1. Spray-dried diets were prepared containing (g/kg): dried skim-milk 665, dried whey 65, soya-bean oil 270 (diet U); or single-cell protein (Pruteen; SCP) 308, dried whey 440, soya-bean oil 252 (diet X). The diets had a crude protein (nitrogen × 6·25) content (g/kg) of 250 (diet U) and 240 (diet X), excluding nucleic acids (36 g/kg) in diet X.
2. The diets were reconstituted (200 g dry matter/l) and mixtures of diets U and X prepared to give diets supplying 0 (diet U), and approximately 400 (diet V), 600 (diet W) and 800 (diet X) g crude protein from SCP/kg total protein. All diets were supplemented with vitamins, and minerals to equalize the calcium, phosphorous, sodium and potassium concentrations.
3. Pigs weaned at 2 d of age were given the diets at hourly intervals on a scale based on live weight. At 28 d age the experiment was terminated and pigs killed 1 h after a feed for a study of protein digestion. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) was fed in the diets (0.5 g/l) for 24 h before slaughter.
4. Performance of pigs fed on diet V was as good as on the all-milk diet U. Greater levels of replacement by SCP (diets W and X) reduced performance. Mortality was greater on the all-milk diet, but protein source had no effect on the incidence of scouring. N retention (g/d per kg live weight) was similar for all diets but declined with age.
5. SCP appeared to stimulate secretion of pepsin and chymotrypsin, and reduced the pH value in digesta in the stomach. Enzyme adaptation may have been insufficient to digest high levels of SCP in the diet, and together with the decreased transit time observed using PEG as a marker, may account for the poorer performance when 600 or 800 g/kg milk protein was replaced.
6. Nucleic acids from SCP were metabolized and not retained for tissue synthesis. Allantoin excretion accounted for 75% of the theoretical maximum for complete excretion of nucleic acids, and uric acid excretion was also increased.