Mother knows best!

13th December 2018

Mother knows best!

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, colostrum is defined as; 'the first secretion from the mammary glands after giving birth, rich in antibodies.' Personally speaking, I like this description; it's clear and succinct, but it is in fact much more important than this portrayal suggests.

Piglets are born naïve, devoid of antibodies (immunoglobulins/ IgG’s) to protect them from environmental pathogens and with low energy reserves. During the first 24hr after parturition, the sow passes these IgG’s to her piglets via the colostrum along with antimicrobial peptides, proteins and, critically, energy in the form of fat. It is this highly digestible package of acquired immunity and readily available energy that kick-starts our piglets’ survivability and lifetime growth performance.

Recent research out of Belgium by Declerck et al., (2016) investigated the effect of piglet birth weight and colostrum intake on lifetime growth performance. This work showed that irrespective of birthweight, if a piglet consumes no colostrum, it has over 50% chance of not surviving until weaning. Conversely, regardless of birthweight, if piglets receive 350g colostrum their survivability is dramatically increased with less than 10% chance of mortality.

Piglets with low birthweights, (less than 1kg), who received low levels of colostrum had 30% chance of surviving to weaning. However if these low birthweight piglets received 350g colostrum their chances of survival increased to 95%. Piglets that received this magic 350g colostrum performed better than those that didn’t throughout their lifetime- interestingly, the positive association between colostrum intake and finishing weight was most pronounced in low birth weight piglets. This comprehensive research shows that colostrum intake has a greater effect on weaning weight than birth weight.

Furthermore, Le Dividich et al., (2005) found that individual sow colostrum production can vary greatly, from the region of 1900 to 5300g in the first 24 hours. Importantly, sow colostrum yield was found to be independent of both litter size or parity. With this in mind, we need to think again about how to safeguard the viability and performance of our low birthweight piglets a product of our hyperproflic sows…what if we could increase the quality of that colostrum?

The culmination of five years of fatty acid research by the Devenish Group has resulted in ColfaPig, which was launched at EuroTeir in November. A specific mix of encapsulated short and medium chain fatty acids, ColfaPig is fed to sows throughout gestation and lactation. Sows fed ColfaPig have improved colostrum, with increases of 30% fat as shown below in figure 1.

Figure 1. Differences in nutritional value of colostrum from sows fed control or ColfaPig diets

Importantly, these piglets are not only supplied with more energy, but with significant increases in immunoglobulins with up to a 29% improvement delivered through sow colostrum. Crucially, these improved levels are reflected through piglet blood analysis; the piglets are able to capture the benefit. This has resulted in an increased weaning weight of up to 0.5kg, stretching to 800g at 10 weeks and an increase in piglet viability delivering an extra 0.5 pigs weaned per sow.

Figure 2. Immunoglobulin levels in sow colostrum and piglet sera

By improving colostrum quality, we have the ability to ensure our piglets are more successful throughout their lifetime. The increased energy and immunoglobulins available through improved colostrum enable us to wean more, heavier piglets, and piglets that are potentially more robust and capable of coping with infection. It’s about time we gave mother what she needs, after all she knows best.

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