ESR10: Nutritional and management strategies for healthy porcine offspring


The selection for hyperprolific sows has led to an increase in pre-weaning piglet mortality, associated with both reduced birth weight and the reduced volume and quality of colostrum and milk ingested by the individual piglet. This high mortality poses both ethical and economic concerns for the pig industry. Previous research indicates that these losses can be reduced if a healthy microbiota in the piglet intestine is maintained. However, further research is needed to better understand the influence of sow vaginal, faecal, colostrum, milk, udder, environment and diet microbiota on piglet microbiota development. Doing so will facilitate the development of effective microbiota-targeted strategies (e.g. probiotic feeding to sows) to improve the health, growth and efficiency of piglets born into large litters.


  1. Develop nutritional and management strategies that will improve the health, growth and efficiency of piglets born into large litters and reared in the absence of antibiotics and pharmacological levels of zinc oxide and copper.
  2. Determine the importance of sow and colostrum microbiota in developing the piglet intestinal microbiome, and evaluate their influence on piglet health, growth and feed efficiency.
  3. Identify the influence of sow microbiome populations (vaginal, faecal and colostrum/milk microbiome) on the composition of piglets’ gut microbiota during lactation and subsequent stages.
  4. Early identification of piglets and litters at risk of increased mortality due to reduced immunity uptake from the sow and/or inappropriate gut microbiome colonisation.
  5. Evaluate probiotic administration to the sow and/or progeny as a replacement for antibiotics and pharmacological levels of Cu and ZnO in pig diets.


  • Sow and piglet microbiome analysis via high throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing.
  • Milk and colostrum composition, microbiome and immunological analysis.
  • Growth, feed intake, feed efficiency, health, intestinal histology and gene expression, antibiotic usage.

Expected results

  1. Define management strategies for peri-partum sows and newborn piglets to enhance passive immunity transfer from sow to offspring and to modulate the instauration of piglets’ gut microbiota.
  2. Develop effective supplemental feeding strategies to support gut health and overall performance by targeting the most influential microbiota populations for sows and/or piglets and by identifying the optimum period for supplementation.
  3. Contribute to reduce the overall antibiotic usage in farms and to produce healthy and efficient pigs without pharmacological levels of ZnO and Cu in the diets.

Planned secondments

  • At: AFBI (6 mo); Performing experiments to access the colonisation of the piglet gut and development of the piglet intestinal microbiome;
  • At: FBN (2 mo); Training in sow milk analysis;
  • At: Kiernan Milling (1 mo); Get experience in milk replacer formulation for piglets.

Enrolment in Doctoral degree:

ESR10 will be enrolled at the School of Science, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Republic of Ireland.


Paul Cormican (TEAGASC), Peadar Lawlor (TEAGASC), Gillian Gardiner (WIT)