Birth weight affects body protein retention but not nitrogen efficiency in the later life of pigs
Exploring factors that might affect nitrogen (N) efficiency in pigs could support the development of precision feeding concepts. Therefore, an experiment was conducted to determine the effects of birth weight (BiW) on N retention, N efficiency, and concentrations of metabolites in plasma and urine related to N efficiency in male pigs of 14 wk of age. BiW of the low BiW (LBW) and high BiW (HBW) pigs was 1.11 ± 0.14 and 1.79 ± 0.12 kg, respectively. Twenty LBW and 20 HBW pigs were individually housed in metabolism cages and were subjected to an N balance study in two sequential periods of 5 d, after an 11-d adaptation period. Pigs were assigned to a protein adequate (A) or protein restricted (R, 70% of A) regime in a change-over design and fed restrictedly 2.8 times the energy requirements for maintenance. Nontargeted metabolomics analyses were performed in urine and blood plasma samples. The N retention in g/d was higher in the HBW than in the LBW pigs (P < 0.001). The N retention in g/(kg BW0.75·d) and N efficiency (= 100% × N retention / N intake), however, were not affected by BiW of the pigs. Moreover, fecal digestibility of N and urinary concentration of N and urea were not affected by BiW of the pigs. The concentration of insulin (P = 0.08) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1;P = 0.05) in blood plasma was higher in HBW pigs, whereas the concentration of α-amino N tended to be lower in HBW pigs (P = 0.06). The LBW and HBW pigs could not be discriminated based on the plasma and urinary metabolites retrieved by nontargeted metabolomics. Restricting dietary protein supply decreased N retention (P < 0.001), N efficiency (P = 0.07), fecal N digestibility (P < 0.001), urinary concentration of N and urea (P < 0.001), and concentration of urea (P < 0.001), IGF-1 (P < 0.001), and α-amino N (P < 0.001) in blood plasma. The plasma and urinary metabolites differing between dietary protein regime were mostly amino acids (AA) or their derivatives, metabolites of the tricarboxylic acid cycle, and glucuronidated compounds, almost all being higher in the pigs fed the A regime. This study shows that BiW affects absolute N retention but does not affect N efficiency in growing pigs. Therefore, in precision feeding concepts, BiW of pigs should be considered as a factor determining protein deposition capacity but less as a trait determining N efficiency.