Value of early growth in young animals is questioned

Can early gains in weight – in piglets, for this occasion – due to nutritional interventions be retained until market age?

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Group of researchers asks if early growth benefits can be maintained until market age

I was recently involved in a very lively discussion with two excellent researchers and nutritionists. The topic was whether early gains in weight – in piglets, for this occasion – due to nutritional interventions are retained until market age. Today, the same question is asked when it comes to feeding expensive super pre-starters to broilers.

As it happens, the industry is very well versed in the rule of thumb that each extra kilogram of gain at weaning translates to four extra kilograms at pig market age. In broilers, the return on investment depends on a 10% improved growth rate or a 10% improved feed efficiency rate by the end of the growth period (all numbers are market averages). Research and commercial practice, at least in my experience, strongly confirm these numbers, but only when science and practice coincide.

It was argued – with merit and not without some frustration – that quite often in commercial practice, many animal producers fail to observe such extra early benefit when market time comes. Of course, any early intervention that decreases mortality is easier measured, but growth potential is a benefit that can be easily forfeited.

I believe this is a classic case of confusing solid science with current commercial practices. I will agree that many things can and do go wrong after animals are past the initial tender young age. Any such mishap can curtail later growth potential so that the early boost is easily masked. This does not mean these animals did not get the potential to grow more or more efficiently, in my opinion. On the contrary, this is a call to pay more attention to growing animals so that any early benefit we obtain by expensive nutritional interventions are not lost.

So, yes, keep paying attention to pigs and broilers (and calves, for that matter) all the way to market.

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