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Starter Diets Hold Key to Weaned Pigs’ Health / March 15, 2000 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Starter Diets Hold Key to Weaned Pigs’ Health

By Ben Hardin
March 15, 2000

When piglets can no longer get their mothers’ milk, most swine producers feed them an expensive protein that helps relieve their stress and prevent illness. Agricultural Research Service scientists, by researching how this protein called spray-dried plasma works, could be on the path of finding improved feed additives that are more effective or less expensive.

In the early 1990's, spray-dried plasma from livestock began to revolutionize swine nutritional programs. Diets of most early-weaned pigs now include this product. Never have scientists been able to find any instance of disease agents being transmitted through them. Accordingly, they have been excluded from a U.S. Food and Drug Administration final ruling that was implemented in 1997 to ban use of waste byproducts from animal processing in animal feed.

The ARS scientists and their colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Endogen, Inc. of Woburn, Mass., are studying the immune system of pigs that have been fed spray-dried plasma. Their overall goal: to find cost-effective ways for swine producers to produce healthier pigs that eat heartily and quickly produce plenty of pork from each pound of feed.

Today, the ARS scientific team is scheduled to receive the National Pork Producers 2000 Award for Innovative Basic Research at the Midwest Animal Sciences meeting in Des Moines, Iowa.

In their research, the scientists weaned two-week-old pigs and fed some of them diets consisting of 7 percent spray-dried plasma for a week. Then they injected all the pigs with lipopolysaccharide from killed bacteria to simulate infection by a live disease organism and measured their response in terms of hormones and other chemicals they produced. Responses of pigs that had been fed the spray-dried plasma indicated that they were better able to resist infections during the week after weaning.

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific agency.

Scientific contact: Jeffery A. Carroll, ARS Animal Physiology Research Unit, Columbia, Mo., phone (573) 882-6261, fax (573) 884-4798,

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