In the U.S. swine industry, feeding programs are focused on utilizing feed ingredients that are easily digestible and cost effective. With the predicted increases in soybean processing, pig producers may have increased availability of a cost-effective protein source in soybean meal (SBM). This expanded availability of SBM may result in feeding protein above the ostensible requirements, which would likely intensify the thermic effect of digestion, potentially increasing the pig’s susceptibility to heat stress (HS). Heat stress has damaging effects on feed intake and growth performance, costing the swine industry >$900 million annually. Therefore, the study objectives were to evaluate the effects of dietary crude protein diets (in the form of SBM) during HS on growth performance in growing pigs. Forty growing pigs (55 ± 5.6 kg) were allocated into six treatments: 1) thermoneutral (TN) ad libitum control diet (TN-Ctl; n = 6), 2) TN pair-fed (PF) control diet (PF-Ctl; n = 6), 3) HS ad libitum control diet (HS-Ctl; n = 8), 4) TN ad libitum high SBM diet (TN-SBM; n = 6), 5) TN PF high SBM diet (PF-SBM; n = 6), and 6) HS ad libitum high SBM diet (HS-SBM; n = 8). The control diet included 15% crude protein (CP) while the high SBM diet included 23% CP with excess amino acids. The study consisted of two periods: Period 1 (P1; 7 d) in which all pigs were housed in TN environments (26.7 ± 1.4°C) with ad libitum access to respective diets. Period 2 (P2; 21 d), HS groups were exposed to cyclical HS with daytime temperatures reaching 35°C and evening temperatures decreased to 29.4°C. During P2, PF groups were fed to respective HS-Ctl or HS-SBM equivalents in TN conditions. Pigs exposed to HS had an overall increase in rectal temperature and respiration rate (0.91°C and 45 bpm, respectively; P ≤ 0.01) and HS-SBM pigs had increased evening rectal temperature (± 0.13°C; P ≤ 0.01), relative to HS-Ctrl. Overall, HS decreased ADFI (19%; P ≤ 0.01), ADG (26%; P ≤ 0.01) and increased F:G (10%; P ≤ 0.01) irrespective of dietary CP levels. Loin muscle area (P = 0.19) and backfat (P = 0.98) were not different between the TN and HS pigs regardless of diet. Circulating blood urea nitrogen levels did not differ between HS and TN pigs (P = 0.68), but an increase was observed in pigs fed the SBM diet relative to the control diet (P ≤ 0.01).
In summary, these results demonstrate that HS decreases growth performance, but the negative effects are not augmented by feeding a high SBM diet.