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Feeding pigs

Weight Gain

Whether you’re looking for a specific feed ingredient or feed supplement to promote weight gain in pigs, your BIOMIN team is here to provide you with top technical support and innovative solutions.

Good gut health is the best growth promoter.
- Franz Waxenecker, Managing Director of BIOMIN

Gut performance is key

A healthy digestive tract is a prerequisite for overall animal health and performance —including quick weight gain. Good digestion not only affects the absorption and utilization of nutrients, but also has a considerable influence on the animal’s immune system. With poor digestion, excessive amounts of nutrients are available in the digestive tract for pathogenic bacteria to rapidly multiply, which may result in enteric imbalances.

How to make piglets gain weight fast

Weaning is considered as one of the most critical periods in pig management. Nowadays, weaning age on commercial farms are in the range of 3 to 4 weeks old, whereas pigs are naturally weaned at an age of 14 to 17 weeks (Jensen, 1986).

At weaning, pigs are confronted by multiple changes such as:

  • Separation from the sow to a new environment
  • Relocation with new littermates
  • Abrupt change of diet from liquid sow milk to solid feed

Post-weaning anorexia or inadequate feed intake after weaning result in insufficient dietary nutrients utilization and local inflammation (Pluske et al., 1997). Those various stressors result in low feed intake, body weight loss, and a high incidence of diarrhea, which consequently, can lead to mortality.

As a consequence, weaning causes profound changes in the gastrointestinal tract of pigs. Intestinal disorders after weaning is caused by alterations in intestinal architecture and function and with mostly evident in villus atrophy and crypt hyperplasia and increased in intestinal permeability (Spreeuwenberg et al., 2001). Lastly, intestinal microbiota disruption is possibly linked to diarrhea and pathogenic infections after weaning (Lallès et al., 2007; Gresse et al., 2017).

Gut health: the key for weaning and nursery pigs’ growth

The maintenance of normal intestinal architecture is a key to increase body weight gain at the early phase of pig production. The well-regulated integrity of the small intestine is important to improve nutrient digestion and absorption.

Pigs that are lighter during the nursery phase require more days to reach market weight. Therefore, strategies that increase growth during post-weaning period may have a great impact on overall pig performance.

The use of β- (Beta) agonists in finishing pigs

In a previous study, the dietary use of a certain β-agonist improved growth performance of finishing pigs at different feeding durations from six days of feeding, whereas carcass composition was improved at longer feeding durations. Carcass weight and dressing percentage also increased as a result (Armstrong et al., 2004)

What one has to bear in mind is that in order to have a considerable effect, the nutrient concentrations in the diet must be increased when adding β-agonist. Further, the protein composition of the diet has to be adjusted. In particular, the first-limiting amino acid, lysine, has to be available to the animals in sufficient amounts for the β-agonist to have an effect on growth performance and leanness. These adjustments ultimately increase feed cost.

The β-agonist act as repartitioning agents, promoting lean tissue deposition in pigs. In 1999, a specific β-agonist was approved in the US and was subsequently introduced in other countries. Currently, there is only one β-agonist approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for its use in swine diets.

In recent years, China and Russia have banned the import of meat containing residues of certain β-agonists, as it was deemed unfit for human consumption. In 2013, Russia restricted meat imports to certified free from a particular β-agonist.

China also banned the production and import of meat containing β-agonists.. The reason for the ban in China might be that traditional Chinese dishes commonly use offal in which residues might be higher.

Discussions on the use of β-agonists in pig production and their residues in meat have aroused greater attention due to public concerns as well as reported animal health issues arising from the use of the drug in the feed.

Independent studies have revealed some negative effects of β-agonists on animals.

After six weeks of feeding a certain β-agonist, pigs spent more time lying and less time walking. Pigs fed β-agonists were more difficult to handle. These differences became apparent very quickly after feeding of the β-agonist had started and continued over an entire four week-period (Marchant-Forde et al., 2003).

Furthermore, the effects of a β-agonist on finishing pigs affected behavior, elevated heart rates and potentially made pigs more susceptible to stress from handling and transport. In a resident-intruder test, a test used to measure aggressiveness, β-agonist-fed gilts performed more attacks in the first 30 seconds compared to a control treatment.

Antibiotics reduction

Considerations regarding safety and efficacy of the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal nutrition along with consumer demand have shifted away from antibiotic growth promoters towards the use of novel or natural alternatives, including organic acids, probiotics and phytogenic feed additives.

Reach your Antibiotics Goal

Types of pig weight gain supplements

To assist in overcoming the weaning-associated intestinal dysfunction and depressed growth, effective dietary strategies need to be explored.

Here are some of the kinds of feed additives or supplements commonly added to pigs’ diets to achieve better feed efficiency or improve weight gain:

  • Antimicrobials
  • Organic acids
  • Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics
  • Phytogenic feed additives consisting of essential oils and other plant-based substances
  • Toxin binders

Digestarom Finish improves body weight gain

Pigs fed Digestarom® Finish were 10.7 lbs heavier by day 106 and did not differ in weight from pigs fed ractopamine (from day 106 to 125) by day 125. Pigs fed Digestarom® Finish were equivalent in ADG as compared to those fed ractopamine.

Digestarom® Finish and ractopamine reduced the number of carcasses in the lighter weight groups and increased the number of carcasses in the heavier groups. Digestarom® Finish also reduced instron force indicating increased loin tenderness.


T. A. Armstrong, D. J. Ivers, J. R. Wagner, D. B. Anderson, W. C. Weldon, E. P. Berg, The effect of dietary ractopamine concentration and duration of feeding on growth performance, carcass characteristics, and meat quality of finishing pigs, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 82, Issue 11, November 2004, Pages 3245–3253, https://doi.org/10.2527/2004.82113245x

Gresse, R., F. Chaucheyras-Durand, M. A. Fleury, T. Van de Wiele, E. Forano, and S. Blanquet-Diot. 2017. Gut Microbiota Dysbiosis in Postweaning Piglets: Understanding the Keys to Health. Trends Microbiol. 25:851–873. doi:10.1016/j.tim.2017.05.004.

Jensen, P. 1986. Observations on the maternal behaviour of free-ranging domestic pigs. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 16:131-142.

Lallès, J. P., P. Bosi, H. Smidt, and C. R. Stokes. 2007. Nutritional management of gut health in pigs around weaning. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 66:260-268.

Marchant-Forde JN, Lay DC Jr, Pajor EA, Richert BT, Schinckel AP. 2003. The effects of ractopamine on the behavior and physiology of finishing pigs. DOI: 10.2527/2003.812416x

Mendoza S, Gourley G, Hendel E, Stelzhammer S, Mueller I, Weiland T, Hunger C, Murugesan G, Evaluation of a phytogenic blend and ractopamine HCl on growth and carcass traits in pigs housed under commercial conditions., Journal of Animal Science, Volume 96, Issue suppl_3, December 2018, Page 307, https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/sky404.675

Pluske, J. R., D. J. Hampson, and I. H. Williams. 1997. Factors influencing the structure and function of the small intestine in the weaned pig: a review. Livest. Prod. Sci. 51:215-236.

Soto, J. A. 2018. Effects of low crude protein, amino acid fortified diets and neutral detergent fiber on finishing pig performance. Ph.D. Dissertation, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

Spreeuwenberg, M. A. M., J. M. A. J. Verdonk, H. R. Gaskins, and M. Verstegen. 2001. Small Intestine Epithelial Barrier Function Is Compromised in Pigs with Low Feed Intake at Weaning. 131:1520-1527.



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