Effects of dietary protein supply, weaning age and experimental enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli infection on newly weaned pigs: health
Weaning is often associated with post-weaning colibacillosis (PWC), caused by enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). The objective was to investigate the effects of manipulating dietary protein supply and increasing weaning age on enteric health and ETEC shedding of newly weaned pigs exposed to an experimental ETEC challenge. The experiment consisted of a complete 2 X 2 X 2 factorial combination of weaning age (4 v. 6 weeks), dietary protein content (H, 230g crude protein (CP)/kg v. L, 130g CP/kg) and experimental ETEC challenge (+ v. -); all foods were free from in-feed antimicrobial growth promoters (AGP). An additional four treatments were added to allow the effect of protein source (DSMP, dried skimmed milk powder v. SOYA, soybean meal) and AGP inclusion (yes v. no) to be investigated in challenged pigs of both weaning ages. On day 3 post-weaning challenged pigs were administered per os with 10(9) cfu ETEC 0149. A subset of pigs was euthanased on days 0 and 6 post weaning to assess enteric health and small intestine morphology. Both weaning age and dietary protein content affected the consequences of ETEC challenge. ETEC excretion persisted longer in the 4-week-weaned pigs than those weaned at 6 weeks. Although not significant the numbers of ETEC shed in the faeces post infection (days 4 to 14) were higher on the H than L diet, especially in the 4-week-weaned pigs (P = 0.093). Lowering CP level led to significantly firmer faeces post challenge (days 3 to 6) and decreased colonic digesta pH. Protein level had no effect on small intestine villous heights or crypt depths. There was no significant effect of protein source on ETEC excretion or enteric health. Results suggest that increasing weaning age and decreasing the level of dietary protein, especially in earlier weaned pigs, may help to maintain enteric health and minimise the effects of PWC.