Why anti-nutritional factors matter in piglet health

Diego Navarro, PhD

There exists a multitude of factors influencing the health of pigs which include, but not limited to, management practices, environment, feed quality, and pathogen load.

Young piglets are sensitive to many external stimuli due to their immature biological functions and the modern day weaning age exacerbates problems associated with this transitional period. Consequently, enteric diseases in the nursery are common and are often expressed as low intake of feed, depressed growth, and diarrhea (Lallès et al., 2007). The gut is the largest immune system; therefore, any damages to the gut hinders the ability to resist infections.

Managing dietary stress requires a comprehensive understanding of your ingredients and dietary components contributing to inflammation in the gut. Most dietary stressors come from the grains and oilseeds in the form of indigestible nutrients, phytate, mycotoxins, and antigenic proteins. Ingredients with low digestibility allow greater amounts of protein to be fermented into potentially toxic byproducts. However, overall digestibility improves with age and can be further increased using enzymes. Mycotoxins are detrimental to intestinal health and predisposes pigs of all ages to infections and impaired digestion (Broom, 2015), but these effects may effectively be alleviated using readily available toxin solutions.

Unfortunately, soybean meal contains anti-nutritional factors (ANFs) that are detrimental to the young pig. Not only do trypsin inhibitors bind protein digestion enzymes decreasing amino acid digestibility, they also increase the secretion of these enzymes to compensate for lower digestibility. This increase in secretion is regulated by the hormone cholecystokinin, which also happens to lower voluntary feed intake (Woyengo et al., 2016). Β-conglycinin is an allergenic storage protein found in soybeans that causes intestinal damage, oxidative stress, inflammation, and diarrhea in young pigs (Chen et al., 2011). Pigs lack the enzyme α-galactosidase to digest the galacto-oligosaccharides stachyose and raffinose that are found in soybean meal. These oligosaccharides may be fermented by bacteria and increase the risk of diarrhea especially at high inclusion levels of soybean meal (Liying et al., 2004).

It is quite common to use one or two technologies and expect an improvement in overall gut health without addressing the root cause. This is analogous to pumping air into a balloon with a tiny hole; the balloon will expand but you have to constantly pump air into it to keep it inflated. This is what happens when ANFs are fed to young pigs hoping that other technologies alleviate the problem. These include antibiotics, high levels of zinc and copper, and organic acids implemented to mitigate enteric problems encountered in the nursery. In most cases, you will see an improvement particularly in low health herds. However, this may not always be the most effective way to improve gut health in terms of efficacy and economics especially if it is not a pathogen-related problem. Improvement of gut health should take a rather holistic approach. Why not use ingredients containing less ANFs to address these challenges?

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About HAMLET PROTEIN

Providing the right nutrition in the first life stage determines the overall lifetime performance of the animal. Our soy-based specialty ingredients improve health, welfare and performance of young animals. That is how we deliver a strong return on investment to producers around the world.