Effects of age and diet on digestive function in the young pig
Owsley, Walter Franklin
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Early weaning of pigs has become a prominent part of today's swine production in order to maximize utilization of facilities and sows. Problems of nutrition and management of the early weaned pig, however, negates a portion of this benefit. Milk production peaks at 3 to 4 weeks of lactation; therefore, little dry feed is consumed by pigs prior to 4 weeks of age. Weaning at four weeks or younger forces the pig to consume solid food consisting primarily of grain and vegetable protein rather than milk. The change of diet, coupled with the stress of weaning and change of environment following weaning, has led to what is known as the post-weaning check period. This period of 7 to 10 days is characterized by low feed intake, little gain in weight and poor feed conversion. To complicate the problem, the pig's poor condition may increase the susceptability to low grade infections leading to scours and, in extreme cases, death. Any practice that overcomes this check period would improve the efficiency of producing pork. Since the acceptance of early weaning, new management techniques and housing have been developed to reduce the stress of weaning and improve the nursery environment. The check period, however, still exists, implicating nutrition as the major problem. Feed ingredients added to starter diets to increase feed intake or improve the quality of dietary protein have helped little. These observations suggest a problem with the young pig's ability to digest and utilize diets consisting mainly of grain and vegetable protein during the first 7 to 10 days post-weaning. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of age and diet on the development of digestive function in the young pig.