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Artificial Rearing of Piglets: Effects on Small Intestinal Morphology and Digestion Capacity

05 March 2014

Low-birthweight piglets and those from very large litters performed well on the artificial rearing system including ad libitum formula feeding in this study in Belgium.

The use of hyper-prolific sows results in large litters but also leads to an increasing number of supernumerary and underprivileged (e.g. low-birthweight) piglets, according to new research reported by Maartje De Vos and others in the journal, Livestock Science.

The effects of artificial rearing on the growth, small intestinal morphology and digestion capacity of these piglets remain unclear, they report, so the aim of their study was to assess the effect of sow-feeding versus formula-feeding on piglets' structural and functional gut maturation.

For this purpose, pairs of low-birthweight and normal-birthweight piglets (n=40) were allocated to four treatment groups. Groups 1 and 2 contained piglets that suckled until either 10 or 28 days of age, respectively. Groups 3 and 4 contained animals that suckled until three days of age and were then formula-fed until either 10 or 28 days of age.

For the period three to 10 days of age, formula-fed piglets grew slower (average daily gain −112g per day) and had lower lactase activity (−4.50 units per gramme of tissue) than suckling piglets (P<0.01).

In contrast, animals that were formula-fed until day 28 had a comparable average daily gains to piglets that remained with the sow.

In addition, formula-fed piglets had a greater absorptive area (P<0.01; +59.1μm2), maltase and sucrase activities (P<0.05; +0.97 and +0.23 units per gramme of tissue) and deeper crypts (P<0.03; +42.5μm) than suckling piglets.

In general, there were few differences differences between low- and normal-birthweight piglets, De Vos and co-authors report.

They conclude their results suggest that the combination of ad libitum access to formulated milk and an increased capacity to absorb nutrients makes artificial rearing a good alternative to raise supernumerary and/or low-birthweight piglets.


De Vos M., V. Huygelen, S. Willemen, E. Fransen, C. Casteleyn, S. Van Cruchten, J. Michiels and C. Van Ginneken. 2014. Artificial rearing of piglets: Effects on small intestinal morphology and digestion capacity. Livestock Science. 159:165–173.

Further Reading

You can view the full report (fee payable) by clicking here.

March 2014

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