Pennsylvania State University researchers found providing pigs with electrolyte-restoring liquids (similar to sports drinks for humans) before and during transportation can reduce weight loss.

Lowell Wilson, professor of animal science, and Darron Smith, project assistant, investigated ways to combat the significant weight loss that occurs in pigs when they are transported. "Weight loss can approach 10%," Smith explains.

For the experiment, scientists transported pigs 50 miles in the morning, kept them for four hours in unfamiliar pens, then transported them another 50 miles. All animals were weighed immediately before and after their trips, and again 24 and 48 hours later. Data was collected for feed and liquid consumed, body temperature, heart rate and respiration.

Wilson and Smith videotaped the animals during transport, tracking such behaviors as loss of balance, aggression and position changes. Researchers kept track of eating, drinking and other behavior during the holding period.

The animals were divided into three groups: one group wasn't transported at all, a second was transported with access to water and a third was transported with access to a standard, electrolyte-enhanced liquid drink. While the water-fed animals spent more time lying or standing in the pen, the electrolyte-fed animals showed increased frequency of eating and drinking. And, while all animals lost weight during transport, electrolyte-fed animals tended to lose less weight than water-fed animals.

"We think that an increase in liquids and electrolyte consumption may promote feed consumption during stressful events," Wilson says. "Electrolyte-fed animals didn't demonstrate the fasting and binge-eating seen in water-fed animals, so they didn't have the large weight losses and subsequent large feed intakes that water-fed animals did. This results in animals that maintain a more constant weight through the transportation process."

Wilson says the benefits were especially evident in hot weather. Researchers: Lowell Wilson and Darron Smith, Animal Science Dept., Pennsylvania State University. Phone Wilson at (814) 863-3659.