Expert opinion


The high level zinc oxide ban (I)

High-level zinc oxide usage in post-weaning piglets is under scrutiny in the European Union. What management actions can pig producers take to overcome problems posed by a potential ban? Pig Progress’ expert John Gadd will share a few in his upcoming expert opinions...

As we all know, the post-weaning check to growth has always been a problem. High-level zinc oxide as a protectant for a while immediately post weaning has worked well for many years now as Table 1 shows, taken from some clients’ records. And if scouring occurs the damage is much worse. It is all about establishing gut health, which is dependent on…

Photo: Ronald Hissink
Photo: Ronald Hissink

1. Effective digestion and absorption of food;

2. Stable intestinal microflora;

3. Effective immune status;

4. A feeling of well-being, i.e. freedom from stress.

I’ll deal with point 4 next time. Meanwhile, suffice to say that stress must affect appetite and digestion as we humans know from time to time. The experts tell us that a full and smoothly working digestive tract is very important to the weaned pig.

Some practical advice

The coming ban has made a re-examination of the post weaning period very important indeed and a perusal of various technical solutions is under way. Here I suggest some things the farmer rather than the scientist can do to provide viable alternatives to not being able to use the high-level zinc approach in future.

I have grown up with the post-weaning check and over the years I have been called out to over 200 cases as a management adviser. By far the most common cause and its solution was the post-weaning diet. In the early days of advice much could be done by altering the raw materials – avoiding soya, including dried skim milk and not being too enthusiastic about protein levels, among other fairly straightforward tactics. Baby pig nutrition is now light years away from these palliatives.

1. Leave post-weaning feeding to the nutritionist

Today it is far too complex both in formulation and ‘manufacturability’ (raw materials) for anyone else to attempt providing post-weaning diets. What the producer can do is to pay the price which this now sophisticated feed demands in order to markedly affect points 1 and 2 above, and from the latest information probably 3 as well.

2. Take advantage of progress in baby pig nutrition

In other words: feed these quite costly feeds as advised and keep the receptacles clean. Yes, they are expensive so avoiding direct wastage is self-evident, but indirect wastage, by stale feed in dirty hoppers and floor-contaminated feed etc., changes a beneficial intestinal microbiota into one which is harmful. The weaned pig is forced to call up immune defences which have an immediate effect on performance, as they plunder nutrients destined for growth and food conversion.

3. Leave it to the vet

Use him/her properly to monitor the disease incidence, especially subclinical which is much less apparent than clinical disease and which gnaws away at performance nevertheless. The vet will need to do periodic tests which are the cornerstone of preventive medicine, so be prepared to pay for the service, which will include the latest vaccination advice. Payback? At least 3:1 on my clients’ farms on a before-and-after basis.


  • Catharina Berge

    How about not weaning the piglets in their pits of immunity? We are still weaning pigs when the colostral antibody-mediated immunity is very low, and the piglets own antibody-based immunity has not been sufficiently developed to protect the piglets. Furthermore, we are trying to wean the piglets from milk, whereas their digestive tract development in terms of enzymes to digest vegetable source ingredients is very low, and enzymes to digest milk are still working well. So... let us strive towards a later weaning, and stop trying to adapt the piglet to our systems. We need to create systems that are good for the piglets growth and development.

  • Tore Framstad

    Alternatives to the VERY high amount of ZnO are possible: Microencapsulated ZnO, this could be in combination with peat: abstract "ZnO-enriched peat and its effects on growth performance and post weaning enteric imbalance" published on ESPHM Sorrento, Italy 2014, can also be found on ResearchGate. Five case reports will be published as a paper any day now in Porcine Health Management, and will automatically appear in PubMed and PubMed Central within 24 hours of publication.
    Tore Framstad, professor em. Norwegian University of Life Sciences

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