Unlocking the true potential of fattening pigs with adaptive nutrition

In Brief

  • The fattening period of swine production accounts for 70% of the total feed consumption of the farm. The success of the fattening period therefore determines both the economic success of the farm as well as its impact on the environment.
  • Recent advancements in genetic selection have led to improved pig performance with lower feed conversion ratios and higher daily gains. However, this shift towards leaner and more muscular pigs poses challenges such as potential issues in bone structure development.

Performance progress

In recent years, there has been spectacular evolution in fattening pig performance levels with feed conversion ratio getting as low 2.2-2.3 and daily gain rising to close to 1000 g/day.

These developments have been made possible thanks to effective genetic selection programs targeting increasingly lean and muscular pigs, which in turn considerably modifies the nature of body tissue deposition shifting more towards an increase in muscle accretion and nitrogen retention.

New challenges

This shift towards higher protein deposition potential and average daily gain can trigger challenges in bone structure development. This new phenomenon arises due to muscle and bone deposition essentially competing for the allocation of the same nutrients. An example of the nutrients affected by this phenomenon is the competition for certain sulphur amino acids, phosphorus, and certain micronutrients such as vitamin D and certain trace elements.

In parallel with these changes, management practices have also shifted towards more sustainable production, and the curative use of certain antibiotics has given way to preventative health strategies involving more routine & extensive use of vaccines. Immune function is in turn challenged more frequently and the immune competence of pigs can be compromised.

Furthermore, pigs are exposed to numerous environmental situations such as heat and cold stress which modify and modulate their nutritional and physiological requirements and alter the expression of their growth potential.

Pastorelli et al. (2012) quantified the metabolic disturbances linked to different challenges which can induce a reduction in voluntary feed intake, but also alter metabolic efficiency. These impacts are difficult to quantify and model as there can be a cumulative effect and/or any physiological function rarely responds linearly to an environmental disturbance (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Different challenges are changing nutrient partitioning by the pig and consequently impacting feed efficiency | Goodband, Bob, Mike Tokach, Steve Dritz, Joel DeRouchey, and Jason Woodworth. "Practical starter pig amino acid requirements in relation to immunity, gut health and growth performance." Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology 5, no. 1 (2014): 1-11.

Evolving for integrated and adaptive nutrition for fattening pigs

The traditional factorial approach to fattening swine nutrition is therefore no longer sufficient to optimize the health and performance of pigs. The notion of adaptive nutrition becomes necessary, faced with a fluctuating environment whose impact on performance, health and physiology is difficult to quantify and predict.

This new area of adaptive nutrition is all the more relevant as the environment of the pig, in other words the exposome, affects their phenotype by altering the expression of genes involved in metabolic and physiological pathways.

Exploring the exposome

The exposome is a concept used to describe the environmental exposure that a pig faces during its life, and how this exposure impacts performance, metabolic pathways, physiology and health.

Interestingly, Payling et al. (2023) was able to demonstrate via in depth evaluation of metabolic pathway changes in pigs exposed to nutritional restriction in utero and born with intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR) presented with altered immune function in adulthood (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The intra-uterine exposome affected the immune functionality of finisher pigs. | https://www.biofractal.ai/

A SAVVY™ plot showing activated (green) or purple (inhibited) pathways in the liver of IUGR finisher pigs compared to control finisher pigs.

Immune function, development of bone structure and muscle deposition are therefore three major pillars which compete for the quantitative and qualitative allocation of nutrients, at the pre- and post-absorptive level.

Optimizing nutrient supply at the pre-absorptive level

Through the characterization of the nutrient composition of raw materials, nutritionists can optimize nutritional intake of pigs at the pre-absorptive level, by maximizing the digestibility of the nutrients, in order to reduce as much as possible the non-digestible fraction of the raw materials.

The characterization of non-digestible fractions such as phytate and fiber, in real time with tools such as NIRS, allow rational, flexible and optimal use of digestive feed enzymes, such as phytase and carbohydrase from the Ronozyme® range.

Assess vitamin D for fattening swine health and nutrition

Immune function, muscle deposition and bone health are governed by different metabolites at the post-absorptive level. Muscle, immune and of course bone cells have been shown to have receptors for vitamin D. Vitamin D is involved in the modulation of immune function, regulates bone deposition and influences metabolic pathways linked to muscle accretion.

The effects of vitamin D on physiological functions depends on the circulating plasma concentrations achieved in fattening swine. However, vitamin D3 status of fatteners is rarely evaluated and therefore risks can go unseen.

Vitamin D3 status determination made easy

To quickly assess the circulating levels of vitamin D in pigs, dsm-firmenich offers Verax™ DBS Analytics, a quick and simple diagnostic tool whose benefit is to objectively assess vitamin D3 status of pigs on-farm and to implement rapid corrective nutritional measures that increases circulating vitamin D at optimal levels to support muscle deposition, immune function and bone retention.

Fattening swine are exposed to numerous challenges (exposome) that affect post-absorptive metabolism, nutrient partitioning and immune competency. This resulting adaptation in metabolism may affect protein balance (proteolysis vs proteosynthesis), amino-acids requirements (quantitatively and qualitatively), and micronutrient requirements such as vitamin D, which can compromise muscle deposition, bone mineralization and immune competency.

Macro and micro nutrition must be reviewed and adapted with the support of new robust and practical tools like Verax™ DBS Analytics that helps nutritionists, vets and farmers to identify the best approach and solutions to manage optimal muscle deposition, immune competency and bone health.

Your partner in progress

At dsm-firmenich, we stand as your partner in progress, providing specific and relevant information regarding your herd, allowing more informed decision making tailored to your local market conditions. Our adaptive nutritional concept of solutions and services helps you unleash your fatteners’ potential, maximizing lean meat gain without compromising immune competency or bone health for profitable, sustainable results.

Published on

11 March 2024


  • Swine
  • Grow-Finish
  • Piglet
  • Gilt
  • Vitamin D3
  • Nutrition

About the Author

Laurent Roger, Global Marketing Manager Swine Health, Animal Nutrition and Health at dsm-firmenich

Laurent, a French national, holds a master’s degree in Animal Biology and Physiology from the Pierre and Marie Curie University, in Paris.

He brings more than 20 years of experience in the field of Product Management and nutrition with a focus on Swine. Starting as a Swine Technical Manager evolving to a Swine Department Manager, and global marketing and business manager, working in an international environment.

He participated to different scientific publications and global projects focusing on health, nutrition and welfare.


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