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Do these piglet additives really work?

The best way to keep costs down when it comes to additives is to be constantly alert about those used in a formula. Their cost must always be justified in terms of return-on- investment and their presence should be periodically questioned. Not only do additives become redundant when the problem they face ceases to exist but also, new additives always appear in the market. The key word is vigilance.

 
 
 
By Dr Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ariston Nutrition, Madrid, Spain
 
 
A good part of my daily workload as a consulting nutritionist is reviewing piglet formulas. Although my customers come from a very disparate geographical mix, there is a number of recurrent, or rather, common issues in most formulas. One area is, of course, the nutrient specification matrix and ingredient minimum maximum section. Not surprisingly, this is the area of most interest to nutritionists, working either for feed nutrition suppliers or pig producers directly. With only a few notable exceptions, when it comes to additives, the highest interest is shown by the ‘boss’, being either the CEO or the pig producer personally. This makes sense as additives is about spending money on the spot (to buy additives) versus long-term return-on-investment (the benefits from using these additives).
 
And, spending (less) money is in the mind of everyone these days. So, below is but a brief description of what many piglet formulas may ‘suffer’ from when it comes to additives. This is not to say that all formulas face all of these problems, but rather that this could be used as a guide when such formulas are reviewed. For the purposes of this discussion ‘additives’ are considered all ingredients that are not used as a primary source of energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins (the basic nutrients). As an example, animal plasma should be considered as an additive – although it provides protein and other nutrients, it is used to supply immunoglobulins that enhance piglet growth and feed intake.
 
 
1. Overdosage
This is the most common problem and one that is encountered mostly with non-regulated feed additives. For example, in many countries there are regulations regarding maximum concentration of copper in piglet feeds, but there is no upper limit when it comes to a mycotoxin binder such as zeolite. In these cases, most formulas contain more than it is required as a safety margin. While this is perfectly fine when the additive in question is relatively inexpensive (such as zeolite), it certainly becomes problematic when it is very expensive (such as plasma, to
continue from the example above). Of course, here we do not need to mention that overdosage of even some regulated ingredients is not uncommon in certain parts of the world.
 
  
2. Too many additives
There are many reasons why piglet formulas may be overburdened with numerous additives. First, for security reasons we might find additives thatcontrol diarrhoea (most common). Second, additives that enhance feed intake are quite popular (for example, aromas and flavours). Third, for marketing reasons there are certain additives that are used in local markets (any additive can be listed here). Although most of these additives are valid and needed, there is a point where there are too many of them and any further improvement in animal health, growth, or product image is difficult to achieve.
 
 
3. Duplicate additives
This is a variation of the above issue but it is so common it deserves its own ‘spotlight’. Take for example a piglet diet in the USA where growth-promoting antimicrobial agents are (still)
allowed. In this case, it is rather difficult to justify the use of other growth-promoting agents, although we should allow here for certain exceptions to meet local demands. Another example could be the concurrent use of zinc oxide and copper sulfate, even though research has shown repeatedly they are not needed together. Of course, this is not a major issue as copper sulfate is rather cheap, but when it comes, say to enzyme A and enzyme B, it makes sense to use only one of the two (the one that works, that is!) if both are to be used in wheat-based diets and both are expensive.
 
 
4. Wrong additives
Quite often, additives are used for the wrong reasons. This can be explained in many different ways, but at the end, when it comes to reducing feed cost these are the additives that go first. For example, using organic acids to make the feed more palatable (not impossible) is not the most efficient or most economic way to achieve this goal, yet this approach is not so uncommon as one might expect.
 
 
5. Brand selection
This is not so much a problem per se but rather a personal decision to be made by those responsible for nutrition in each organisation. Yes, enzyme A and enzyme B (to use the example above) are both for wheat-based diets, and they both come with sufficient literature to justify their claims. But, in reality, one of the two is most effective. Of course, this knowledge is not publicly available and it takes a qualified nutritionist to tell the difference or have the experience in using both under diverse conditions.
 
6. Forgotten additives
Another common problem, especially for companies handling a large number of products. For example, using here real-case scenarios, sometime in the past a mycotoxin binder was added to address a problem in imported wheat. Several months later, and having switched to national wheat with no such problem, the piglet formula still contained the same mycotoxin binder. Or, in another case, a flavour was used to mask the effect of a bitter ingredient (medicine), but the flavour was not removed when the animals got back to being healthy and the in-feed medicine was discontinued.
 
7. Marketing additives
Markets change constantly. What is in‘fashion’ today might be ‘outdated’ in acouple of months. If a formula containscertain additives to meet local marketingneeds, and these needs are no
longer present, it makes sense to remove these additives. This is often
not the case, unfortunately.
 
8. Fixed formulas
In certain companies, being either nutrition suppliers or pig producers, piglet formulas are considered fixed to ensure quality. Although this is a valid approach to quality, it makes matters
complicated when several years (or decades) down the road the original formula designers no longer work for this company and nobody knows why certain additives are used and a replacement is urgently needed.
 
 
9. Expensive additives
Some will claim that all additives are expensive. I prefer to consider additives in terms of return-on-investment and not on cost of purchase. If an additive adds €20 per metric
tonne of piglet feed and improves feed intake by 25%, it is less expensive than an additive that adds €2 to feed cost and brings no real benefit in terms of feed intake. Still, when it
comes to picking brand A versus brand B, and both are equally good, then it makes sense to select the least expensive – but, this is not always the case.
 
 
10. Overused additives
Here it is best to give an example straightaway. Zinc oxide is a great additive, but once used for more than three to four weeks post-weaning, it starts to depress feed intake, due to Zn
toxicosis. This is especially true if zinc oxide is used at high levels (3,000 ppm Zn). Several other additives designed for the first couple weeks post-weaning continue to be used in
later formulas offering very little, if any, benefits.
 
 
11. Missing an opportunity
This is the case where an additive could certainly improve a piglet formula and it is not used, either because it is considered expensive or just because the supplier has not provided enough information. For example, many will provide their formulas with a live bacteria preparation, but not many will ensure these bacteria are provided with a source of functional fibres to enhance their chances of survival and growth in the gastrointestinal tract.
  
12. New additives
What to do? Use them right awayto reap the benefits (marketing, performance,reduced cost, etc.) assumingthe danger of no-effect, or waituntil the market has tested themlong enough to validate their claims? This is an easy question if a companyhas its own research facilities and
I believe this is the right answer. Rather than ponder the imponderable, it is best to invest even in a very small research facility, rather than miss an opportunity or waste money for nothing.
 
Source: Pig Progress magazine Volume 26. 7
 

Pig Progress, volume 26, no.7 2010

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