Weaning is one of the most stressful times in the commercial pig’s life. During this period diarrhoea (scour) is a widespread problem, leading to loss of condition, performance and even death.

Here, we talk to Heidi Hall, Technical Manager for Swine at Anpario, about how important is it to manage the weaning process. Heidi has a degree in Zoology from the University of Leeds, has worked as a nutritionist and is keen to develop products which help manage performance and welfare for the swine industry.

Heidi says “A healthy piglet starts with a healthy gut”. The piglet’s digestive tract is still immature around the time of weaning and the microflora are naïve. With multiple changes and challenges occurring simultaneously, weaning is a concentrated stress point in the young piglets’ life, impacted by the removal of highly digestible milk and the introduction of novel feed ingredients, as well as bacteria from the environment. This can often result in a lower feed intake, which we see reflected in a dip in piglet growth. Poor management and inadequate hygiene can exacerbate these stresses at weaning. Such factors can result in changes to gut microflora, allowing for the proliferation of potential pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella spp and E. coli in the gut. E. coli specifically can release endotoxins that lead to diarrhoea, dehydration, loss of appetite, weight loss and in severe cases, death.

Traditionally, zinc oxide has been included at high levels in a piglet’s diet under veterinary prescription, to control E. coli infections that cause post-weaning scours, but now the European Commission has voted to ban the use of pharmacological levels of zinc (>150ppm) in piglet diets by 2022. A major factor in this decision is that zinc has been linked to environmental pollution and antibiotic resistance in some bacteria, such as MRSA.

Heidi explains why this ban is such a landmark decision for swine producers in Europe; “This ban could result in losses of up to €1,080 million/year for the EU pig industry, with estimations as high as €8.50/pig/year, due to increased piglet mortality and reduced daily weight gain. As an industry we need to use this time to work together and create solutions to ensure the animal health and welfare is not detrimentally affected. Here is an opportunity for Europe to show that high levels of zinc are not required to rear pigs”.

In preparation for the forthcoming ban, Anpario has been considering alternative solutions. One such solution is an organic acid and essential oil blend (OAEOB) on a unique carrier to form a free flowing powder that is added to the feed, such as Genex Weaner*.

Anpario carried out a piglet challenge study into the replacement of therapeutic levels of zinc oxide (3kg/T) with OAEOB (4kg/T). The piglets were randomly allocated to treatment diets at weaning for a duration of 28 days and at 8 days post weaning (29 days of age), piglets were orally challenged with E. coli (strain K88+).

The study showed a significant increase in average daily gain of 73g when fed OAEOB compared with the control diet and 30g/day increase compared with the zinc oxide treatment group. In addition to this, a significant improvement of 2.11kg in final body weight was achieved in the OAEOB treatment, compared with the control group which was an extra 0.7kg more than the zinc oxide group.
Heidi concludes that “in this trial OAEOB is able to support piglet performance in the absence of therapeutic levels of zinc oxide, in addition to helping increase the amount of pig meat sold per year for the unit and thus improving the farms profitability”.

*Genex Weaner is an Anpario PLC product