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Unlocking the Power of Lactose: Fueling Piglet Growth and Health

The role of lactose in piglet nutrition is of paramount importance, with its beneficial effects on growth performance during the post-weaning period being well-documented. In early studies, the most common sources of lactose were skim milk (containing 50% lactose) and dried whey (with 70% lactose content). Today, there are a variety of dairy products that provide lactose, making it more accessible and cost-effective for piglet diets. These include crystalline lactose, sweet whey, whey permeate, milk chocolate products, skim milk powder and other lesser-known by-products.

Pigs less than 8-weeks old have limited ability to efficiently utilize starch in their diets, although their starch-digesting enzymes can be induced with dietary substrate. Weaning stress, often coupled with low feed intake, can delay the maturation of their digestive systems. For this reason, simple sugars, such as lactose, and hydrolyzed starch are generally more digestible than raw starch. Consequently, it is widely accepted that piglets benefit from readily digestible carbohydrates until their digestive systems become more mature. Diets based on cereals and vegetable protein sources show improved growth performance when supplemented with milk products like dried whey and skim milk. Inclusion of 10-20% dried whey in simple diets (comprising maize, soybean meal, and fishmeal) consistently enhances growth performance by at least 15% in pigs weaned at three weeks of age.

The role of lactose in piglet nutrition can be summarized as follows:

  1. Primary Energy Source: Lactose serves as the primary energy source for nursery piglets with immature digestive systems. High levels of dairy products are required in post-weaning diets to ensure piglet thrive, and lactose plays a pivotal role in these dairy products.
  2. Improved Palatability: Lactose provides a sweet taste, enhancing the palatability of feed and subsequently improving feed intake.
  3. Prebiotic Benefits: Beyond its role as a nutrient, lactose acts as a prebiotic for gut microflora, promoting a healthy balance. While this role may diminish in diets containing antimicrobial agents, retaining a small amount of lactose in diets without such agents can be beneficial.

In addition to pure lactose, sweet dried whey and whey permeate are common sources of lactose used in pre-weaning and post-weaning piglet diets. Alternatives to lactose, such as simple sugars like sucrose, dextrose, and glucose, can be considered while maintaining the concept of “Lactose equivalent” to ensure performance isn’t compromised. Corn syrup is an excellent lactose alternative as it can be readily utilized as an energy source by young pigs, and unlike sucrose, it is not toxic to neonatal pigs.

Dietary specifications for lactose concentration in piglet diets suggest the following:

  1. High Lactose Post-Weaning: Immediately post-weaning, high concentrations of lactose (20-30%) are needed to support optimal growth.
  2. Gradual Reduction: Lactose concentrations should be reduced rapidly afterwards to a range of 5-10%.
  3. Weight-Dependent Usage: Piglets weighing more than 12 kg do not benefit significantly from supplemental lactose.

While responses to lactose can vary due to factors like basal diet composition, genetics, environment, and health conditions, most experiments report similar lactose requirements for nursery pigs.

Whether you require pure lactose, sweet whey powder, whey permeate, skim milk powder, or specialty formulated milk replacers, Lam Tak can provide the solutions you need to optimize piglet nutrition and growth. Contact us today!

Feeding nursery pigs a highly digestible diet supplemented with ample lactose

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