Performance benefits/weight gain improvements from targeted transition feeding

Mathieu Cortyl, managing director at Tonisity, Europe and Asia Pacific

Mathieu Cortyl, Managing Director at Tonisity, Europe and Asia Pacific, explains how Isotonic supplements are prompting a rethink with transition feed strategies…
Isotonic liquids are a new development in pig nutrition, but evidence suggests they are likely to play a fundamental role in future feeding strategies. Our research confirms that supplementing young piglet diets during the difficult transition period, with nutrients that are precisely targeted to optimise gut integrity and protect cellular function, does offer potential to improve health and performance across the entire production phase. Our findings are consistent and suggest all piglets, not just small, lightweight littermates, would benefit from specific nutritional support at this critical stage.
The theory, that heavy-birthweight piglets tend to grow faster and perform better than their lighter weight counterparts is widely acknowledged. However, some recent US studies investigating the potential benefits of feeding Tonisity Px™, an isotonic protein drink that supports intestinal integrity and gut function, to piglets pre and post weaning, has thrown up some interesting observations. The results indicate that light weight pigs certainly can 'make up the difference' and finish on a par with their heavier birthweight counterparts if they are supported during suckling. The result also indicates how providing specialised, cell-targeted nutritional support during the suckling period, can boost productivity across all weight ranges from throughout rearing and finishing.
The trial, carried out on a 3200-sow breeding farm in Indiana and follow-on finishing sites in the Mid-West, demonstrated how this unique isotonic supplement, can optimise performance during the critical transition period - when piglets are first introduced to dry creep feed and then subsequently weaned onto nursery diets.
The overall results of this investigation, which analysed data collected from 3862 piglets, demonstrated how feeding the isotonic drink alongside a creep diet from days 2 to 8 of life and around weaning helped to reduce pre-weaning mortality by more than 22% (Figure 1) and improve productivity in the nursery stage and beyond. The findings were in line with 36 other trials across Europe, Asia and the USA, involving 64,148 piglets in total, and showing an average reduction of 23.6% (P<0.0001), in pre-weaning mortality vs. controls (10.6% vs. 13.9%). This equates to +0.5 pigs per litter or +1.2 piglets per sow per year.
However, what's more interesting is how the Tonisity Px (TPX) transition programme influenced productivity in the growing and finishing phase. The piglets given TPX pre and post weaning achieved heavier end weights -more than 3.03kg (6.7lb) heavier on average at finishing than pigs in the control group. But further analysis, evaluating how low (below 1kg), medium (1 to 1.6kg) and high (above 1.6kg) birthweight pigs, responded to the TPX programme, demonstrated that weight gain was far more pronounced in pigs that were classed as heavy or light at birth.
Weighty response

Heavy piglets given TPX in the transition period were found to be 4.1kg (9lb) heavier at slaughter than control pigs, while lightweight piglets showed a 3.5kg (7.6lb) advantage over their control group equivalents. Piglets classed as medium sized at birth, showed a 2.6kg improvement in finished weight compared with their control group peers.
The trial results also revealed how a higher percentage of pigs in the TPX treatment group finished at heavier weights, above 103.4kg lwt (228lb). What's more, all small birthweight piglets in the TPX group that completed the trial actually caught up with their heavier cohorts. This general 'shift up' in performance produced a more compact finished weight profile overall, with fewer underweight pigs (below 92kg / 203lb) produced in the TPX group - an outcome which is economically significant (Figures 2 and 3).
What's interesting is that this study does not concur with the commonly-accepted paradigm that low birthweight pigs rarely advance up the ladder. The results here show that they do; and that when Tonisity Px was administered during stressful periods in early life, the benefits were more distinct. A higher proportion of pigs finished at heavier weights, while fewer moved down to lower weight bands.
The key reason for using an isotonic supplement at this stage in a pig's life is to support gut integrity and the cellular tissues that line the intestines during a critical period of change. As piglets' move from a purely liquid milk diet to consuming drier feeds with a higher nutrient content the physiology of naive intestines change and cell structures can be challenged. Enterocytes, cells in the gut lining which are at the forefront of the absorption process, are particularly vulnerable. If they are compromised, they are less able to metabolise essential nutrients and that will have an impact on pig health and productivity. The isotonic nutrients in Tonisity Px are specifically developed to nourish these enterocytes, and the balanced formulation supports optimal cell function, which in turn sustains intestinal integrity, and promotes nutrient uptake.
This US study demonstrates how the return on investment (ROI) when using a pre-weaning nutritional supplement should not be gauged on the outcomes purely achieved at weaning and/or by the performance improvements seen in small/underweight piglets. In this case, the ROI was above 3:1 when considering pre-weaning mortality reduction only, and 5.9:1 when taking into account both mortality reduction and increased final weights. The financial implications discovered in this trial reach further than the farrowing house and nursery, as greater value was realised in the finishing stages. The TPX programme produced notable improvements to pig performance overall, but by far the biggest benefit was the considerable increase in finished weights achieved by pigs with the heaviest birthweights.
Trial Brief: Structure and outcomes

This investigation collected data from 353 litters, which were selected randomly to follow either the Tonisity Px (TPX) supplemented transition programme (1893 piglets) or a control pre/post weaning routine (1969 piglets). Each piglet was individually identified with an electronic (RF ID) tag and a traditional ear tag so individual birth, weaning, the end of the nursery (EON) and finished weights could be logged. It should be noted that finished weight in this trial was taken two weeks prior to slaughter.
In the farrowing/suckling pens litters had free access to water and were given pelleted creep feed from 3 days of age until weaning. Piglets in the TPX treatment group were introduced to a 3% concentration of the isotonic protein solution at 2 days of age. Each litter was given 250ml in an open bowl in the farrowing pen to supplement sows milk. On day 3, the volume of TPX was increased to 500ml per litter (approx. 40ml/piglet) and was fed daily until day 8. The liquid supplement was then re-introduced 3 days prior to weaning.

Litters in the control group received only creep feed from 3 days of age and no other nutritional supplements or liquids were provided during the suckling period.
At weaning, piglets moved onto two, separate rearing farms and treatment groups were allocated equally across both sites. Weaners were offered an ad lib first stage nursery diet and unlimited access to water in their pens. The TPX group continued to be offered the isotonic solution in open bowls (40ml/piglet), once a day for 3 days post weaning, which was readily consumed. A 3% solution was provided on the first day (arrival), followed by a 1.5% solution on the second day and a 0.75% solution on third day.
The results showed that piglets in the TPX group consistently out-performed those in the control group. Although average weaning weights were the same for both treatment groups, at around 6.2kg (13.7lb), by the end of the nursery phase performance of the TPX pigs was marginally better. Pigs weighed 24.8kg (54.9lb) on average, 408g heavier than those in the control group which averaged 24.4kg (53.8lbs). However, this trend became more pronounced as finishing progressed, with significantly higher end weights recorded for the TPX treatment group across all weight categories. The variance became more evident when the data was broken down into the birthweight sub-groups.
Meaningful interpretation, logical evaluation

The overall difference in average finished weights for each treatment group was statistically significant, and although the final recorded weights were typically lower than expected, it must be remembered that end of trial weights were logged two weeks before the first pigs were sold. The actual weights achieved at harvest reflected typical US slaughter weights, with pigs from the Tonisity Px group reaching final finished weights faster and more uniformly than their counterparts in the control group.

This trial concluded that using a Tonisity Px transition programme improved rearing herd performance. And when examining the finer detail, it also demonstrated how using this isotonic supplement, positive influenced the growth and performance of all pigs, not only small ones.
Perhaps the most pertinent outcome was that the TPX group produced a more compact slaughter weight profile. More pigs in this group made the grade with far fewer underweights recorded - a benefit that has significant economic relevance for a commercial pig production business.
Figure 1:  Effect of Tonisity Px on pre-weaning mortality (PWM)

Table 1:  Effect on Tonisity Px on pre-harvest weights, overall, and per class of weight at birth
Figure 2:  Effect of Tonisity Px on distribution of pre-harvest weights, per class of weight at birth

    a) for light pigs at birth (less than 1 kg liveweight at birth)


    b) for medium-weight pigs at birth (from 1 to 1.6kg liveweight at birth)


    c) for heavy pigs at birth (above 1.6kg liveweight at birth)

Figure 3:  Finishing Weight Population Shift with Tonisity Px

About Tonisity

Tonisity® International is an animal health company founded in 2015. Its focus is on developing supplementary nutritional products that create physiological changes in the gut of young animals.

Its first product, Tonisity Px™, launched in 2017, was the first isotonic protein drink for piglets. Originally developed in Northern Ireland, it is now available to producers globally.

Various trials across Europe have shown that Tonisity Px reduces pre-weaning mortality, increases weaning weights and improves the intestinal structure. It can also ease the transition to weaning.

A new product - Tonisity PxW™ WeanBetter - has been created especially for administration through weaner shed water lines to newly weaned pigs and is designed to be used as part of the Tonisity Total Programme.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Mathieu Cortyl and Tonisity