van de Ligt JLG, Saddoris-Clemens KL, Norton SA, Davis MD, Doepker CL. 2021. Impact of calcium nitrate supplementation on the oxygen-carrying capacity of lactating sows and their offspring. Trans Anim Sci 5(4):txab217.
Calcium nitrate supplementation has recently been suggested to provide potential benefits to sows and, in particular, their offspring when administered at a level of 1,200 ppm in feed shortly before farrowing through lactation. More specifically, nitrate supplementation has been suggested as one opportunity for improved placental and/or fetal blood flow and has been hypothesized in previous work to be important to the swine industry in light of the global trend toward larger litter sizes. The benefit is likely manifested through exposure to the nitrate moiety, but interestingly, nitrate has historically been considered a compound of concern for swine. High levels of nitrate once metabolized to nitrite can interfere with the oxygen-carrying capacity of hemoglobin, resulting in increased methemoglobin and, subsequently, methemoglobinemia (MetHb) if the animal is deprived of significant amounts of oxygen; however, the level of nitrate exposure necessary to induce MetHb in sows is not clearly defined. This work was undertaken to examine methemoglobin levels in sows and piglets exposed to the potentially beneficial levels of 1,200 and 6,000 ppm nitrate added to their diets over the course of the periparturient period. Other oxygen capacity blood variables were evaluated (e.g., hemoglobin, hematocrit, and various measures of hemoglobin and red blood cell volumes and concentrations), as well as performance endpoints (weight changes and feed intake) and general observations over the 27-d period. No evidence of treatment-related toxicity manifestation was observed at these supplemental levels. Nearly all oxygen-related variables were affected by time (independent of treatment), indicating adaptive general effects of farrowing. These findings support the hypothesis that MetHb is not a concern up to at least 6,000 ppm supplemental nitrate exposure, even in combination with additional nitrate in the sow’s daily diet. This work is important to help swine producers understand that consideration of nitrate benefit should outweigh concern for risk of nitrate-induced toxicity.