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Gut health is key to reducing antimicrobial use in pig production

March 3, 2017
pig gut health

There is a global movement to reduce antimicrobial use in livestock production. Antimicrobials have historically been, and are still, used extensively to address gut health issues in piglets, and a major challenge is finding alternatives to antimicrobials in order to support the gut during the period when it is developing. The goal to reduce antimicrobial use should be modified and instead viewed as a goal to produce healthy production systems that support the animal in all stages of production.

In-feed prophylactic antibiotic use in pig production is not used to treat sick pigs — it is used to treat suboptimal production systems. In the Alltech Antibiotic Reduction programme, the first step is therefore to optimise the health of the production system, which will make systematic prophylactic use redundant. Such an approach will not result in increased disease and loss in productivity; on the contrary, productivity will most likely increase, and the reduced expenditures on antibiotics can be invested in other areas in order to optimize the overall welfare and health of the pigs.

A healthy gut is key to a healthy animal, and, increasingly, emphasis is being placed on optimising gut health in our production animals. A healthy gut is not only a gut without disease; a healthy gut is an effective digestive organ that can mount a good defence against disease and easily cope with change. Immunity is the body’s internal defence against pathogens. The presence of disease-causing microorganisms in the gut is not sufficient to cause disease; disease occurs once the pathogen breaks down the gut’s defence. When the gut commensal microflora is out of balance, dysbiosis occurs between the beneficial microbiota and potential disease-causing organisms, and it becomes easier for pathogens to damage the gut’s structures and functions. Prebiotics, probiotics and mannan-oligosaccharides can assist the gut in adapting and minimising dysbiosis.

The establishment and maintenance of good gut function are vitally important in reducing neonatal morbidity and mortality. Neonatal nutrition is a critical component in the establishment of normal gut function, from digestion and absorption to barrier function and the development of the immune system. It is therefore important to ensure good colostrum and milk production in sows as well as good creep feeding.

Weaning disorders are one of the most common, and damaging, problems in pig husbandry, resulting in antibiotics being used post-weaning to protect the stressed gut and immune systems of the piglets. In a healthy production system, it is essential to do everything possible in order to help prepare the piglet for weaning as early as in the farrowing unit. Furthermore, at the time of weaning, it is important to minimise stressors such as transport, comingling of litters, large weaner groups, diet, poor air quality and unhygienic conditions.

Mycotoxins are toxins produced from moulds that cause serious health problems in pig production and can result in severe economic losses worldwide. Due to current climatic conditions and production systems with long distribution chains of feed, the risks associated with mycotoxins in feed and bedding material are high. Intestinal cells are the first cells to be exposed to mycotoxins, and often at higher concentrations than other tissues. Mycotoxins specifically target cells, such as gut epithelium, that have a high protein turnover and protein-activated cells. In order to improve the overall health status of the herd, appropriate measures need to be taken to minimise the exposure of pigs to mycotoxins, particularly in terms of feed storage, feed sourcing and the inclusion of good broad-spectrum mycotoxin binders in the feed.

The aim of the Alltech Antibiotic Reduction programme is to create a consistently healthy pig and make prophylactic and metaphylaxis antibiotic use redundant. This programme can assist the farmer in developing an action plan. Various feed additives and nutritional solutions are valuable tools for gut health in pig production, but these supplements alone are not sufficient for a healthy production system. Many times, there are more difficult steps that must be taken than simply feeding additives, including updates to management routines and resource allocation and needs.

The programme is for pig producers who are interested in achieving higher levels of health in their herd and are committed to taking steps to achieve these goals. Audits to establish the baseline current situation and recurrent audits to monitor progress are important in order to stay motivated and continue a steady rate of progress. The Alltech team assesses the weaknesses and strengths of the production system and sets up an action plan. In addition to gut health and nutrition components, the Alltech Antibiotic Reduction programme audits include evaluations of performance, pig welfare, pig respiratory and systemic health, reproductive performance, management, housing, antimicrobial use, biosecurity and the cost-effectiveness of production. Recommendations include nutritional solutions, management, antimicrobial use strategy, biosecurity measures, reproductive performance and productivity goals in order to optimise pig health at all stages of production. Through this program, producers have not only achieved increased productivity and reduced antibiotic use, but have also found it rewarding to be part of the global action plan to use our valuable antibiotics responsibly in order to ensure their viability for future generations.

To find out more about the Alltech Antibiotic Reduction programme, please visit

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