Imprinting in piglets

I allowed myself a wry smile when reading about Professor Kemp’s (Wageningen University) talk at the Provimi nutrition conference (Pig World, Jan 2014, p46), writes John Gadd. He discussed the perinatal exposure of neonates to flavours in their dam’s diet – boffin-speak for “familiarising just-borns to the taste of their sows diet”.

This was because the concept was explored from 1976 to 1982 in Australia; (Campbell 1973, 1976; King 1978, 1979) and in Europe (Firanor 1977). Working in Oz at the time, I was an onlooker at the Australian work and later became involved in the UK farm trials.

It certainly worked on the four-to-eight-day olds and later, who ate more creep as well as sooner, and providing they could digest it so young, gave a financial payback of 3.2:1 by slaughter, getting there eight days quicker with that amount of food and overheads saved.

The concept of Imprinting involved choosing a fat-soluble flavour or flavours to be included in the so’s late-gestation and early-lactation feed. Because so’s milk is so high in fat, these flavours were transferred into her milk. If the same flavours are then included in the creep feed, the new-borns are immediately familiar with them and should eat more, and sooner.

Much experimenting was done on the preferred flavours (apple seemed a good one) and how much was needed (too much seemed off-putting). We also started to explore aromatics, but stopped when the taste aspect seemed enough.

So, why didn’t it catch on? There are three main reasons:

First, 35 years ago too many creep feed ingredients tended to be gut-hostile. The more the piglets ate, the looser they got. Self-defeating! Nowadays, the nutritionists have solved that problem; modern creep feeds are gut-friendly with only very-digestible raw materials used, in tandem with the piglets’ immature immune system. Of course there will be extra cost, but I’ll look at that in my next blog. So, the concept looks to be on again – the wheel re-invented.

The second reason was inadequate hygiene. This needs to be not just clean, but meticulously clean: frequent cleaning of receptacles and surroundings. I discussed the need for much more time to be spent with the baby pig in my December 19 blog, and this futuristic concept provides yet another reason why. One advantage of the Rescue Deck – another good idea that seems to be taking a time to get deservedly popular – is that not only are the foods right, but the equipment itself demands very careful hygiene. It and imprinting seem to be natural bedfellows – I hope so.

The third reason years ago was the feed trade. Beset as it was with price competition and thus nervous of selling the idea to their customers that a supplement was needed for the last three or so weeks of the gestation diet, and in at least the initial part of the lactation diet, they backed off. It will be interesting to see if this attitude reappears today.

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)