Sector Swine

A flavorful new angle to the piglet feed intake strategy  

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No one likes uncertainty, and few of us enjoy change. However, change is a constant in the swine industry. Change in prices, raw material availability, environment, legislation, etc., so we adapt but it is rarely pleasant. When dealing with stress, we often long for a comforting dish from childhood to provide a moment of peace, recognition, and stability. The familiar scent and taste give security that—in a world of change—it will be okay.

Piglets feel the same about change, especially when it comes to experiencing everything ‘new’ around weaning: removal from the mother, new location, new climate, mixing of litters, new feed composition, etc. If we could provide the same sense of maternal comfort through taste and smell that we receive from our favorite childhood dish, we can reduce stress and increase feed intake during the difficulties of weaning.

Looking back

The traditional diet of a piglet 10-years ago looks much different than the diets fed today, this is related to legislation—antibiotic-free, ban on medicated zinc oxide— and added inclusion of functional feed ingredients—galacto-oligosaccharides, health fibers, etc. We have also learned a great deal about the sensitivity of pigs’ smell and taste receptors. In fact, a pig has three to four times more taste buds than humans (Figure 1). When this heightened ability to taste was first discovered, sweeteners were added to ‘mask’ unpleasant (bitter and sour) tastes. An example we can relate to is cola vs. vinegar, they both have a pH of 2.6 but, because of the sweeteners, we enjoy a coke.

Figure 1: Comparison of taste bud numbers across different species (Roura and Foster, 2018)

Following the piglet's senses

Of the five taste receptors (salty, sweet, bitter, umami, and sour), sweet has dominated the profile of piglet feed for decades. For humans, this attraction makes sense as (like us) piglets are drawn to sweet things. However, also like us, piglets like umami and salty flavors too. The umami indicates protein and the salty helps piglets achieve the right electrolyte balance. This is why the next generation of feed flavors should utilize a sweet, salty, and umami concept to attract piglets to feed.

Even though taste has been the focus for years, to a piglet the sense of smell is the most important sense when learning to eat. Though born with poor vision, a piglet is able to find a teat to suckle with little to no help from the sow. This is because it is drawn to the scent of its mother and the udder full of nourishing milk. Though this scent is not as pleasant to a human’s nose, compared to the sweet biscuit or fruity scent we typically associate with piglet feed, it is the favorite smell of a piglet. It helps piglets find the feed and attain comfort, reducing stress and increasing intake. 

A flavorful solution

Due to the changes in diet and an increased understanding of how pigs perceive and interact with feed, Earlyfeed decided to take a new perspective regarding flavoring. We considered the piglet’s preferences instead of our own ideas of what is ‘tasty’. From the first moments of life, the piglet knows what it needs and wants. It needs nutrients and wants to feed in the security its mother provides. This is why we have utilized a new scent and taste in our products. Mimicking the reassuring smells and tastes it experienced in its early days, the piglet is drawn to a recognizable flavor profile. A profile that helps it to learn how to eat away from its mother.

When developing our innovative flavor blend, we looked to the base flavor profile of our products and added the necessary tastes and smells to mimic the calming scent from the sow a piglet is accustomed to. This profile includes sweet and umami to create an appealing odor and taste for the piglet. Earlyfeed’s goal is not only to mask undesirable flavors, but to provide an attractive, nutritious, and palatable feed for the piglet that will increase feed intake and reduce stress during a piglet’s life. This is why it is the Piglet’s Flavorit!

Your Earlyfeed expert
Delphine Van Zele
Product Manager Swine

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