Lack of research behind daily vitamin requirements for highly prolific sows and rapidly growing pigs is the greatest problem with NRC recommendations today.

6 Min Read
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In 1944, the first National Research Council edition published swine requirements for vitamins A and D. It was not until 1978 that vitamin E was first recognized by the NRC as an essential nutrient in swine production. Today, the greatest problem with the NRC recommended vitamin levels is the lack of university research to determine the daily requirements for highly prolific sows and for rapidly growing pigs.

Vitamin E plays a key role in muscle integrity and function, immune system and reproductive health. Vitamin E also influences birthing time and the number of stillborns. Field and university studies have shown faster and smoother delivery times after pre-partum injection.

Changes in husbandry practices such as confinement feeding and early weaning have increased the need for fat-soluble vitamin supplementation, especially vitamin E supplementation. Sows are giving birth to larger litters and the pigs are now growing at a faster rate. Paul Armbrecht, a veterinarian from Rockwell City, Iowa, states, "Go back 30 years, and sows typically had eight to nine live pigs born in a litter. Today, the average number of pigs born live is closer to 15. Also, sows used to raise 20 pigs per year, but now it's closer to 28 or 30 pigs per sow per year."

Heath Kasperbauer, owner of Kasperbauer Swine Management, which manages 12,000 sows on three farms in west-central Iowa injected his gilts upon arrival at his farms with VITAL E-Repro and the sows are injected two weeks prior to farrowing. "It's priced right and costs me about 40 cents per sow," says Kasperbauer, adding that newborn pigs receive an iron shot and receive an injection of VITAL E-Newborn. VITAL E brand injectable vitamin supplements has lowered his farms' sow mortality rate from 18% to 12%. "VITAL E-Repro is a safe, high-quality product that is making a big difference."

Research confirms an injection of vitamins E, A and D to gestating sows have reduced need of birthing assistance and faster delivery times.

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Figure 1 illustrates the number of injected sows with VITAL E-Repro requiring birthing assistance was 9.5% compared to 19% for the non-injected sows (P<0.05).

Proper vitamin E supplementation prior to farrowing can improve uterine muscle function allowing sows to deliver faster and easier, however, inadequate levels of vitamin E can hinder the ability of the uterus. According to Armbrecht, "Good muscle tone means a farrowing time can be reduced up to 50 minutes. My goal is to keep sows alive and have fewer stillborns. I expect at least a three-to-one return on investment before I'll recommend a product to my clients. VITAL E products deliver this and more."

"The uterus is a big muscle, and adequate vitamin E helps reduce stillborns, because the uterus can push pigs out faster. That is why we recommend injecting the sow one week pre-partum with VITAL E-Repro and again one week pre-breeding," says Rob Stuart, Ph.D. Stuart is an animal nutritionist with more than 30 years of vitamin expertise and in 1988, he founded Stuart Products Inc., in Bedford, Texas.

Findings in fetal development in pre-breeding sows administered with injectable vitamins E, A and D at weaning may reduce variation in embryo size.

Injection of vitamins A, D and E (5 mL VITAL E-Repro) one week pre-breeding (at weaning) may reduce variation in embryo size, leading to more uniform fetal development during pregnancy (resulting in a more uniform litter at birth). Results from a regional study in the southeast, indicated that Parity 1 and Parity 2 sows benefited from an injection of vitamin A palmitate more than older sows.

Importance of vitamin E and consequences of vitamin E deficiency

Modern husbandry practices (Mother Nature never intended for pigs to be weaned at three to-four weeks), university research and field studies have proven that pigs become vitamin E deficient during the early nursery phase. This develops as quickly as one-week post-weaning. Vitamin E is not efficiently utilized in nursery diets because the "form" of vitamin E is not the same "form" found in colostrum. Colostrum is essential to newborn pigs and the first opportunity a newborn pig has to obtain vitamin E. Vitamin E is poorly transferred across the placenta membrane, so newborn pigs need the vitamin E in colostrum found in the sow's milk. Newly weaned pigs may show signs of vitamin E deficiency and this may be observed as changes in vigor.

This vitamin E deficiency can lead to serious consequences for newly weaned pigs. Mulberry heart disease is one of the most common syndromes associated with vitamin E deficiency, according to Steve Ensley, DVM, Ph.D., Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. MHD is manifested by sudden death in pigs one to four weeks post-weaning. "I saw MHD fairly frequently when I worked at ISU," says Ensley. He believes that the correct form of vitamin E supplementation will dramatically reduce deaths from MHD.

Not all vitamin E sources are equally absorbed by newly weaned pigs

The "stabilized ester form" of vitamin E that is added to feed is alpha-tocopheryl acetate. After consumption, the acetate molecule is removed from the active-form of vitamin E — alpha-tocopherol — that is absorbed. However, due to lack of intestinal enzymes in the newly weaned pig, there is a lack of utilization of the stabilized acetate-form of vitamin E. "No matter how much synthetic vitamin E acetate is added to nursery diets, the newly weaned pigs cannot utilize this wrong "form" because it's the acetate ester," says Stuart.

In weaned nursery pigs, the vitamin E status diminishes dramatically. Research conducted at Ohio State, in addition to other university studies, has shown that newly weaned pigs cannot efficiently utilize stabilized feed-source vitamin E ester. Newly weaned pigs can utilize d-alpha-tocopherol (EMCELLE). D-alpha-tocopherol is the same form of vitamin E found in colostrum and green grass, which is more efficiently digested and absorbed.

Vitamin D status is also critical

Vitamin D is critical in pigs for proper skeletal development and immune response. (Prior to modern husbandry, the newborn pig was getting its vitamin D needs from the sun). Figure 2 reveals that sows not injected had newborn pigs with low vitamin D status, while the sows injected with VITAL E-Repro had newborns with higher vitamin D status. The vitamin D status was improved 54% at birth and remained higher at weaning (+23%).

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Optimum serum fat-soluble vitamin levels.

Fat-soluble vitamins, that is, vitamins A, D and E are critically important especially to the gestating sows and newly weaned pigs. Serum analysis should be used to determine if swine have optimum fat-soluble vitamin levels. Table 1 shows the optimum serum levels.

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Conclusion

The fat-soluble vitamin status of highly-prolific sows and rapidly growing pigs is critically important. The correct source of vitamin E supplements for newly weaned pigs is crucial. Vitamin D is critical in swine for skeletal development and immune response. To determine if swine have optimum fat-soluble vitamin levels, serum analysis should be used.

Recommended VITAL E and EMCELLE programs for swine

Birth

VITAL E-Newborn (0.5 mL). This injectable, which can be administered at processing along with an iron injection. Costs less than 10 cents per pig.

Nursery

EMCELLE E-D3 Liquid administered through the drinking water for two to three weeks post-weaning. Costs 25 to 35 cents per pig during the two- to three-week program.

Grow-finish

EMCELLE E-D3 Liquid, or EMCELLE D3 Liquid, pulsed monthly, or as needed.

Gilts and sows

VITAL E-Repro at one to two weeks pre-farrowing and again at weaning. Each injection costs about $1 per sow.

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