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Is 100%-Organic Feeding for Piglets Possible?

100%-organic feeding of piglets has been discussed for a long time. A feeding trial on commercial farms shows that completely organic diets are suitable for piglets, and that their introduction is facilitated by a longer suckling period.

Meeting the high nutritional requirements of piglets with
100%-organic diets is a challenge. Non-organic potato protein, whose use is currently still permitted in order to optimise pig rations, has a beneficial amino acid profile, and thus improves nitrogen utilisation. In order to produce 100%-organic diets, this component must be replaced with other high-quality protein components such as milk powder or a higher percentage of soybean cake in the diet. Another option would be amino acid feed additives; however, the use of such additives is currently not permitted under organic production standards.

An on-farm feeding trial was carried out to determine whether piglets could be fed 100%-organic diets without compromising performance and animal health. To this end, several 100%-organic piglet diets were tested on four commercial farms. The results showed that in principle, piglets can be fed a 100%-organic diet. There was no difference in growth performance between the trial groups and the controls. (Weaning) diarrhoea was observed in some cases, and was of a longer duration in the groups fed the 100%-organic diets on one of the farms. The percentage of soybean cake was significantly higher in all of the 100%-organic diets than in the controls. Given that piglets can be sensitive to allergens in soy, the increased proportion of soybean cake in the experimental diets could have caused the diarrhoea. Minor deficits in sulphur amino acids and threonine as well as the higher calcium content of some of the experimental diets may also have contributed to the occurrence of diarrhoea. However, given that (weaning) diarrhoea is a multifactorial problem and that it did not occur on all farms, we were unable to determine any direct causality between 100%-organic diets and diarrhoea. In addition to increasing the percentage of soybean cake as a substitute for potato protein, the use of other feed components would be desirable. An extension of the suckling period would also be an appropriate way to implement
100%-organic feeding, since this strategy reduces protein-quality requirements for piglet feed and enables a more-varied feed composition in line with animal welfare concerns. In conclusion, it can be said that there is no single universal strategy for achieving 100%-organic feeding; rather, it is a question of finding appropriate solutions for the individual farms.

The project ‘Bioschwein 100.0 – feeding of organic pigs with regard to fat-quality requirements and 100%-organic feeding’ – investigates the problems of 100%-organic feeding of pigs in terms of piglet rearing, nutrient efficiency in pig fattening, and carcass and product quality. Solutions for feeding and product processing are being developed. The project partners are FiBL, HAFL, Suisag and Agroscope. The project is funded by the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG and Bio Suisse.

Conclusions

  • It is possible to feed piglets a 100%-organic diet without losses in performance or animal health.
  • A soybean-cake content in excess of 12% is considered too high and should be avoided, as it may increase the risk of diarrhoea.
  • Milk powder is a high-quality source of protein and can be used to improve piglet feed; however, its addition increases the price of feed and competes with human nutrition.
  • Despite this, the addition of milk powder may be helpful in cases of recurring weaning diarrhoea, as the high-quality protein improves the overall quality of piglet feed.
  • A prolonged suckling period can prevent a drop in post-weaning performance and help piglets thrive, and is therefore a good strategy when aiming to implement a 100%-organic ration.

Scientific article

Is 100%-Organic Feeding for Piglets Possible?

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