Protein quality in pig feed

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Protein quality in pig feed

Protein quality in pig feed – more than just a “nice to have”

Nitrogen balance and nitrate contamination of groundwater are still hot topics in pig farming today. In addition, there are crisis-related bottlenecks in the availability of established protein sources, as well as the social demand for the use of local basic feedstuffs to avoid high transport emissions. Proof has been provided both in science and practice that it is possible to reduce the crude protein content without restricting the health and/or performance of pigs. Depending on the rearing phase, the use of synthetic amino acids can save up to 4%-points crude protein. 

Alternative, local protein carriers will become increasingly important in future to save production costs and the environment. The future will also see further reductions in crude protein content and the use of precision feeding models for exact supplementation to take resource availability and phase-related requirements into consideration.

The challenge of ideal protein

Like all mammals, pigs do not have a protein requirement per se, but depend on a sufficient supply of essential amino acids via feed protein to maintain their physiological performance. In addition to the quantity required to meet the demand, the ratio of amino acids to each other is also important. 

In terms of research into "ideal protein", the pig has the snout in front. For no species is there more data on phase-dependent amino acid requirements1. This research shows, however, that the requirement for the first five limiting amino acids (lysine, threonine, methionine + cysteine, tryptophan and valine) is greater in protein-reduced fed pigs than in conventionally fed pigs. This is due to the basic nitrogen requirement for the endogenous synthesis of non-essential amino acids2. These also play an important role in the animal as signalling molecules for the regulation of metabolic pathways3

It is also important to consider the ideal protein concept when selecting the basic feedstuffs. For example, the amino acid profile of maize and soy products often does not match the ideal profile of pigs with regard to branched-chain amino acids. The use of larger quantities of these staple feeds may therefore require the adjustment of the amino acid content in the final compound feed. The amino acid profiles of new basic feedstuffs (by-products, intercrops, on-farm mixtures) must be determined and taken into account in the compound feed formulation. 

The solution 

The lower the content of crude protein, the more important the supplementation with the respective amount of highly digestible amino acids. But it is not just a matter of quantity – it is vital to supplement the right amino acids in the correct ratio to each other.  

The ideal protein is theoretically one that provides the exact balance of amino acids required for optimal performance and growth. The need for one essential amino acid is proportionally linked to an animal's need for another. Increasing the intake of one essential amino acid in the animal's diet would improve animal performance only on the condition that no other amino acid(s) had a limiting effect. 

The "ideal protein" varies according to animal species and life stage - in pigs, lysine is almost always the first limiting amino acid, whereas poultry need more amino acids containing sulphur, such as methionine in those stages when plumage growth is comparatively high. 

Our team of experts at Kaesler Nutrition is on hand to give advice and support with the right mix of amino acids. Contact us for more information. 

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1van Milgen, J., & Dourmad, J. Y. (2015). Concept and application of ideal protein for pigs. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, 6(1), 1-11. 

2Wang, Y., Zhou, J., Wang, G., Cai, S., Zeng, X., & Qiao, S. (2018). Advances in low-protein diets for swine. Journal of animal science and biotechnology, 9(1), 1-14. 

3Le Floc’h, N., Wessels, A., Corrent, E., Wu, G., & Bosi, P. (2018). The relevance of functional amino acids to support the health of growing pigs. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 245, 104-116. 


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