Fish meal is considered an indispensable ingredient for piglet diets in some nutritional circles. However, as fish meal prices continue to rise, many nutritionists are looking for alternative feed ingredients to supplement piglet diets.
As a feed ingredient, fish meal is a highly digestible and palatable ingredient. Simple formulas based on crude cereals, unrefined soy products and dairy ingredients always benefit from the inclusion of 2-8 percent fish meal. The response in terms of improved feed intake and growth depend on fish meal quality (fish meal dried under low temperatures are superior in quality, but very expensive).
In addition, there is ongoing research regarding possible unidentified compounds in fish meal that enhance piglet growth. Under experimental conditions an enzymatically hydrolyzed sardine product was shown to enhance the immune system. In addition, there is a great deal of data on the merits of fish oil in regard to immunity.
Piglets need protein
To replace fish meal in any piglet diet, the issue of protein must be addressed. Although proteins of similar quality do exist (for example, wheat gluten and potato protein), these ingredients are usually as expensive as soybean meal. In contrast, soy protein concentrate is less expensive and has been shown to replace fish meal without problems. This substitution in a piglet’s diet works assuming its level of trypsin inhibitor activity is very low and that it is the only source of soy protein in the diet.
Most piglet diets already contain palatable ingredients, especially diets based on cooked cereals. Other piglet formulas use high-intensity artificial sweeteners or naturally sweet ingredients, such as lactose, sucrose, dextrose and molasses. These piglet nutritional formulas rarely suffer from a reduction or complete removal of fish meal, especially of low-quality fish meal if protein quality has been addressed.
Piglet health concerns
Any concerns about unidentified factors, especially such as those related to piglet immunity, can be put to rest as most modern formulas contain a source of immunoglobulins (in the form of animal plasma or egg-derived specific antibodies). With these ingredients, feed intake, growth and health are already boosted to levels beyond those enjoyed when fish meal was the choice ingredient in piglet formulas.
Modern advances in piglet nutrition have made fish meal a dispensable ingredient that can be effectively replaced, but only after taking into account all of the aspects that made it so unique in the past. Good quality fish meal is an excellent ingredient and given a possible reduction in price, it will return to most piglet formulas. However, with diminishing global production and strong competition from the aqua feed industry, fish meal is a luxury for piglet diets.