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The Role of Copper Beyond the Nursery

A Little Copper Can Make a Big Difference to Improve Efficiency of Growing Pigs

By Yulin Ma, PhD, Technical Service Manager at Novus International

Optimizing pig growth – that’s the ultimate goal during the grow-finish phase for producers. Amid this rapid growth, pigs are experiencing a myriad of changes and many stressors. These stressors can impact gut health and immune function which can derail weight gain and growth.

Grow-finish pigs will consume around 600 pounds of feed during the grow-finish phase, which means feed efficiency can significantly influence the profitability of a specific farm. Improving feed conversion rate (FCR) by even one point can save at least 3 to 4 pounds of feed per pig, which is a 20 cent to 30 cent saving per pig and a $200,000 to $300,000 savings per million pigs marketed.

Essential trace minerals like copper, zinc and manganese play a variety of roles in pig development and health – from the sow and nursery all the way through finishing. Trace minerals take part in the antioxidant defense and DNA repair, bone and tissue development, immune function and oxidative stress. No wonder the two-time Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling made the comment, “You can trace every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”

Providing a more bioavailable source of organic trace minerals has been shown to exert a variety of positive effects, including improved immune response, enhanced bone and tissue development and strength as well as reduced oxidative stress. Additionally, higher bioavailability means the nutritionally required amount of trace minerals can be met with lower inclusion rates in the diet, allowing producers and nutritionists to “do more with less.”

Copper is essential in the growing pig for a variety of health and performance-related functions including proper red blood cell formation and proper enzyme system function. For example, enzymes that are dependent on copper boost metabolic processes that utilize zinc. A copper dependent cross-linking enzyme like lysyl oxidase can increase collagen and elastin strength. Because of its important cross-linking role, copper improves skin, bone, intestine and artery strength. In addition, copper offers a broad spectrum antibacterial function. With antibiotic use diminishing today, copper has become one of the alternatives to alleviate disease challenges in growing and finishing pigs.

Copper can modify microflora in the stomach, ileum and colon. It can also improve the absorptive capacity, aid in nutrient digestion and improve overall gut health which reduces the energy requirements of the GI tract, leading to more energy and nutrients available for growth. This improves feed conversion and increases weight gain in growing pigs.

A recent meta-analysis of published literature on varying levels of copper supplementation in nursery and growing-finishing pig diets in the United States revealed that grower-finisher pigs fed a MINTREX Cu supplement experienced an improved immune response and improved nutrients digestibility of a basic corn-soybean diet.

The studies also showed that MINTREX® Cu requires lower maintenance for gut turnover due to an improved villus height-to-crypt depth ratio and promotes better nutrient digestion and absorption. Feeding MINTREX Cu at 28 days or older and seven kilograms or heavier delivers the biggest advantage according to recent research. In field validation trials, grower-finisher pigs fed MINTREX® Cu improved carcass weight by 3 to 5 pounds and observed an improved feed conversion rate of 3 to 5 points (Ma et al., 2015). The studies also showed reduced morbidity and mortality rates with MINTREX Cu.

MINTREX Cu optimizes grower-finisher pig performance and profitability while reducing copper excretion. When compared to other inorganic trace mineral sources, MINTREX Cu offered a 3:1 return on investment, with an even greater benefit when compared to CuSO4 (Ma et al., 2015).

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