Swine Research Facility Swine Research Facility

Swine Research Facility

The Swine Research Facility, which includes barns for piglets, sows and grower-finisher pigs, is located near Boxmeer, the Netherlands. More than 1,500 pigs can be housed on site.

High-tech equipment for close monitoring

The Swine Research facility is equipped with electronic feeding and water stations, to enable us to individually monitor feed and water intake and study intake patterns. This monitoring can reveal interesting insights, such as the fact that no sow is the same when it comes to water consumption; daily water intake can be very different from one sow to another. Feed intake patterns also reveal a lot about the animals’ natural “daily schedule”; like humans, they have a breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.

All of the pens include enrichment materials that enhance animal welfare; for example, the gestating unit is equipped with back scrubbers (originally designed for cattle) because many sows enjoy a good scrubbing session. We also provide hanging skippy balls for them to play with. All rooms contain continuous video and sound surveillance that enables us to closely study animal behaviour or, when a problem is detected, rewind the camera to figure out what occurred.

Opening our swine nutrition and health unit virtually

The latest addition to our research facility is our newest swine nutrition and health unit. Constructed in 2020, it consists of four identical rooms that are both health and climate controlled and make individual monitoring of feed and water intake possible. The key feature of the new unit is that it enables us to simulate any condition from around the world. To ensure that the rooms can maintain independent climate zones, each is equipped with its own ventilation system. This also prevents cross-contamination and reduces emissions and odours. In 2021, we kicked off the year with a virtual ribbon-cutting to inaugurate this latest facility! You can read more about this unique online opening here.

Related stories

The role of lactose in weanling pig nutrition: a literature and meta-analysis review

Lactose plays a crucial role in the growth performance of pigs at weaning because it is a palatable and easily digestible energy source that eases the transition from milk to solid feed. However, the digestibility of lactose declines after weaning due to a reduction in endogenous lactase activity in piglets. As a result, some lactose may be fermented in the gastrointestinal tract of pigs. Fermentation of lactose by intestinal microbiota yields lactic acid and volatile fatty acids, which may positively regulate the intestinal environment and microbiome, resulting in improved gastrointestinal health of weanling pigs. We hypothesize that the prebiotic effect of lactose may play a larger role in weanling pig nutrition as the global feed industry strives to reduce antibiotic usage and pharmacological levels of zinc oxide and supra-nutritional levels of copper. Evidence presented in this review indicates that high dietary lactose improves growth performance of piglets, as well as the growth of beneficial bacteria, particularly Lactobacillus, with the positive effects being more pronounced in the first 2 weeks after weaning. However, the risk of post-weaning diarrhea may increase as pigs get older due to reduced lactase activity, high dietary lactose concentrations, and larger feed intakes, all of which may lead to excessive lactose fermentation in the intestine of the pig. Therefore, dietary lactose levels exert different effects on growth performance and gastrointestinal physiological functions in different feeding phases of weanling pigs. However, no formal recommendation of lactose for weanling pigs has been reported. A meta-analysis approach was used to determine that diets fed to swine should include 20%, 15%, and 0 lactose from d 0–7, d 7–14, and d 14–35 post-weaning, respectively. However, sustainable swine production demands that economics must also be taken into account as lactose and lactose containing ingredients are expensive. Therefore, alternatives to lactose, so called “lactose equivalents” have also been studied in an effort to decrease feed cost while maintaining piglet performance with lower dietary lactose inclusions. In summary, the present review investigated dose-response effects of dietary lactose supplementation to exert positive responses and begin to elucidate its mechanisms of action in post-weaning pig diets. The results may help to replace some or all lactose in the diet of weanling pigs, while improving production economics given the high cost of lactose and availability in some swine production markets.
by Zhao J. on 10/01/2021
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Fibre supplementation to pre-weaning piglet diets did not improve the resilience towards a post-weaning enterotoxigenic E. coli challenge

Dietary fibre (DF) is implicated in gastrointestinal health of weaned piglets, either through its physiochemical properties, through modulation of gut microbiota and (or) improved gut integrity. We aimed to study the effect of DF enriched supplemental diets fed to suckling piglets ('creep feed') on health and performance after weaning when challenged with an enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC). Seventy-two piglets originating from 28 litters had been fed four creep diets, that is a low-fibre control (CON); a diet containing 2% long-chain arabinoxylans from wheat (lc-AXOS) or 5% purified cellulose (CELL) or a diet containing the high fermentable and the low-fermentable fibre source (i.e. 2% lc-AXOS and 5% CELL). Upon weaning, piglets were individually housed and all fed the same diet. On days 7, 8 and 9, animals received an oral dose of ETEC (5 ml containing 107 to 108 CFU/ml). Besides growth performance, faecal and skin scores were recorded daily. Gut permeability was assessed by urinary excretion of Co-EDTA prior and post-ETEC challenge. Repeated measures in time were statistically evaluated with generalized linear mixed models. We used a binominal distribution for evaluating the faecal and skin scores. Feed intake and body weight gain did not differ between treatments (p > .05). Piglets on CELL decreased gain:feed ratio in week 2 + 3 week compared to CON (p = .035). Prior to ETEC challenge, gut permeability tended to increase for lc-AXOS (p = .092). Moreover, lc-AXOS as main effect increased intestinal permeability before ETEC challenge (p = .013), whereas the low-fermentable fibre lead to elevated intestinal permeability after ETEC challenge (p = .014). The incidence of diarrhoea was higher for lc-AXOS + CELL compared with lc-AXOS (p = .036), while skin condition was unaffected. In conclusion, neither the high fermentable nor the low-fermentable fibre source improved post-weaning growth or gastrointestinal health of the piglets.
by H. van Hees on 25/11/2020
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Impact of Yeast-Derived β-Glucans on the Porcine Gut Microbiota and Immune System in Early Life

Piglets are susceptible to infections in early life and around weaning due to rapid environmental and dietary changes. A compelling target to improve pig health in early life is diet, as it constitutes a pivotal determinant of gut microbial colonization and maturation of the host’s immune system. In the present study, we investigated how supplementation of yeast-derived β-glucans affects the gut microbiota and immune function pre- and post-weaning, and how these complex systems develop over time. From day two after birth until two weeks after weaning, piglets received yeast-derived β-glucans or a control treatment orally and were subsequently vaccinated against Salmonella Typhimurium. Faeces, digesta, blood, and tissue samples were collected to study gut microbiota composition and immune function. Overall, yeast-derived β-glucans did not affect the vaccination response, and only modest effects on faecal microbiota composition and immune parameters were observed, primarily before weaning. This study demonstrates that the pre-weaning period offers a ‘window of opportunity’ to alter the gut microbiota and immune system through diet. However, the observed changes were modest, and any long-lasting effects of yeast-derived β-glucans remain to be elucidated.
by H. de Vries on 12/10/2020
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