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Improve Nursery Pig Growth and the Pig Immune System with Proven Animal Nutrition

6 minute read

The first one or two days after weaning can be a stressful time for a nursery pig.

The biggest production challenge that swine producers face is getting those nursery pigs started on feed after they are weaned. In fact, it’s common for nursery pigs to go 24 to 48 hours after weaning without consuming feed because they are not familiar with the diet, and they are still looking for the sow to get some milk.

These 24 to 48 hours without feed can be problematic for nursery pigs because the longer a piglet goes without feed, the more chances there are for opportunistic bacteria, like E. coli, to compromise gut health and cause post-weaning diarrhea. Diarrhea can also be caused by stress from a new environment and being comingled with unfamiliar pigs, typically from multiple litters, or even other farms.

Another factor to consider is that many pigs are shipped long distances, sometimes for up to 14 to 16 hours. This can also lead to production and immune challenges.

Traditional Solutions to Weaning Stress in Nursery Pigs

Swine producers know that it’s important to get weaned piglets off to a good start, and they are usually willing to spend a little more on feed during the nursery phase to help with this.

Producers will generally feed a more palatable diet with less soybean meal and more lactose, whey or casein. Soybean meal has anti-nutritional factors that can cause diarrhea in pigs. Lactose, whey and casein, while generally more expensive, are easier on the piglet digestive system. Producers can also add acidifiers to the water to help increase protein digestion.

Supplementing their swine nutrition and feeding program with zinc from Zinpro® Performance Minerals® can help improve growth in the nursery phase and improve a pig’s ability to mount a rapid and robust immune response to bacterial challenges.

Zinpro® ProPath® LQ Zn Improves Bodyweight in Nursery Pigs

Zinpro® ProPath® LQ Zn – the only water-soluble performance trace mineral supplement on the market – allows producers to get some nutrients into the pig through the water before they are able to make the transition from milk to solid feed.  Zinc helps maintain tight junctions that allow nutrients to pass through but keep harmful bacteria out of the gut. Zinc also aids in the activation of immune cells and cell differentiation.

A recent Zinpro trace mineral research study conducted at Oklahoma State University analyzed what level of zinc in the water was most effective in improving immunity and growth. 280 crossbred pigs from seven different sow farms were randomly assigned to one of four water treatments containing 0, 20, 40 or 80 ppm of Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn per liter of water. This was in addition to a common, nonmedicated diet with growth-promoting levels of zinc oxide and copper sulfate, including:

  • 2,500 ppm of zinc from zinc oxide for the first seven days of the nursery phase
  • 1,750 ppm of zinc from zinc oxide for days eight through 14
  • 200 ppm of copper from copper sulfate through the rest of the nursery phase, days 14 through 42

The research study revealed a good response in nursery pigs that received 40 ppm of Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn in their drinking water. After 21 days, there was an increase of about 1.5 pounds in bodyweight. When looking at 42 days, which is the full nursery term, there was an increase of 2.89 pounds in bodyweight when 40 ppm of zinc was used in the water.

Improve the Pig Immune System with Zinpro Performance Trace Minerals

While nursery performance is the main driver in many nursery production decisions, our team found that Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn provides a secondary benefit to the piglet — an enhanced health outcome.

The longer the nursery pig goes without feed or is under environmental/physiological stress, the better the chances that opportunistic bacteria may disrupt the gastrointestinal tract and impact gut health/integrity. With this in mind, we worked with the University of Minnesota to research how Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn impacts the immune outcomes when piglets were challenged with a bacterium called Lawsonia intracellularis, which causes ileitis in pigs.

Pigs were fed one of three diets:

  • Control diet: 125 ppm of zinc from zinc sulfate in the feed
  • Zinpro® Availa® Zn: 125 ppm of total zinc with 50 ppm zinc from Zinpro Availa® Zn in the feed.
  • Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn: 125 ppm of zinc from zinc sulfate in the feed and 40 ppm of Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn in the water.

Pigs received these treatments for 21 days prior to being exposed to a subclinical Lawsonia intracellularis challenge on day 21 and were serial euthanized at 14, 21- and 28-days post-inoculation to measure the host immune response to the challenge.

Pigs receiving Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn in the water or Zinpro Availa Zn in the feed developed antibodies up to one week earlier than challenged pigs receiving zinc sulfate alone. This result means that pigs have the antibodies needed — up to one week earlier — to mount a robust immune response to the gut health challenge. The more rapid seroconversion of antibodies was followed by a significant increase in T cell counts in the infected crypts of the ileum. This is important because one of the proposed mechanisms of action for the proliferation of Lawsonia intracellularis is that it highjacks the host’s ability to mount a robust T cell response. T cell counts in the infected crypts of the ileum of pigs fed the control diet remained suppressed at 21 days post-inoculation compared to pigs fed Zinpro Availa Zn, which showed T cell counts at 14 days post-inoculation.

At 28 days post-inoculation, fewer pigs receiving Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn or Zinpro Availa Zn had intestinal lesions caused by Lawsonia intracellularis, and the lesions were less severe than those on pigs receiving nutritional levels of zinc sulfate. This demonstrates, from an immune standpoint, that Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn acts similarly to Zinpro Availa Zn in the feed.

Feeding Zinpro Zinc to Nursery Pigs Provides Positive ROI

The research proves a nearly 3-pound bodyweight advantage per pig through the nursery phase. Based on this study and assuming weight out of the nursery unit is valued, a producer could anticipate a return on investment from 3:1 to 5:1, depending on hog commodity prices.

Since weaned pigs generally consume water before feed, incorporating Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn into the water helps support health outcomes in the high-stress nursery phase of production, which can also be beneficial though the finisher phase.

Producers should consider feeding 40 ppm of Zinpro ProPath LQ Zn to nursery pigs to help promote higher levels of growth and increase their ability to mount a rapid and robust immune response to bacterial challenges. However, producers can increase supplementation to 80 ppm if they anticipate additional challenges, such as a disease outbreak at the sow farm or pigs weaned during an active disease outbreak.

To learn more about including it on your swine operation, contact a Zinpro representative today.