Supplement Improves Growth in Low-Birthweight Piglets

The genetic selection of hyperprolific sows has led to a rise in the number of piglets that are underweight at birth, often runtier and with stunted growth. A study tested the effect of a supplement on their development.

Improving the prolificity of sows has enabled a significant increase in the number of piglets per litter. At the same time, however, the proportion of low-birthweight piglets has increased. This results in a lower average litter weight and far greater within-litter variation, with piglet weights ranging from under 1 kg to over 2 kg in the same litter. Low-birthweight piglets have lower physical reserves and tend to lose out in the competition for the best teats. As a result, their subsequent performance is jeopardised, and the morbidity and mortality risk remains high for these animals, leading to substantial losses for the breeders. In this context, it is essential to improve the survival rate and support the development of these piglets.

The first few hours are critical

Within the first few hours after birth, the digestive tract of the piglet is colonised by microorganisms and its immune system gradually falls into place. Previous studies have shown a link between this early establishment of the microbiota and post-weaning performance. Perinatal nutrition therefore plays a crucial role in modulating the microbiota during the suckling period and in optimising piglet growth. Certain compounds may not only promote the growth of certain beneficial bacteria, but also support the piglets’ immune system. An Agroscope study tested the combination of several compounds on piglet development from birth to two weeks post-weaning. The effect of these compounds on the incidence of post-weaning diarrhoea was also studied. In total, 175 piglets were given a feed supplement based on synbiotics (i.e. a combination of probiotic bacteria and a prebiotic), vitamins and selenium at birth, whilst 186 piglets were given water. The study showed improved growth in the low-birthweight (< 1.20 kg) piglets administered the feed supplement. In addition, there was a slightly lower incidence of diarrhoea in all piglets receiving the supplement in the first week post-weaning. 


  • The birth of the piglet is followed by the rapid colonisation of its digestive tract by microorganisms. This stage is crucial for the animal’s development and future health.
  • Use of the supplement with low-birthweight piglets increased their average daily weight gain by 30g/d and total weight by 1 kg during the study period.
  • Supplementation with synbiotics, vitamins and selenium also slightly decreased the incidence of diarrhoea in the first week following weaning.

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