Plasma supports pig health and herd productivity


Published on: 2/11/2020
Author/s: Dr. Megan V Edwards, Animal Nutrition Advisor at Integran Nutrition Pte Ltd.


Dr. MEGAN EDWARDS reports studies showing the benefits of spray dried plasma proteins in sow and piglet diets.

African Swine Fever has significantly reduced the commercial herds of pigs in Asia. Now there are great opportunities for those investing in replenishing their herds of pigs. Challenges that the swine industry must address in the short to medium term include: having large numbers of sows enter our herds, directing social pressures to reduce dependence on antibiotic growth promoters, and dealing with the consequences that come with genetic advances in relation to the resilience or robustness of the modern lean pig.

Spray-dried plasma proteins (SDPP) are sources of functional proteins that can be used in the diets of sows and piglets to promote health, efficiency and profitability. In addition to being a highly digestible and palatable protein source, they also contain over 250 bioactive peptides, functional proteins (including immunoglobulins), albumin and growth factors. The overall benefits of SDPP in piglet diets are well accepted. Considering the direct and indirect benefits of SDPP, there are more life cycle production opportunities in using SDPP technology to promote health, productivity and ultimately profitability.


Mating and early-middle gestation

The period around mating can be a stressful time that includes a mixture of mixing stress, mating stress, and aggression that can result in localized or systemic inflammation. Inflammation is a common cause of failure to establish pregnancy and interferes with pregnancy maintenance, fetal growth, fetal survival, and successful implantation of embryos.

Oral supplementation of rodents with 1% SDPP has shown benefit in pregnancy outcomes through manipulation of cytokine expression within the uterus. Cytokines, such as interferon (IFN)-γ are important for the modulation of inflammation, but also for uterine dilation, blood supply, and implantation. Meanwhile, by transforming the expression of growth factor (TGF)-β1 in the uterus, cell growth, cell differentiation and wound healing are promoted. Both of these cytokines are best regulated when fed SDPP.

Feeding relatively low doses (0.5%) of SDPP throughout pregnancy has been shown to increase farrowing rates and live births (Table 1). Another interesting finding was that piglets fed from sows that were fed 0.5% SDPP during pregnancy grew faster and weaned fewer underweight pigs, indicating better uniformity. The benefits are shown to be more pronounced in PRRS-positive herds with known health and sanitation challenges.


Table 1: Summary of the effect of plasma protein (0.5%) on reproduction results



                                                    Late gestation / transition period


During the last three weeks of gestation the sow and the fetus undergo many drastic changes. The growth of the litter is exponential with a high demand for amino acids and minerals. The immune properties to be transferred from the sow to her progeny via colostrum are determined, and the sow experiences hormonal changes and calcium mobilization. During this period the sow’s immune system is depressed to support the litter’s requirements, and the sow’s antioxidant status is rapidly reduced.

The improvement in performance seen so far through supplementation of SDPP to 0.5%-1.0% in the sow’s feed during this period has been shown to reduce the occurrence of stillbirths, as well as increase subsequent litter size in gilts, resulting in a reduction in the common commercial phenomenon of second farrowing syndrome. Even while our understanding of the mode of action remains incomplete, there is evidence to demonstrate the reduction of inflammation in both sows and their progeny in the postpartum week. This finding implies that there may be systemic benefits that are passed on from the sow to her progeny when plasma is fed during the sow’s gestation.




Breastfeeding can be compared to a metabolic marathon and does not come without immune challenges. The transition from pregnancy to breastfeeding is known to cause liver, uterine, and systemic inflammation, as well as oxidative stress. These consequences distribute energy and amino acids away from milk production and towards an increased immune response, and therefore reduce feed efficiency.

Gilts (farrowing 1 and 2) continuously underperform compared to sows with the highest performance (farrowing 3 to 5), due to low feed consumption and lower immune capacity. This deviation in performance is further exacerbated under conditions of heat stress. Low levels of SDPP inclusion (0.5%) have been shown to promote feed consumption in gilts by 11.7% under heat stress conditions, and to significantly reduce the wean-to-estrus interval (8.1 vs. 5.7, p=0.02). In mature sows exposed to health stress supplemented with SDPP, litter weights improved due to an improvement in the efficiency of protein use.

Older farrowing sows (≥ 4) also appeared to benefit from PPDD supplementation, where improvements in weaning numbers and litter gain were observed.



The global adoption of SDPP in weaning diets has been popular for over 30 years. Piglets are weaned when their digestive and immune systems are immature, and the passive immune protection provided by plasma to young pigs is a great benefit. Oxidative stress and inflammation are undesirable consequences of the weaning process along with abrupt changes in intestinal microbiota, and in the physical integrity of the gastrointestinal tract.

The magnitude of the benefit provided by plasma is strongly influenced by inclusion rates, period of application, weight at weaning and age, health status and sanitary conditions. In well-balanced diets provided to piglets between 21 and 35 days of age at 4-6% SDPP in stage 1 diets, it can improve feed intake, growth and feed efficiency, lower immune activation, maintain intestinal barrier function, reduce inflammation and eliminate pathogens. A gradual decrease is recommended, with the goal of maintaining passive immune support until pigs reach immune maturity at approximately 7 weeks of age. The great benefits offered by SDPP explain why it is proposed both as a welfare tool and as a strong competitor as a replacement for antibiotics in feed.


Figure 1: The level of plasma in feed benefits intestinal health.



                                     Minimum 5% plasma for 14 days for optimal gut health                                                                                 Adapted from Peace et al, 2011 *p<0.05, n = 8 pigs/trt



Inflammation and oxidative stress are normal responses seen in commercial pigs. These stressors negatively impact the reproductive performance of sows and piglets in commercial swine operations. The use of functional feed ingredients such as SDPP, which has been scientifically proven to positively influence the inflammatory and oxidative status of sows and piglets, makes sense in terms of improving welfare, health status, performance and efficiency in commercial farms.