Colostrum is more important than we thought

Piglets born more than an hour after the onset of farrowing have reduced immunocrits.

W.L. Flowers, Alumni Distinguished Professor

August 3, 2023

2 Min Read
National Pork Board

Colostrum has long been recognized as being critical for newborn piglets because it provides them with passive immunity and a readily available energy source, both of which are critical for their survival. Colostrum also has been shown to stimulate the development of the reproductive organs, especially the uterus in gilts and testes in boars.

Results from recent work conducted in Nebraska (gilts) and North Carolina (boars) are shown in the following figure and table. Both studies were conducted in commercial production systems and measured immunocrits in future replacement animals at one to two days of age and then monitored their adult reproductive performance. Immunocrit estimates the relative proportion of immunoglobulins in a piglet's body and is highly correlated with their colostrum intake. In the Nebraska study, gilts were allowed to nurse normally, whereas in the North Carolina study, boars were allowed to nurse normally, but some were dosed orally with supplemental colostrum.

Colostrum Gilts, Boars

Both studies demonstrate that there is a strong positive relationship between colostrum consumption during the first day of life and the subsequent reproductive potential of replacement gills and boars. For gilts, this translated into earlier attainment of puberty; entry into the breeding herd; and increased numbers of pigs born alive and for boars into increased sperm production. Therefore, colostrum has both short-term and long-term effects for pigs.

There are many different effective strategies for enhancing colostrum consumption and most take advantage of our current understanding about relationships among colostrum production, new-born piglet nursing behaviors and sow farrowing characteristics. Several of these are listed below and can be used to adjust neonatal management to insure that replacement gilts and boars consume enough colostrum for successful adult reproductive function.

  1. Colostrum quality is highest at the beginning of farrowing and decreases significantly during the first day of lactation. Piglets born more than an hour after the onset of farrowing have reduced immunocrits.

  2. Colostrum quantity and quality is highest in the anterior teats of the underline and lowest in the posterior ones. Piglets that nurse only the last three pairs of teats after farrowing have low immunocrits.

  3. Small piglets (birthweights less than 2.5 lbs) take longer to nurse and nurse less frequently than heavier piglets and tend to have lower immunocrits.

  4. All piglets, regardless of size, have reduced immunocrits if they are born in a litter with 15 or more piglets.

About the Author(s)

W.L. Flowers

Alumni Distinguished Professor, North Carolina State University Department of Animal Science

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