Drive nursery feed intake from within

End-of-nursery weights are the strongest predictor of finishing weights, according to Purina Animal Nutrition Research. Feed intake in early nursery is closely tied to nursery performance, so the way a pig responds to its first dry feed sets the pace for performance through finishing.

To support the best potential return on your nursery feed investment through finishing, choose feeds formulated to enhance early and consistent intake with enticing and highly digestible ingredients.

The challenge

On average, early feed intake in the first three to four days after weaning is too low to meet the pig’s energy requirements for maintenance and growth due to pigs being stressed by removal from the sow, transportation, introduction to a new environment and other factors.

You can see the impact on performance. What you can’t see is the negative impact on gut development and function. Reduced feed intake can lead to a breakdown in the intestinal lining, opening the door to a microbial imbalance or pathogen exposure.

A pig’s activated immune system pulls as much as 27 percent of energy from growth and maintenance to combat a potential illness, according to recent research from Iowa State University. Even if the pig doesn’t get sick, poor gut function can impair appetite and reduce intake, creating a downward spiral.

“When feed intake drops, inconsistent growth, weight loss and less-than-optimal gut development and function can follow,” says Stacie Crowder, lead nutritionist, Purina Animal Nutrition swine technical solutions. “Early and consistent feed intake is the foundation of growth, weight gain and excellent gut function.”

You have the power to create a positive feedback loop by choosing feed with research-proven, intake-enhancing ingredients that drive feeding behavior and keep pigs coming back for more.

Senses are powerful drivers

Think about opening the door to Grandma’s house at noon on Thanksgiving Day. It smells like nothing else in the world, and you can bring that smell to mind even when you’re not at Grandma’s and Thanksgiving is months away.

Most of us eat our fill on Thanksgiving and raid the fridge for leftovers later. Sometimes we crave turkey and stuffing, seemingly for no reason at all.

This craving is an example of sensory imprinting. Long ago, we learned Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s was a meal that made us feel good. We never forgot the taste and smell of that nourishing meal because senses are powerful drivers.

Pigs imprint on early feed sources, too. The difference is pigs have 50 to 60 percent more tissue and nerve cells to collect and process flavors and odors than humans have.

“The right combination of ingredients in nursery feeds can drive pigs to the feeder, even though they’re unfamiliar with the food source,” says Crowder.

Metabolic feedback triggers eating

The taste and smell of feed might drive the first bite, but the chemistry of repeat eating goes beyond the mouth and nose. Once a pig starts eating, receptors along the digestive tract drive digestive function.For example, these receptors trigger the production of saliva, which is a first step in digestion, and insulin, which helps the pig use the energy it consumes in feed. These receptors also drive chemical responses that can either stimulate the pig’s urge to eat or reduce that urge.

At 21 days, the weaned pig’s stomach is about the size of an egg, or about 2 ounces. About two-thirds of that space is available for feed and water, so a newly weaned pig can only eat about one ounce of feed at a time.

“We must do all we can to encourage newly weaned pigs to return to the feeder and eat their fill multiple times per day,” says Crowder. “Providing feeds with enticing and highly digestible ingredients will help trigger positive sensory feedback for consistent feed intake, putting pigs on track for efficient growth and optimal performance through finishing.”

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