Pigs have better feed conversion rates with copper in their diets, but until now, scientists didn't fully understand why. Existing research from the University of Illinois shows copper doesn't change fat and energy absorption from the diet. Instead, according to new research, the element seems to enhance pigs' ability to utilize fat after absorption, resulting in increased energy utilization of the entire diet.
© University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences | Copper boosts pig growth, and now we know why

"Our results indicate copper hydroxy chloride is enhancing the metabolism of fat, and that's how the pigs get more energy. And that, we believe, can explain why pigs have better feed conversion rates when we feed this copper source in the diets," says Hans H. Stein, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois and co-author of a new study in the
 Journal of Animal Science.
In the study, Stein and his collaborators fed pigs one of two diets. Both primarily contained corn, , and distillers dried grains with solubles, but one diet (a control) contained only 20 milligrams of copper chloride per kilogram. The experimental diet was identical, except it also contained 150 milligrams of copper hydroxy chloride per kilogram.
Pigs consuming the experimental diet experienced greater average daily gain and gain-to-feed ratio, representing better feed conversion and economic savings for producers.
Stein's previous work showed fat and energy digestibility didn't change with the inclusion of similar rates of copper hydroxy chloride. So, to really understand copper's effects on post-absorptive fat metabolism, the researchers evaluated  in  from the pigs.
"We saw the greater expression of genes involved in  and lipid utilization in the liver, adipose tissue, and to a lesser degree in the muscle," Stein says. "This indicates that dietary copper may affect signaling pathways associated with lipid metabolism by improving the uptake, transport, and utilization of fatty acids."
Copper's ability to boost feed conversion rates is welcome news with agencies regulating antibiotics as growth promoters.
But copper isn't necessarily a perfect workaround.
In Europe, Stein says,  prompt copper regulation in waste streams. That's why understanding copper's role in pig nutrition is so important. If less copper or a different form with a smaller environmental footprint could fulfill the same , producers could continue to benefit while also protecting the environment.
This article was originally published at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Previous Post Next Post