Sector Swine

Interview: Dr. Anouschka Middelkoop on 100% pre-weaning eaters

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At a recent event hosted at Earlyfeed’s Drongen, BE office on the topic of feed intake and flavoring, Dr. Anouschka Middelkoop was invited to share her research about how she was able to achieve 100% pre-weaning eaters in piglets.

Dr. Anouschka Middelkoop is a swine researcher in the R&D department of Schothorst Feed Research in Lelystad. She specializes in early feed intake, gut health, and the effects of early life on later health and performance. During her Ph.D. research, which she completed at Wageningen University in 2020, her focus was on solid feed intake of piglets in the farrowing pen. This involved studying the effects of early feed intake on the behavior, gut physiology, and gut microbiota of piglets as well as developing strategies based on the natural behavior of pigs to improve their feed intake and weaning process.

The transcribed interview below is between Delphine van Zele, Swine Product Manager of Earlyfeed, and Dr. Anouschka Middelkoop on her work regarding feed intake.

Van Zele: Hello everyone. I'm Delphine Van Zele, Swine Product Manager. Thank you for joining us today as we explore creep feed strategies with Dr. Anouschka Middelkoop from Schothorst Feed Research in the Netherlands.

Common on most swine operations, creep feed is vital to raising healthy piglets and it is influential in supporting a profitable operation. This is why we have Dr. Anouschka Middelkoop with us today.

Anoushka, we appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge on piglet feed intake and I can't wait to hear how you started your research and how the results impact how you view piglet nutrition.

Dr. Middelkoop: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Van Zele: So, we already know you are from the Netherlands and studied at Wageningen University where you earned your Ph.D. Is there anything more you would [like] the audience to know about you?

Dr. Middelkoop: Yes. So, my Ph.D. was about creep feeding and it was about three aspects related to it. So behavior, but also the physiology of piglets [and] their gut health and microbiota. And currently, at Schothorst Feed Research, I'm continuing this type of work. I'm looking into the effects of early-life nutrition on the later-life health of animals. We look into the mode of action of different nutritional strategies and how they impact gut health, particularly in relation to E. coli and how nutritional strategies may reduce  post-weaning diarrhea.

Van Zele: Interesting. Well, we are glad to have you here. First off, can you tell us more about why this area interests you?

Dr. Middelkoop: Yes, I think creep feed intake is a very challenging topic. So, before I started my Ph.D., I was not sure if I was able to find the ‘golden bullet’ because there were already quite a lot of studies out there that tried to stimulate creep feed intake, but no one was really successful, let's say.

But then I know that there are a lot of differences between nature and the commercial situation and in how piglets start eating solids. So, therefore, I was really interested in diving into this area and trying to learn from nature and apply this on the farms.

Van Zele: So, can you tell us then, why creep feed intake is important and [how] this information is relevant to them?

Dr. Middelkoop: Yeah, I think what's commonly known about creep feed intake is that it prepares piglets for the post-weaning period. So, you will see an improvement in post-weaning feed intake. They have a reduction in the growth dip after weaning. So, it improves the zootechnical performance of them and this is something the farmer can see.

But what is often forgotten is that it also improves the gut health of piglets by creep-feeding piglets. And this is something you cannot see on the outside and it's less measurable, but it's really there, and it can even have effects up to the later life phases of piglets after weaning.

Van Zele: Thank you for that summary and for reminding us how important creep intake is. So, with all these benefits in mind, what is the main advice you would like to give to the audience?

Dr. Middelkoop: Well, to prepare piglets for weaning, it's important that they start eating it from an early age. So, increase the amount of dry matter intake before weaning and try to stimulate as much eaters as possible before weaning. And, when doing my Ph.D., I was not sure if I was able to because most of the farms have around 60% of eaters at weaning. I was not sure if I was able to increase it to 100% but I actually was able to, so this was a very interesting finding for me.

Van Zele: All right. So, we know creep feed is important and you also just touched that you were able to increase the number of eaters. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

Dr. Middelkoop: Yes, usually I like to summarize it as three different strategies or approaches. The first one would be, try to stimulate exploration towards the feed or the feeder.

Then the second one would be, try to ease the piglets'  transition from liquid feed to dry feed. Piglets know how to suckle the sow, [and] they know how to drink water from birth, but they don't know how to handle solid feed yet. So this is the second strategy.

And then the last strategy would be, try to give piglets the opportunity to learn from the sow and their litter mates because this can also help them to learn this eating behavior from others.

Van Zele: I really like your insights on these three strategies. What are some of the challenges keeping producers from achieving their feed intake goals and, of course also, the number of eaters?

Dr. Middelkoop: Yes, creep feed intake and the number of eaters is very variable and unpredictable. Not only between farms but also within farms you will see this, that sometimes you have a batch of pigs that eat really well and then the next one maybe not.

So, really look at the farm level, which of these three strategies or maybe even a combination of these strategies would work best on that farm situation.

Van Zele: This is also our approach. We look together with our customers, what's the best strategy to apply for their specific situation. So, I'm glad that you are also touching on this point.

So, Anoushka, we are coming to the end of this interview. I can summarize that you told us that there is not one strategy that fits all. Do you have any additional information you would like the audience to know?

Dr. Middelkoop: I think this conversation covered a lot of topics your audience will find helpful, so thank you very much for having me.

Van Zele: Wonderful. Thank you once again for joining. We appreciate the work you and your team are doing and can't wait to help our producers improve their creep feed strategy.

Your Earlyfeed expert
Delphine Van Zele
Product Manager Swine

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