Milk, feces, and saliva – not the combo we want, but the combo we need

swine o'clock Sep 20, 2022

Researchers at Teagasc, the University of Leon, and the University of Murcia are gaining a better understanding of piglets without even touching them. How’s that possible? By studying milk, feces, and saliva!

  • Here’s a quick picture: accelerating piglets’ independence from the sow involves specialized management, supplementary food, and sometimes, veterinary support through the use of antibiotics. So having a good understanding of what happens during these three to four weeks is key.

Since milk is the only food the piglet has during that time, it’s not only a source of nutrition, but a method of transferring everything the piglet will need for survival and growth – pathogen exposure and organ development, for example.

  • Understanding how that is done is the first step towards optimizing it – and a difficult one, since handling piglets is difficult because they’re easily stressed and parameters change in seconds! Extracting blood, for example, may yield altered results in a matter of minutes.

That’s precisely why using non-invasive samples is perfect! Thus, the milk, feces and saliva – quite clever, right?

  • Researchers have carried out the first analysis of sow colostrum composition in detail and found a more radical and controlled change from colostrum to milk than expected.
  • The first analysis of bacterial populations in piglets has also been done, and what was previously considered a big homogeneous population of lactobacilli was found to be, in fact, a group of very diverse species of bacteria with a wide range of metabolic functions. This finding has revealed new opportunities to optimize piglet health.
  • The use of saliva is not new, but was mostly underestimated – until now. Saliva is the best type of sample to understand the effect of the environment on the microbiome of pigs. 

The findings from these non-invasive studies are promising and will help researchers get a clearer picture of how milk and microbiota affect future intestinal health in pigs.