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JRP 2018 : Benefits of a non-medicated feeding strategy on the performances and microbiota of piglets

What is the best feeding strategy to apply in order to promote the diversity of piglet microbiota? Swine experts from TECHNA Group attempted to address this issue by evaluating the impact of medicated feeding strategies (antibiotics, zinc oxide) versus an alternative one on performance and fecal bacteria diversity in piglets. The findings of their research were presented during the 2018 JRP (Swine Days' Research).

Demedication and microbiota at the core of the 50th JRP (Swine Days' research)

How can demedication be properly implemented in pig farms in France and abroad? What are the alternatives to zinc oxide in piglet, as this compound poses a major threat to consumers’ health and the environment? Experts who attended the 50th edition of the JRP  widely discussed these issues on February 6th and 7th, 2018.

The Swine Days Research (JRP) is jointly organized by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and the French Pork and Pig Institute. Its objective is to provide a platform for rapid and rigorous dissemination of results of ongoing research to actors in the pig production chain.

Within the framework of the 2018 edition,TECHNA group swine experts unveiled the results of their research focusing on demedication: the aim was to evaluate the effects of two medicated feeding strategies versus an alternative one on performance and fecal bacteria diversity in piglets. This project was run in partnership with INRA's GABI unit (Animal Genetics and Integrative Biology).

Assessing the influence of an aromatic substance on piglet microbiota, performances and health

After weaning, piglet microbiota is key to ensuring intestinal integrity and the immune system maturation process. When incorporated in feed, antibiotics and zinc oxide help to limit digestive troubles at weaning, yet these medications also promote the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Aromatic substances have proved to be a means of strengthening microbiota functions by having a positive impact on piglet intestinal microbiota. The aim of this study is therefore to evaluate the influence of this type of supplementation on piglet microbiota diversity, performance and health.

Four different feeding strategies tested on 144 piglets

A total of 144 piglets weaned at 21 days were fed ad libitum with a two-phase diet program supplying 10.8 MJ/kg of net energy (NE) and 1.22% of standardized ileal digestible (SID) lysine (Lys) (days 0-21) and 9.6 MJ/kg of NE and 1.05% of SID Lys (days 21-47).

Piglets were divided into 4 experimental groups which were given different supplementations:

  • a control group (CTL), with no supplementation;
  • an antibiotic group (ATB), with 500 ppm of amoxicillin and 3,200,000 IU/kg of colistin from days 0-21;
  • a zinc oxide group (ZnO), with 2500 ppm of Zn from days 0-21;
  • an aromatic substance (AS) group, with 1000 ppm of a microencapsulated flavor throughout the trial.

Aromatic substances key to improving piglet FCR, live weight and preventing digestive troubles

When considering FCR, Piglets in the Antibiotic group had an improved feed conversion ratio from days 0-21. At day 47, piglets in the AS group weighed more than those in the Control group. Antibiotic supplementation of piglets immediately after weaning results in a temporary improvement in performance yet this tendency is reversed during the 2nd period. When antibiotic supplementation was stopped (d21-d47), piglets had a degraded FCR compared to CTL and AS groups.

From the live weight perspective, piglets who were given the aromatic substance ended up having a final weight of 1,2 kg compared with the control group. However, when taking digestive troubles into account, antibiotics clearly stood out as the most effective way to reduce morbidity once piglets were sick. Still, in such  cases, providing piglets with aromatic substances appears to be a viable option for handling the emergence of digestive troubles, especially during the transition between two phases.

Yet the most interesting result concerned bacterial diversity: AS and CTL piglet groups had the highest increase of α-diversity of gut microbiota at days 21 and 47. A strong reduction in α-diversity was observed in the ZnO group at day 21. Therefore maintenance of bacterial diversity may have a positive effect on the health and performance of piglets after weaning.

techna jrp 2018 feeding strategies based on aromatic substances as alternatives to antibiotics and zinc oxide in pigletsIn conclusion, the gut microbiota maturation process is crucial for piglet robustness and for making piglets less susceptible to stress and diseases. Aromatic substances are a viable alternative to antibiotics for promoting the development of beneficial bacteria and to have a positive impact on intestinal microbiota and performance in the long term.

If you would like more information on this topic or if you would like a detailed account of this study, please contact us!


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