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Weaning, feed intake and pancreatic function in piglets

The goal of our study is to analyse the adaptability of pancreatic secretion during the first days following weaning, and to estimate the effect of food intake level. Suckling piglets are fitted with two catheters introduced into the pancreatic duct (collection of juice) in one hand and the duodenum (reintroduction of juice) in the other hand. Piglets weaned at 33 days of age are fed with a starter diet at a high (TH group) or low (TB group) food intake level. Collections of juice start the day before weaning (day 1) and continue up five days after weaning (day 1 to day 5), during both basal and post-prandial periods. Juice volume and protein and trypsin flows increase (P<0,05) after weaning.

Compared to the suckling piglets, basal values measured at day 5 are increased by 7 and 47 times (P<0,05) for protein and trypsin flows respectively. Meal consumption emphasizes this effect since during the first 30 minutes following the meal at day 5 protein and trypsin quantities are 17 and 412 higher (P<0,05) than preprandial secretions. Between day 1 and day 5, specific activity of trypsin increases 14 times (P<0,05) whereas specific activity of lipase decreases 3,6 times (P<0,05).

Piglets fed with a lower food intake level have a secretion of proteins and trypsin 2 times lower during the basal period compared to the TH group, and a secretion of trypsin 80 times lower during the postprandial period at day 3 (P<0,05). When animals at equal levels of feed intake (i.e. L piglets at day 5 post-weaning and H piglets at day 3 post-weaning) were compared, pancreatic trypsin flow was 45-fold lower in piglets that suffered from a 3d-period of anorexia immediately after weaning, suggesting that a low level of feed intake during the days following weaning delayed the adaptation of pancreatic function.

Pancreatic function adapts at weaning with an increase of secretion and a modification of juice composition. A lower level of food intake during the first days following weaning delays adaptability of the pancreatic function. In piglets that suffered from a long period of anorexia immediately after weaning the delay in adaptation evidenced during the re-feeding period may result in reduced digestive capacity and subsequently, in a decreased digestibility in nutrients. In terms of livestock production system, these results highlight the necessity to reduce the anorexia period in order to prevent, or at least to limit, pancreatic adaptation defaults.

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Research Department
INRA UMR Systemes d'Elevage, Nutrition Animale et Humaine