Weaning is a problematic time for pigs, especially in intensive production. Piglets commonly become susceptible to bacterial infections, restricting their growth rate; and often leading to losses of 10% or more. The antibiotics used routinely for many years to control these rapidly-spreading infections have now fallen out of use, mainly due to the increase in resistant strains of bacteria.
A radical solution has been found by using a lectin obtained from the red kidney bean plant. Lectins are proteins with the ability to bind cells together; typically red blood cells. The EUREKA Healthy Weaning project coordinator, Professor Stefan Pierzynowski of Lund University, Sweden, explains: “Giving this factor, which we call Suilektin, for a short, specific period before weaning stimulates the digestive tract to reach maturity faster. This helps it to change from the digestive and absorptive needs of milk, to those of an adult diet.” The EUREKA study showed that giving the lectin to piglets at 11-12 days old enhanced successful weaning at 28 days.
A welcome innovation for industry
Current pig production methods could benefit significantly from this new Suilektin product. Other sophisticated weaning foods are available, but are not always an economic proposition for the farmer, as the profit margin on pig production is not high. “We are very interested in finding a producer for Suilektin and it could reach the market very soon. It will be both cheap and very effective,” says Prof. Pierzynowski. “We will be explaining to farmers the advantages of its use in extremely small, carefully calculated amounts for this very short period, which will stimulate maturing of the digestive tract without causing any digestive problems.”
The idea for the Suilektin product originated in Lund University but was developed in collaboration with other project partners in Poland. Gramineer International in Sweden produced and purified the lectin, and Lund University tested it in laboratory studies. The Institute of Physiology and Nutrition from the Polish Academy of Science and the Agricultural University of Lublin carried out field studies. Collaborators at the Agricultural Sciences University at Alnarp, Sweden, studied pig behaviour and the practical application of lectin in Swedish pig production. Professor Pierzynowski feels that being part of a EUREKA project has been invaluable in making contacts in other countries and in raising the profile of the project.
Sally Horspool | alfa
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