what's required merely to prevent nutritional deficiencies and diseases."
Several industry groups have updated their recommendations for vitamin feeding levels to help sows reach their full potential. DSM has developed the concept of "Optimum Vitamin Nutrition," which provides nutritionists and producers with updated vitamin feeding levels to support 30 pigs per sow per year.