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BOOSTING ANIMAL HEALTH: HOW TO SELECT THE BEST FIBER?


The nutritional requirements of swine and poultry are multifaceted, involving a careful balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. However, the role of dietary fiber, particularly lignocellulose, has gained increasing attention due to its significant impact on gut health, nutrient absorption, and overall animal well-being.



Lignocellulose is a mix of different types of fibers cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. It enhances gut motility and mechanical function, promoting regular bowel movements and preventing digestive disorders such as constipation. The physical bulk provided by lignocellulose also helps maintain gut integrity and supports a stable digestive environment. This is particularly important in modern intensive farming systems, where animals are often exposed to stressors that can compromise gut health.


There are different sources of lignocellulose that nutritionists can opt for but it is critical to understand the criteria that would affect their performance.


Dietary fibers versus natural fibers 


Some ingredients significantly contribute to the fiber requirements in swine and poultry diets. In Europe, ingredients like sugar beet pulp, wheat bran, and canola meal are frequently used to increase the fiber content of diets. In Asia, ingredients such as rice bran, palm kernel meal, and alfalfa are commonly used. These diverse fiber sources ensure the variety of the gut microbiome, but their supply can be inconsistent due to the varying fiber levels in these ingredients over time.


A major issue with natural fibers is the level of mycotoxin contamination. Therefore, their contribution to the diet must be limited to avoid excessive mycotoxin exposure in animals. Additionally, when considering the fiber requirements of sows, piglets, broilers, and layers, it becomes evident that the natural fiber levels in their diets are often insufficient.


Piglet diets require a Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) level between 10 to 11%, while rice bran contains between 10 to 30% NDF. To meet the NDF requirement of piglets, 33% to 100% of the diet would need to be rice bran, depending on the source. This is not a practical solution. The situation is even more complex for lactating sows, as their diets should target 13 to 15% NDF. Achieving such high NDF levels is only possible by using highly concentrated fiber sources like dietary lignocellulose.


How to select the proper source of lignocellulose


There are 3 different properties of lignocellulose that support its efficacy; the swelling effect, the water-holding capacity and the particle size.


The swelling effect is the ability to increase its volume in the presence of liquid. The various lignocellulose available for Swine and Poultry nutrition multiple their volume between 3 to 10 times depending the source.


That swelling effect is critical to create bulk in the intestine which stimulates the gut wall and promotes peristalsis.

Water holding capacity illustrates the ability of fibers to retain water. It is different from the swelling effect as some fibers can swell with little amount of water and other fibers can retain a lot of water without swelling. Both are actually important. The more water the fibers will retain and carry over and the more proper hydration of gut contents, smoother digestion and better nutrient absorption the better hydration it will bring to the whole intestine. Water circulates much better when stored in fibers than alone.


As introduced earlier, lignocellulose is a mix of cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose. But lignin has a lower swelling effect so the more lignin is in the product and the lower the swelling effect.


Finally, particle size plays an important role. I speak about the primary particle size. Most of the lignocellulose available on the market are micronised to reduce their primary particle size and then they are crumbled to facilitate transportation. But when in water, the crumbled forms are dissociated back into primary particles. By reducing the primary particle size, we are increasing surface area and therefore increasing water holding capacity and swelling effect.


By understanding and optimizing the characteristics of dietary fibers—such as particle size, water binding capacity, and swelling effect—producers can enhance the gut health and overall performance of their animals. Balancing natural fibers with added lignocellulose ensures a consistent, effective approach to meeting the dietary fiber requirements of piglets, sows, broilers, and layers, ultimately supporting their health and productivity.

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