Giving baby pigs supplemental iron shots is nothing new, but the timing of the injections may be worth your review. Researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences studied the route of iron supplementation and its effects on hemoglobin, piglet growth and infectious diseases. They found that pigs receiving early iron injections had significantly more treatments for joint infections than in littermates that received a late injection, according to a report in Vetsweb.com.

It is generally accepted that piglets’ hemoglobin levels be above 80 to 90 grams per 1,000 ml blood. While giving nursing pigs an iron injection soon after birth is a safe way to ensure that iron levels are met, there is some evidence that early iron injection versus voluntary oral iron intake may increase the risk of joint infections as well as generalized infectious diseases in the piglets.

For the study, researchers designated “early” iron injections as those given 1 to 4 days after birth, and “late” as those given 8 to 12 days after birth. Twenty litters were involved in this section. Another 20 litters were provided oral iron supplementation 3 days after birth. Yet another group received oral supplementation on day 3 as well as an “early” iron injection.

The pigs were individually marked, weighed and blood samples drawn on days 2, 9, 20 and at weaning (day 33). Hemoglobin level also was determined. Researchers checked the presence of joint infections daily and even more thoroughly on day 9. All pigs were individually identified and recorded through to slaughter. Mortality, treatments and morbidity were recorded daily and all dead pigs in the trial were examined post-mortem, according to the report.

The results showed pigs that received early iron injections had significantly more treatments for joint infections compared with littermates that received a late injection. Also, pigs that received only oral iron supplementation had significantly fewer joint infections than littermates that received oral iron and an early iron injection. Hemoglobin was significantly higher on day 9 and day 20 in pigs receiving an early iron injection than in littermates receiving a late iron injection or only oral supplementation, respectively.

For pigs receiving oral iron, the daily growth to slaughter and mortality were the same for both treatment groups. However, for the groups receiving only injections, growth from day 2 to slaughter tended to be lower for the late-injection treatment group. Researchers say the results support the proposal that early iron injections increase the piglet’s risk of joint infections, usually occurring in the second week of life. The study showed no evidence that pigs with high hemoglobin levels perform better than pigs with levels of 80 to 110 grams per 1,000 ml blood.

To review the study’s tables, go to http://tinyurl.com/6jvk9vg.