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It’s High Time to Lower Feed Costs

Stretching Diet Dollars Only Makes Sense

It’s High Time to Lower Feed Costs

Clearly, the only thing better than a win-win for the pork sector is a win-win-win. As feed costs consume a growing portion of producer budgets, the challenge for industry is to maintain pig performance while ensuring the profitability and sustainability of pork production. Doing so can be especially hard in the post weaning period, a critical stage for pig development. In talking with industry, researchers pinpointed a number of stressors that impact post weaning pigs, such as the removal of antibiotics and the possible withdrawal of animal based proteins from the diet. In response, science set out to develop effective feeding strategies for weaned pigs that would maximize profits, reduce reliance on in-feed antibiotics and improve robustness.

Let’s get growing

A prime focus for achieving these goals was amino acids and their potential for boosting health and growth in post weaning pigs without breaking the bank on feed. In turn, this could reduce the industry’s reliance on antibiotics by offering an alternative means to treat disease and promote growth through diet alone. For both the pork sector and the general public, reducing the need for antibiotics is a top priority, which makes it top of mind for science as well.

As well, researchers sought chemical and biological tools to detoxify vomitoxin, a mycotoxin that is most common in grains like wheat, barley, oats, rye and corn. Not only could this boost pig growth and producer profits, but it may lead to greater food safety.

In the course of their study, the team also aimed to maximize the level of pulse grains in diets in order to reduce feed expense and improve gut health.

Pigs, plants and profit

Traditional post weaning diets usually feature animal-based protein sources such as whey and fish meal, as they are seen to be the best option for reducing the stress of weaning. These regimens are highly complex and easy to digest, but that comes at great cost to producers. Some studies, however, have suggested that such diets, when compared to plant-based options, do not enhance growth performance overall from the nursery to market weight hogs.

At the same time, there is evidence that plant-based diets may render pigs more vulnerable to disease compared to the animal-based route. This sort of “good news, bad news” scenario underscores the need for continued research on the pros and cons of various feed regimes.

Just add amino acids

For this study, researchers addressed the downside of plant-based meals by including a mixture of functional amino acids at 120 per cent of NRC recommendations (Nutrient Requirements of Swine). Functional amino acids govern vital metabolic pathways to enhance development and health and are key components of many immune system proteins. Previous studies have shown that this approach boosts growth and immunity of pigs facing a disease challenge such as Salmonella.

Pick your path

Based on this project, producers now have options. In some operations, the animal-based diet may be preferable for its ability to improve pig health. In other cases, switching to plant-based meals could help to offset rising feed prices and keep more dollars in producer pockets. For those choosing the latter approach, supplementing diets with the functional amino acids methionine, threonine and tryptophan in amounts that exceed current industry levels can help guard against the negative impact of plant-based strategies on disease resistance. Those amino acids become even more effective in safeguarding pig health the further out they are used from a disease challenge.

All told, the study covered a lot of ground, thanks to strong support from industry, government and academia. Swine Innovation Porc (SIP), the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Canada under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership participated as funding partners. The research itself was driven by co-leaders Dr. Daniel Columbus, research scientist and adjunct professor at the Prairie Swine Centre, University of Saskatchewan, and Dr. Martin Nyachoti, professor, Department of Animal Science at the University of Manitoba.

Just as many victories in life stem from making the right moves at the right time, scientists feel the same can be said for success in pork production. While the wrong decisions with post-weaning pigs may harm their performance down the road, choosing wisely will lower costs and antibiotic use, raise performance levels and improve the public image of the entire pork sector.


Project Title:  Development of innovative strategies to reduce feed costs in the post-weaning period while maintaining optimal performance and health

Lead(s)/Co-Lead(s): Dr.  Daniel Columbus (Prairie Swine Center)

Budget: $349 219

Research Methods

To gauge the relative merits of a plant-based diet versus the more common animal-based approach, researchers employed a 31 day feeding program with 32 weanling pigs.

Over the course of the program, pigs were given one of four diets: plant-based with a basal (essential for maintaining the animal’s fundamental vital activities) amino acid profile; plant-based supplemented with the amino acids methionine, threonine and tryptophan at 120 per cent of daily requirements; and two animal-based diets with one of the two amino acid regiments used for the plant-based diets.

At the end of the 31 day nursery phase, pigs received a common grower diet. After seven days on that diet, they were inoculated with Salmonella and monitored for seven days following the inoculation.

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