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Danish Pig Research Centre Annual Report 2012: Gastric Health

22 August 2013

Gastric ulcers in pigs may be more common than we think. The Pig Research Centre (PRC) report explains their investigations into the causes and effects of these ulcers in finishing pigs, gilts and sows.

A Hidden Disease

Gastric ulcers occur in growing pigs, sows and gilts, but it is often highly difficult to tell that a pig is suffering from poor gastric health.

Among pigs of all ages, symptoms of severe bleeding gastric ulcers may be pale skin and dark faeces. Sudden death may be the outcome of bleeding gastric ulcers, and post-mortem examinations will reveal lesions in the stomach. Research has shown that severe gastric ulcers reduce daily gain in finishers by up to 100g a day.

Examination of Stomachs

A finisher producer may request examination of stomachs at the slaughterhouse, which costs DKK42 per stomach. In 2010 and 2011, 100 to 150 producers chose gastric health examinations. This indicates a big awareness of gastric health. A gastric ulcer diagnosis always requires examination of a minimum 20 stomachs.

The day before slaughter, this pig was in normal feeding condition. Gastric examinations revealed gastric index 8, which signifies gastric ulcer


Research has not confirmed that straw improves gastric health. Together with scientists at Aarhus University, PRC is investigating the effect of increasing amounts of straw in the pen. Results are expected in 2013.

Gastric Health in Sows

Many sow producers left the industry in the autumn 2012 due to the considerable investments required for converting the housing facilities by 2013. This made it possible to examine gastric health in sows of all parities, which is currently being analysed.

Feeding Strategies

Using finishers as a model for sows, it is currently being studied whether is it possible to influence gastric health in gestating sows through feeding. At experimental station Grønhøj, three strategies with meal feed as well as pelleted feed are being studied:

  • once-daily feeding
  • twice-daily feedings
  • ad-lib feeding

Preliminary figures reveal that with once-daily feeding pelleted feed results in the fewest gastric changes. The effect of meal feed is currently being analysed.

Trial with straw supplied on the floor - in this case, 80g per pig a day.
(Photo: Hyologisk)

Ulcers Develop and Heal Quickly

Research shows that if growing pigs switch from meal to very finely pelleted feed, almost all pigs develop gastric changes within few weeks. One study revealed gastric ulcers or scars from ulcers in 95 per cent of all pigs three weeks after changing diets.

After four weeks on pelleted feed, the pigs switched to coarsely ground meal feed. This improved gastric health significantly in only a few weeks. After two weeks with coarsely ground meal feed, only half of the slaughtered pigs suffered from gastric changes. These changes were mainly scars after ulcers that had likely developed when the pigs were fed finely pelleted feed.

Impact of Other Diseases

Veterinarians and pig producers often find that gastric health is better in pigs that do not suffer from infections, such as PCV2 virus. In order to investigate the impact of other diseases, stomach and lungs from finishers on 50 farms are being examined for disease. The materials are analysed for PCV2 virus in lymph nodes, and results are expected in 2013.

The activities were conducted in cooperation with Danish Crown, and were financially supported by the EU and the Rural District Programme under the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. Journal no. 3663-U-11-00181.

Further Reading

Find out more information on gastric ulcers by clicking here.

August 2013

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