Background: Commercial pre-weaning diets are formulated to be highly digestible and nutrient-dense and contain low levels of dietary fibre. In contrast, pigs in a natural setting are manipulating fibre-rich plant material from a young age. Moreover, dietary fibre affects gastrointestinal tract (GIT) development and health in older pigs. We hypothesised that supplemental diets that contain vegetal fibres are accelerating GIT development in suckling piglets in terms of size and functionality. From d 2 of life, sow-suckled piglets had access to a low fibre diet (CON), a diet with a fermentable long-chain arabinoxylan (lc-AXOS), a diet with a largely non-fermentable purified cellulose (CELL), or a diet containing both fibres. During the initial 2 weeks, the control diet was a high-density milk replacer, followed by a dry and highly digestible creep meal. Upon weaning at 25 d, 15 piglets from each treatment group, identified as eaters and originating from six or seven litters, were sacrificed for post-mortem examination of GIT morphology, small intestinal permeability and metabolic profile of the digesta. The microbiota composition of the mid-colon was evaluated in a sub-set of ten piglets.
Results: No major statistical interactions between the fibre sources were observed. Piglets consumed the fibre-containing milk supplements and creep diets well. Stomach size and small intestinal permeability was not affected. Large intestinal fill was increased with lc-AXOS only, while relative large intestinal weight was increased with both fibre sources (P < 0.050). Also, CELL decreased ileal pH and tended to increase ileal DM content compared to CON (P < 0.050). Moreover, the concentration of volatile fatty acids was increased in the caecum (P < 0.100) and mid-colon (P < 0.050) by addition of CELL. lc-AXOS only stimulated caecal propionate (P < 0.050). The microbiota composition showed a high individual variation and limited dietary impact. Nonetheless, CELL induced minor shifts in specific genera, with notable reductions of Escherichia-Shigella.
Conclusions: Adding dietary fibres to the supplemental diet of suckling piglets altered large intestinal morphology but not small intestinal permeability. Moreover, dietary fibre showed effects on fermentation and modest changes of microbial populations in the hindgut, with more prominent effects from the low-fermentable cellulose.
- Dietary fibre
- Gut maturation
- Gut microbiota
- Suckling piglets