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Conventional and deep-litter pig production systems: the effects on fat deposition and distribution in growing female large white X landrace pigs

Trezona-Murray, Megan (2008) Conventional and deep-litter pig production systems: the effects on fat deposition and distribution in growing female large white X landrace pigs. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Minimising variability in carcass quality to better meet market specifications is a priority for Australian pig producers, however issues with variability in carcass fat distribution have recently been raised, particularly in the belly primal. There has been a rapid increase in the use of low-cost, deep-litter (DL) housing systems in Australia over the past 15 years for rearing pigs. The inherent differences between the physical, thermal, and social environments of conventional (C) and DL production systems may well alter the growth path of the pig and subsequently alter fat metabolism and hence fat deposition and distribution. The general industry view is that pigs finished in DL housing are fatter and grow less efficiently than pigs finished in C housing, however contrasting carcass and growth performance results have been reported between housing systems. It is likely that the different housing environments affect the maintenance energy requirements of the growing pig, thereby affecting the availability of substrates for fat deposition and/or the requirements for fat mobilisation. Hence, raising pigs in C and/or DL production systems was identified as a likely contributor to variability in carcass fat distribution via the effects of the disparate environments on fat metabolism.

The overall purpose of this thesis was to establish the effect of keeping pigs in C and/or DL housing systems on fat metabolism, and therefore fat deposition in the growing pig and fat distribution in the finished carcass. Industry considers that finishing pigs in C facilities allows greater flexibility in feeding and marketing decisions, allowing growth efficiency and backfat to be managed more effectively than in a DL system. Therefore an aspect of this thesis was to also examine the effects of an alternative management strategy, raising pigs in a combination of DL and C housing, on growth performance and fat deposition and distribution in the carcass. The presence of straw bedding is a major difference between C and DL housing systems. This was identified as a probable contributor to the differences in growth performance and carcass fat distribution found between pigs raised in the different housing systems, via its thermal properties and/or the ingestion of the straw on pig growth.

Experiment 1a and 1b were designed to test the hypothesis that the growth path differs for pigs raised in C and DL housing systems, affecting biochemical indicators of fat metabolism and therefore fat accretion and distribution in the carcass. The study was conducted as a serial slaughter of pigs housed in C and DL systems allowing the pattern of fat accretion, and therefore the distribution of fat in the carcass, to be determined from 15-185 kg live weight (LW). The results confirmed the hypothesis that the growth path, fat accretion and fat distribution in the carcass differed for pigs raised in C and DL housing systems.

In Experiment 1a, elevated lipogenic enzyme activities, higher percentages of saturated fatty acids (SFA) and higher concentrations of plasma glucose and lactate indicated lipogenesis was elevated in C pigs to 13 weeks of age, compared to young DL pigs, suggesting that fat accretion was higher in young C pigs. At 24 weeks of age however there was a shift in lipogenic enzyme activities, the percentage of SFA in backfat and the concentration of plasma glucose were higher in DL-housed pigs than C-housed pigs, indicating higher rates of lipogenesis. Elevated concentrations of plasma non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) and glycerol in DL pigs indicated that lipolysis, or fat mobilisation, was higher in DL-housed pigs for the entire growth period. The results from Experiment 1b clearly indicated that during early growth, C pigs grew faster than DL pigs (0.71 vs 0.66 kg/day, P less then/= 0.05) and were heavier between 8-23 weeks of age (P less then/= 0.05). Therefore in conjunction with the results of Experiment 1a, it was expected that you ng C pigs would be fatter than DL pigs of the same age. However, dissection indicated no treatment differences in total carcass composition, although there was an effect of housing on carcass fat distribution with a trend (P=0.087) for a lower ratio of fat:lean in the belly primal of DL pigs compared to C pigs at 13 weeks of age. After 20 weeks of age however, growth rates were similar for pigs in both housing treatments and by 26 weeks of age there were no treatment differences in live weight (LW) but the rate of fat accretion in DL pigs, particularly in the loin and belly primals, increased rapidly. Differences in the thermal environments of C and DL housing, and therefore differences in the energy demand for thermoregulation, were likely to have contributed to the differences measured in lipogenesis, growth performance and carcass fat distribution.

Experiment 2a and 2b tested the hypothesis that moving pigs from DL to C housing for finishing would improve overall growth performance and reduce carcass fatness compared to pigs raised in wean-to-finish DL housing. The biochemical measurements indicated few differences in the rate of lipogenesis between 13-week-old C and DL pigs. However, and in agreement with the findings from Experiment 1a, elevated plasma NEFA concentrations in DL pigs suggested higher rates of lipolysis. Up to 13 weeks of age, pigs in the DL housing system grew faster than C pigs, however similar to the findings of Experiment 1b, DL pigs were less efficient. In addition, P2 backfat depth was less in DL pigs, indicating they were leaner than C pigs, and though not reflected in total carcass composition, again there was an effect of housing on fat distribution. The move to an unfamiliar housing environment affected growth performance, reduced enzyme activity in backfat and the ratio of SFA in belly fat, suggesting these pigs had lower rates of lipogenesis. However in contrast to Experiment 1a, where lipogenesis was higher in older DL pigs compared to older C pigs, pigs finished in the DL housing had a trend for lower enzyme activity in belly fat (P=0.063), suggesting lower rates of lipogenesis, and higher plasma glycerol concentrations, suggesting a higher level of lipolysis compared to C-finished pigs. The carcass composition data (Experiment 2b) found that though there were no differences indicated by differences in P2 depth, there was a strong trend (P=0.057) for DL-finished pigs to have 2-6% less fat in the carcass as a result of significantly less fat in the shoulder (15% vs 17%) and belly (29% vs 33%) primals compared to C-finished pigs. The difference in belly primal composition was a reflection of the lower enzyme activities in belly fat and higher plasma glycerol concentrations in DL finished pigs. The results suggest that the type of housing during the finishing growth period has a greater impact on fat accretion and carcass composi ion than the type of housing during the grower period, or changing housing environment during growth. However, changing housing environment at 13 weeks of age affected growth, where there was a temporary reduction in daily LW gain, and therefore significantly lower (P less then/= 0.001) LW at slaughter (117 kg LW), compared to pigs that had remained in C or DL housing from wean-to-finish (123 kg LW). Moving pigs from DL to C housing to control carcass fat and improve growth performance compared to pigs grown wean-to-finish in DL housing, was not successful, and had a negative impact on performance and carcass quality by reducing growth efficiency and LW and increasing carcass fatness. The results also showed that contrary to the industry view that DL raised pigs are fatter, pigs in this experiment finished in DL housing had a lower fat:lean ratio in the carcass than pigs finished in the C system (P less then/= 0.05).

The effects of straw on growth performance and carcass composition were evaluated in Experiment 3a and 3b by including straw in the grower and finisher diets (St+) and/or providing straw bedding (Bed+) to C-housed pigs. The experiment tested the hypothesis that the presence of straw alters the growth paths of pigs, affecting fat distribution in the carcass. Straw, as bedding and in the diet, affected pig growth paths and altered carcass fat distribution and, consistent with the findings for DL pigs in Experiments 1b and 2b, there was a trend for pigs with access to straw to have less fat in the belly (P=0.072).

Elevated activity of key enzymes involved in lipogenesis, measured in Experiment 3a in belly fat and backfat from pigs fed the St+ diet, and a higher ratio of SFA in belly fat of pigs housed on concrete without straw bedding, suggested that in this experiment straw ingestion increased lipogenesis in belly fat and backfat of the growing pig, whilst straw bedding reduced lipogenesis in belly fat. Experiment 3b demonstrated an additive effect of straw on growth where average LW at slaughter for pigs without access to straw was significantly lower (110 kg), compared to pigs with access to one source of straw either via the diet or bedding (115 and 114 kg LW respectively), and pigs that had two sources of straw available (119 kg LW) (P less then/= 0.05). Although LW differed between treatments there were no differences in total carcass fat (P>0.10), yet there was an effect of straw on fat distribution. Pigs with access to straw had a lower ratio of fat and a higher ratio of lean tissue in the belly primal (P=0.072) compared to pigs that did not have straw. The effect of straw ingestion on lipogenesis and fat deposition may have occurred via the effects of dietary fibre (DF) on the dilution of dietary energy density. Pigs were able to compensate for the energy/nutrient dilution by increasing VFI and therefore growth was not affected, however fat acts as an insulator, and localised differences in fat distribution may have been related to increased heat production (HP) from the digestion of greater volumes of feed. In response, fat deposition may have been directed away from the belly location in order to facilitate heat loss. Floor type may have also affected fat distribution via differences in thermal conductivity. Straw has a lower thermal conductivity than concrete, hence pigs housed on concrete flooring may have a greater requirement for fat in the belly to reduce conductive heat loss. Results from Experiment 3a and 3b provided evidence that pigs housed on bedding consume straw in sufficient quantities. Pigs fed the straw diet had significantly higher concentrations of plasma acetate than pigs fed the control diet (P less then/= 0.001), and there was a trend for pigs housed on straw bedding to have higher levels than pigs without access to straw. An increase in plasma acetate can indicate increased microbial activity in gut, which occurs in response to higher levels of DF. In addition, pigs bedded on straw had higher gastrointestinal tract weights, which can also indicate higher levels of DF intake.

Regression analyses of data across experiments showed that P2 backfat depth, the primary carcass composition prediction tool, accounted for less than 50% of the variation in percent carcass fat (R2=0.41). Furthermore, across experiments, P2 accounted for very little of the variability in percent belly fat (R2=0.01). These results highlight the inconsistency of P2 depth as a reliable indicator of carcass composition and the need for the development of additional criteria to be used in the selection of carcasses for specific markets as the composition of the belly primal was not indicated by the current carcass measurement system.

From the results obtained in this thesis, it was proposed that:
1) The growth path of pigs is altered by the housing system in which they are reared and the more variable ambient temperature of the DL housing system would increase the energy requirement of young pigs for thermoregulation. As a consequence of the altered growth paths, fat metabolism differs for pigs raised in DL and C production systems. Lower rates of lipogenesis may occur in young DL pigs compared to C pigs and this can change as pigs grow, however fat mobilisation remains higher in DL pigs during growth.

2) Differences in the rate of lipogenesis, indicated by the biochemical measures, were generally not reflected in total carcass composition, however there were differences in carcass fat distribution where pigs raised in DL systems consistently had less fat in the belly primal. Rearing environment may provide an additional criterion when selecting carcasses for specific markets where variability in belly composition is an issue.

3) Pig raised in the DL environment are not always fatter than pigs housed in C facilities, and moving pigs from one housing environment to another during the growing-finishing period disrupts the growth path reducing growth performance and can increase carcass fatness.

4) Straw bedding, via ingestion and via its physical thermal properties, affects pig growth and fat distribution and may explain in-part the differences in pig growth performance and carcass quality found between C and DL housing systems.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
Supervisor: Pluske, John, Mullan, Bruce and D'Souza, Darryl
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