Early neonatal care of piglets would reduce mortality and improve meat quality

  • The AT-LECHON Project has evaluated the effect of simple procedures applied to the neonatal period on survival, welfare, productivity and carcass and meat quality in pigs
  • The study lasted 36 months and was co-funded by the CDTI and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), through the Spain’s Pluri-regional Operational Program 2014-2020

Researchers from Incarlopsa, a leading company in the production and processing of pork products from Castilla-La Mancha, and from Copiso, in collaboration with researchers from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, have presented the first conclusions of the project “Effect of early action in piglets on their vitality and carcass homogeneity (AT-LECHON)”, a study focused on evaluating the effect of body weight at birth and individual neonatal care provided to piglets on pre-warning mortality, as well as the long-term effects on growth and carcass and meat characteristics.

This project is aligned with Incarlopsa’s commitment to promote and lead innovation projects that contribute to promote and enhance more sustainable food systems and is integrated in its open innovation model that combines its own initiatives and collaborations with third parties. The study has resulted in the publication in the journal Animals of the article “Short and long term effects of birth weight and neonatal care in pigs”, the first of a series of articles in which the conslucions obtained will be transferred to the scientific and productive community. The complete article can be consulted here.

The AT-LECHON project has had a duration of 36 months, was approved by the Center for Technological and Industrial Development (CTID) in November 2019 (IDI-20190857) and has been co-financed by the CTID and by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), through the Pluri-regional Operational Program of Spain 2014-2020.

Neonatal care to reduce piglet mortality and improve meat quality

The results of the study have shown that early neonatal care may be a useful practice to reduce mortality, especially in piglets with low birth weight. In addition, they may also affect meat quality, fat content and fatty acid profile, suggesting long-term effects on metabolism.

Litters of seventy-one crossbred sows were included in the trial. Half od each litter received no management, and the remaining half received the pre-established early neonatal care (NC) management protocol. During lactation, low birth weight piglets (weight less than or equal to 1.1 kg) showed lower vitality than higher birth weight piglets (p = 0,001), with this difference being more apparent during the week after birth. This improvement was mainly due to higher colostrum and milk consumption in the neonatal care animals (p < 0,01).

The effect of neonatal care in growth depends on birth weight, and heavier piglets at birth benefit from treatment to a greater extent then low birth weight piglets. Low birth weight piglets showed greater fattening (p = 0,003), lower lean cut yield (p = 0,002) in carcasses and higher intramuscular fat content (2,29% vs 1,91%; p = 0,01) in meat. Neonatal care treatment increased lean content in carcasses of low weight piglets (p < 0,01).

The concentration of monounsaturated fatty acids was higher in underweight piglets (48,1% vs 47,1%; p = 0,002) and the opposite effect was observed for polyunsaturated fatty acids (13,6% vs 15,7%; p = 0,002). Neonatal care treatment induced a higher concentration of n-7 fatty acids.