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Many Canadian Piglets Low on Iron

An additional round of iron supplementation before weaning could be the answer, according to Ontario Veterinary College.

A 200-milligram iron supplement is the typical protocol for piglets.

Scott Bauer/AVMA

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Young pigs may need a second round of iron supplementation to stave off anemia and disease, according to a study conducted at Ontario Veterinary College.

Doctoral student Amanda Kubik weighed nearly 1,200 piglets being raised on commercial farms across Ontario and collected blood samples, the University of Guelph reported Aug. 17. All the pigs had received a standard 200-milligram iron supplement in the first few days after birth.

Kubik randomly chose one small, medium and large pig from each litter just before weaning and returned three weeks later for more testing. By that point the pigs were getting their iron from feed.

“There were statistically significant results,” Kubik said. “The between herd prevalence of iron deficiency in the sampled pigs prior to weaning was 28 percent and the prevalence of anemia was 6 percent. When the same pigs were sampled three weeks later, the between herd prevalence had increased to 43 percent for iron deficiency and 18 percent for anemia.”

Advancements in nutrition, genetics and on-farm management mean piglets are born into larger litters and grow at a faster rate than in previous decades, the university noted. As a result, standard supplement protocols may not meet their needs.

The problem may lie with how iron is absorbed and how fast a pig grows. The larger pigs had lower hemoglobin concentrations than the small and medium subjects, Kubik said.

“We know that the 200 mg dose of iron is not sufficient anymore because pigs are growing so fast,” she added.

A second iron supplement before weaning could be the answer, but more study is needed to determine the dosage and timing.

“I enjoy working hand in hand with producers,” Kubik said. “They are helping further research and they want to know what they can do to improve their operations.”

The Ontario Pork organization and a university-government partnership paid for the research.

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