Gastric intubation was adopted as a means of comparing the effect of two feeding levels, continuous nutrient supply (C) and restricted nutrient supply (R), on the digestive development of pigs weaned at 14 d of age, during the first 5 d post-weaning. The absolute weights of the stomach and the pancreas were significantly greater (P < 0.001) in C compared with R pigs. The effect was not significant for pancreas weight when expressed per kg body-weight but was significant (P < 0.05) for stomach weight. The weights of the small intestine (SI), SI mucosa and total mucosal protein were significantly higher (P < 0.001) in C pigs but protein content per g mucosa was similar in the C and R groups. There was no significant effect of treatment on the activity of lactase (β-glucosidase; EC 184.108.40.206) or sucrase (sucrose-α-glucosidase; EC 220.127.116.11) irrespective of the basis of comparison used. The specific activity (μmol/min per g protein) of maltase (α-glucosidase; EC 18.104.22.168) and of glucoamylase (glucan-1,4-α-glucosidase; EC 22.214.171.124) were similar in C and R groups but activities of maltase (μmol/g mucosa) (P < 0.05), and maltase and glucoamylase (mol/d) (P < 0.01) were significantly higher in C pigs. Villous height and crypt depth were significantly greater in C pigs (P < 0.001 and P < 0.05 respectively). Enteroglucagon was significantly (P < 0.05) higher in C compared with R pigs. Xylose absorption and the digestibility of energy were not affected by treatment. Digestibility of dry matter, organic matter, crude protein (nitrogen x 6.25) and carbohydrate were significantly higher (P < 0.001, P < 0.01, P < 0.05 and P < 0.001 respectively) in R pigs compared with C pigs but the differences were small, ranging from 1.3 to 2.5 %. These results demonstrate that (1) nutrient intake in the weaned pig affects the anatomy, morphology and function of the gut, (2) there is considerable ‘spare capacity’ for digestion of cereal-based diets even in pigs weaned at 14 d of age, (3) measurements in vitro of digestive function are of limited value unless supported by information in vivo on absorption/digestibility.
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