Colostrum consumption is essential to the survival, health and growth of newborn piglets and yet the regulation of colostrum production in the sow is not well understood. Danish studies have shown that piglet survival is positively correlated with colostrum consumption in the first 24 hours of life; piglets which consume more than 200g colostrum have almost 100% survival regardless of their birth weight whereas piglets with low intakes of colostrum suffer from high rates of mortality. Colostrum is important as the first source of energy for the newborn piglet to aid its initial survival and thermoregulation but it also provides the piglet with passive immunity in the form of immunoglobulins to protect it from disease while its own naïve immune system is maturing. Colostrum also contains growth and immunomodulatory factors which help the pig’s gastrointestianl physiology and internal metabolism to adapt to life after birth as well as stimulating development of its immune system. Both colostrum quantity and colostrum quality (concentration and specificity of immunoglobulins) are important for the neonatal piglet. Colostrum production is not related to litter size and is highly variable in both quality and quantity between sows. With the current emphasis on increasing the litter size of sows it is increasingly urgent to understand regulation of colostrum production so that sows may be managed to maximise this.
In this PhD you will investigate the factors which influence colostrum yield and composition and how these are affected by management and feeding interventions. The impact of colostrum intake will be assessed in relation to development of the piglet microbiome and immune capability and how these influence subsequent piglet performance. The new pig facilities at the University of Leeds provide a unique opportunity for this study. Imaging techniques will enable you to determine critical timings in colostrum production and establish when dietary and management interventions will be most appropriate. Highly monitored farrowing and piglet rearing facilities will allow us to accurately assess piglet viability, the development of immune capability and early establishment of the gut microbiome in relation to individual colostrum consumption to provide a clearer understanding of the relationships between these parameters.