Animal blood plasma has been a break-through product in terms of getting young pigs off on the right foot, but now it appears the product can go one better. Kansas State University researchers point to new evidence showing that pasteurizing feed-grade animal plasma reduces bacteria in the plasma, which results in better growth for baby pigs.

“If plasma is not in a pig's diet, its growth often is slowed in the first few weeks after its weaned,” says Joel DeRouchey, Kansas State Extension area animal scientist. He conducted the related research trials.

The process involves electronic pasteurization – or, electronic beam irradiation – to sterilize feed-grade spray-dried animal plasma before it is added to the diet.

DeRouchey’s research found that pigs fed irradiated feed-grade plasma had improved growth performance compared to pigs fed the non-irradiated product.

When the researchers looked at the effects of irradiation on food-grade blood plasma, there was no significant difference. That’s because food-grade plasma generally has a low bacteria level when it is collected, whereas feed-grade plasma typically starts with a high bacteria level, says Mike Tokach, Kansas State swine nutritionist.

“Feed grade” means the ingredient is approved for animal feed; “food grade” means the ingredient is approved for human use.

Spray-dried animal plasma can make up 3 percent to 8 percent of the pig's initial, post-weaning diet. In research trials and in commercial settings, researchers fed the product to pigs for two weeks after weaning. Then, the pigs are placed on a diet high in soybean meal, including other specialty protein sources, such as spray-dried blood meal.

Last year, the same research group reported similar successes in irradiating spray-dried blood meal. Aside from promoting growth, sterilizing animal plasma may help the young pigs build their immunities; they may actually be ingesting antibodies from the adult animal that produced the plasma. The Kansas State researchers also found that using electronic pasteurization does not break down these immunoglobins or alter the spray-dried plasmas’ protein composition.

DeRouchey points out, there are potentially, “hundreds of strains of bacteria” present in animal plasma, which is collected before or during slaughter. Electronic pasteurization is a safe and quick way to sterilize the product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the process for all feed ingredients.

“More and more we believe that the initial bacteria associated with feed-grade products have an effect on pig performance,” he says. “This irradiation process has the potential to be used commercially because it is a cost-effective processing technique when considering the benefits of improved growth performance.”