The Chemistry of Great Pig Feed Intake

Aug 16, 2018

The Chemistry of Great Pig Feed Intake



The challenge with pig feed intake at weaning

On average, pig feed intake in the first 3–4 days after weaning is too low to meet the pig’s energy requirements for maintenance and growth2 because pigs have been stressed by removal from the sow, transportation, introduction to a new environment and other factors.

You can see the impact of low feed intake on performance. What you can’t see is the negative impact on swine gut development and function. Reduced pig feed intake can lead to a breakdown in the intestinal lining or a poor environment for microbes in the intestine, opening the door to an attack from pathogens.

A sick pig’s immune system pulls energy from growth and maintenance to combat illness. Even if the pig doesn’t get sick, poor gut function can impair appetite and reduce feed consumption, creating a downward spiral.

Early and repeat pig 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. It all starts with a pig’s sense of smell.

Senses are powerful drivers for pig feed consumption

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.2,3 The right combination of ingredients in nursery feeds can drive pigs to the feeder and pig feed intake, even though they’re unfamiliar with the food source.

Metabolic feedback triggers pig feed intake

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.4

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.5

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.

According to our research, end-of-nursery weights are the strongest predictor of finishing weights.1 Pig 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 feed consumption with enticing and highly digestible ingredients. Encourage newly weaned pigs to return to the feeder and eat their fill multiple times per day.
Are you looking for nutritional tools to encourage and maintain pig feed intake in the nursery? Talk with your local Purina sales representative or visit to learn more.

1 Summation of Purina Animal Nutrition trials: PS1041, PS1035, WF006, WF007, FT142N-15 and PMI Nursery-Grower Transition Pak research (slide 17 in R+D Data for PtoP)
2 Le Dividich, J. and Seve, B. 2001. Energy requirements of the young pig. In: Varley, M.A. and Wiseman, J. (eds). The weaner pig: nutrition and management. CAB International, United Kingdom, pp. 17-44.
3 King, R.H. and Pluske, J.R. 2003. Nutritional management of the pig in preparation for weaning. In: Pluske, J.R., LeDividich, J. and Verstegen, M.W.A. (eds). Weaning the pig. Concepts and consequences. Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands, pp. 37-52.
4 Sbarbati, A., Benati, D., and Merigo, F. 2009. The diffuse chemosensory system. In: Torrallardona, D. and Roura, E (eds). Voluntary feed intake in pigs. Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands, pp. 141-150.
5 Roua, E. and Tedo, G. 2009. Feed appetence in pigs: an oronasal sensing perspective. In: Torrallardona, D. and Roura, E (eds). Voluntary feed intake in pigs. Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands, pp. 105-124.

Read More News

Jan 20, 2019
It’s winter, and you’re likely doing one of two things with your cattle: feeding stored forages or grazing dormant forages. So, when it comes to winter forage for cattle, what are some best practices?
Jan 06, 2019
Daily walks through pig pens are an important part of a successful nursery or grow finish operation. Consistently observing your animals and their environment can help you prevent many challenges.
Dec 27, 2018
Cold weather impacts your cattle, but they can’t stay warm by putting on winter boots, a coat and a hat. They need other ways to keep warm. Winter nutrition and environment management will help maintain a cow’s core body temperature, keeping cows warm from the inside out.