Swine

Importance of Pig Colostrum

Young Animal : Health Stresses

Gawain Willis

Ph.D. - Research & Development Director, Formulation

At a recent swine producer-focused conference in St. Louis, Mo., farm managers discussed the goals for the future of their operations. Close to three-quarters of the group recognized 30 pigs per sow per year (psy) as a goal they’re working toward.

However, only 22.6 percent of the farrow-to-wean/finish producers had met the goal of 30 psy and were able to sustain the progress on their operations.1

Though the genetics are in place to reach the goal of 30 psy, many mentioned pre-weaning mortality as a cause for concern. This trend is typical of the U.S. swine industry. In fact, the most recent USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) study estimates that 12.9 percent of pigs born live die before weaning.2

Sow colostrum quality is a key to reduce pre-weaning mortality and to help meet the genetic possibilities of today’s swine herd. Industry research also shows that high quality colostrum plays a role in the lifetime productivity of the pig.

The first feeding of colostrum must be supplied to new litters within hours after birth. Colostrum provides the necessary immunoglobulins (Ig) to kick-start the pig’s immune system. In addition to Ig’s, colostrum contains high levels of protein, energy and Vitamin D that are vital to newborn pigs.

Pigs are born with low body energy stores and, without Ig’s from the sow’s colostrum to protect them from environmental pathogens, newborn pigs are at risk for disease. The only immune protection newborn pigs receive comes from the first feeding of colostrum.

The first feeding of colostrum must be supplied to new litters within hours after birth. Colostrum provides the necessary immunoglobulins (Ig) to kick-start the pig’s immune system. In addition to Ig’s, colostrum contains high levels of protein, energy and Vitamin D that are vital to newborn pigs.

Pigs are born with low body energy stores and, without Ig’s from the sow’s colostrum to protect them from environmental pathogens, newborn pigs are at risk for disease. The only immune protection newborn pigs receive comes from the first feeding of colostrum.

To provide the best start possible to newborn pigs, it is recommended that each pig receive a minimum of 40 milliliters of colostrum within the first 5 to 7 hours of life with 250 grams of Ig’s supplied to each pig during its first 24 hours.

The composition of the colostrum is also important in preventing disease susceptibility, poor growth rates and pre-weaning mortality. The colostrum should ideally be made of 30 percent Immunoglobulin A (IgA), 10 percent Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and 60 percent Immunoglobulin G (IgG).3

While it can be difficult to measure just how much colostrum the newborn pig is receiving, a colostrometer or refractometer can help determine the quality of the colostrum. A quality colostrum will be dense with solids and comprised of the adequate levels of each Ig type. Each Ig type offers specific protection to the newborn pig. IgG is absorbed through the open gut of the piglet where it enters the blood stream to promote passive immunity. IgA provides protection in the gut after being absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract while IgM assists the immune cells when responding to challenges.4

Each group of immunoglobulins plays a specific role in the pig’s early immunity. The combination of the correct levels of the three can help the pig achieve immunocompetence and can result in greater long-term performance.”

Unfortunately, colostrum produced by the sow can vary significantly within the herd, often making it difficult to predict which newborn pigs are not receiving the protection required. A research study by Le Dividich, Rooke and Herpin for The Journal of Animal Science shows that colostrum antibodies produced by the sow can fluctuate from 1,900 to 5,300 grams with “no clear effect [based on] litter size or parity.”5

An additional study conducted by Devillers, Le Dividich, Farmer and Prunier found similar results in variation and concluding that colostrum production does not correlate with litter size. The group concluded, though, that the quality of the colostrum and the levels of Ig’s supplied in the first feeding can directly impact pig health and can minimize pre-weaning mortality.6

Researchers across the country have tested ways to help sows produce consistent colostrum with the levels of Ig’s that newborn pigs require. In 2011-2012, a series of feeding trials were conducted at five different sites during various seasons with several management practices.

Researchers at Purina Animal Nutrition Center, Oklahoma State University and the University of Arkansas, as well as two on-farm field trials in Indiana and Illinois, measured the effects of the sow feed additive Healthy EDGE® Technology.7

Sows were fed the control or test diets for six weeks pre-farrowing to weaning. The only difference in the two rations was an additional 1 pound per ton inclusion of the feed additive. The average of all studies showed that supplemented sows were able to produce 1.4 more full potential pigs per sow per year. To further examine the reason for increased pig vitality, researchers at Purina Animal Nutrition Center collected colostrum samples and evaluated its impact on pig growth rates. Research from the study showed statistically significant improvements in total pigs born (13.46 vs. 14.4 pigs, P<0.05) and pigs born live (11.77 vs. 12.5 pigs, P<0.07) with no decrease in birth weight of piglets from treated sows.  At weaning, the additive increased pigs weaned (10.27 vs. 10.85 pigs, P<0.01) and litter weaning weight (149 vs. 156 pounds, P<0.04).  Willis states that the high statistical significance of the results implies that Healthy EDGE® Technology is likely to perform as shown 9 out of 10 times or better.

Impact of the feed additive on Ig levels in colostrum was also dramatic. Colostrum produced by the sows supplemented with the feed additive had 93 percent higher levels of IgA, 115 percent more IgG and 38 percent more IgM than the non-supplemented sows all of which were statistically significant (P<0.05).

The higher quality colostrum made a significant difference in the growth rates and performance of the pigs as they moved through weaning.  Supplemented sows produced 0.58 more pigs per litter at weaning and a total of 0.69 more pigs per litter that met their full potential of 8 pounds or more at weaning than the non-supplemented group.8

Supplemented sows also had higher feed intake which is required to sustain higher litter productivity without compromising sow weight and rebreeding performance, consuming 14 more pounds of feed through lactation in the trial.  

The studies confirm that the road to high colostrum begins long before farrowing and that sow nutrition through all stages can influence pig performance.
 

1Producer poll, Swine VIP Event. St. Louis, MO, 2012. Purina Animal Nutrition LLC.  4 September 2012.
2“Reference of Swine Health and Management Practices in the United States.” USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System, 2006. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/swine/index.shtml#swine2006. 13 September 2012.
3Pitcher, Paul. “Swine Production: Colostrum.” University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/swine/bio/fem/farr/colostrum.html
4Willis, Gawain. “How to add extra Full Potential Pigs.” Purina Animal Nutrition LLC: Swine VIP Proceedings, 2012. 4 September 2012.
5J. Le Divdich, J.A. Rooke and P. Herpin (2005). “Nutritional and immunological importance of colostrum for the new-born pig.” The Journal of Agricultural Science, 143 , pp 469-485. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=E1DD7DF3E32D9F080A24E24D94BBB179.journals?fromPage=online&aid=365467 12 September 2012.
6N. Devillers, C. Farmer, J. Le Dividich and A. Prunier (2007). “Variability of colostrum yield and colostrum intake in pigs.” Animal: An International Journal of Animal BioScience,1, pp 10331041. http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2F46057_5EB9E022197205035524BEFD0B736D0F_journals__ANM_ANM1_07_S175173110700016Xa.pdf&cover=Y&code=0591bfbb9ced787028e851f47f408cbf
7De Rodas, Brenda and Gawain Willis. “Healthy Edge® Technology Field and University Trials.” Purina Animal Nutrition LLC: 2011-2012.
8De Rodas, Brenda and Gawain Willis. “Litter size and birth weight and its impact on long-term production.” Purina Animal Nutrition LLC, Purina Animal Nutrition Center. 2006-2012.