This article was originally published on Pig Progress. Click here to read the original article.

Dietary diversity seems a promising feeding strategy in getting piglets to eat during lactation. That was the main conclusion of a study conducted by researchers at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Animal Behavior & Science.

The study is part of a longer research process with the aim of finding ways of getting piglets to eat before weaning. The team wrote: “Timely intake of solid feed is essential to ease the nutritional change from sow’s milk to solid feed at weaning and thereby reducing weaning-related problems. A significant percentage of piglets, however, do not or hardly consume solid feed before weaning.”

Effects of dietary variety in the feed

The research team therefore decided to study the effects of dietary variety, and presented the feed in substrate during lactation, on the feeding behaviour and performance of piglets up to two weeks post-weaning. The scientists provided the feed ad lib from day four in two feeders, with four bowls each.

In a 2×2 arrangement, the 40 litter feeders received feed in one of two ways:

  • As a monotonous diet.
  • Four feed items simultaneously, i.e. creep feed, celery, cereal honey loops and peanuts, as a diverse diet.

In addition, the feed was either provided:

  • Without substrate.
  • With substrate, i.e. sand, in one of the two feeders up to weaning.

Stimulus for feed exploration and eating

The scientists observed that dietary diversity greatly stimulated feed exploration and eating (≥2,5 times), feed intake and the percentage of (good) eaters from early in lactation, and enhanced piglet growth towards weaning (by 29 g/day). The piglets having a monotonous diet, though, spent more time eating creep feed from day 18.

In their article, the team described that within the group of piglets receiving a monotonous diet, the litters supplied with a substrate consisted of more good eaters than those that had not.

The group that received a diverse diet and then no substrate had the highest post-weaning feed intake and gain between day five and 15. The group also had the lowest proportion of pigs with higher tail damage scores.

Effects regarding piglet behaviour remained inconclusive

However, effects regarding behaviour remained inconclusive, as piglets with a diverse diet had a lower and higher number of body lesions at day 15 post-weaning, spent less time exploring the feeder and more time nosing pen mates than piglets provided with a monotonous diet.

The scientists noticed that piglets provided with a substrate showed a reduction in total post-weaning feed intake, gain (particularly between day zero and two) and inactivity, increased levels of manipulation and aggression at week one and a higher number of body lesions at day 15 post-weaning.

Treatments not reinforced after weaning

In conclusion, the researchers wrote: “Dietary diversity seems a promising feeding strategy in getting piglets to eat during lactation. Provision of substrate in the feeder subtly stimulated foraging behaviour, but negatively impacted post-weaning adaptation, probably because treatments were not reinforced after weaning and piglets thus experienced loss of enrichment.” – Vincent ter Beek, Pig Progress