Following two visits in China this year, and after countless hours of discussions with many piglet feed manufacturers, a common pattern emerged: there is a pressing need to find an alternative to dairy products (as a source of lactose), and especially for whey, which undoubtedly is queen among them. But, this is easier said than done.
First, local dairy products are a rarity in China, where milk is not part of the diet for the majority of the Chinese population. Thus, most dairy products are imported at a premium, but it is not just the price that makes them unattractive. Quality is often subpar, most likely because of prolonged exposure to adverse conditions during transportation and storage.
Second, based on technical advice from Europe and especially the UK, many Chinese piglet formulas are formulated to relatively high levels of lactose (the primary component in whey) in an effort to enhance feed intake. This is correct, on principle, but not exactly applicable under current Chinese conditions where pigs are housed and managed differently; digestive upsets are the norm rather than the exception.
Fortunately, China has several local ingredients that can replace imported lactose at a much-reduced cost. I only need to mention here molasses, which can be found easily locally. And, research supported by commercial evidence has proven beyond doubt that the ingredient can replace lactose without problems -- if done correctly. It only takes careful reformulation and attention to the idiosyncrasies of this ingredient, during re-formulation and feed manufacturing. Other local ingredients can be used, of course, in combination with molasses or alone.
In my opinion, as a field nutritionist for 15 years now, good quality whey is a valuable ingredient that can define quality in piglet feeds. I use the best quality of whey possible in my feeds that I manufacture in Germany. But, like any other ingredient, I do not consider whey, or dairy products in general, as indispensable. So, when good quality whey cannot be obtained at reasonable prices, I have always opted for good quality alternatives that are available locally. No piglet has ever complained so far!