There is a wide range of bacteria that could affect a piglet’s gut around weaning. Applying medium-chain fatty acids in piglet diets can help improve performance and health. And where to extract these from? From coconut oil…
Weaning is the most critical phase for piglets, the stress due to the separation of piglets from their mother, the mix of different litters, new environment and the change in the diets, from a liquid milk to a solid feed, is usually associated with low and variable feed intake that results in a transient growth check. There are marked changes in small intestine histology and biochemistry, such as villous atrophy and crypt hyperplasia, which cause decreased digestive and absorptive capacity and contribute to post-weaning diarrhoea, impaired immune re-activity, altered composition of the intestinal microbiota and ultimately result in a reduced weight gain and animals are more vulnerable to infections.
Since the ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in 2006, due to concern about the feed safety and the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, animal nutritionists are highly interested in active and non-medicated nutritional alternatives for optimising the weaning transition and minimising enteric diseases. Several alternatives have been proposed: enzymes, probiotics, prebiotics, phytogenic agents, and organic acids, some of which, alone or in combination, clearly contribute to animal health, mostly through acidification of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) environment and/or control of potentially-pathogenic bacteria.
Concretely, the administration of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) appears to provide a promising approach to reduce negative effects associated with the post-weaning phase in piglets. MCFAs may serve as an alternative, non-antibiotic approach to improve performance and health.
Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs)
MCFAs are a family of saturated fatty acids that includes caproic acid (C6:0), caprylic acid (C8:0), capric acid (C10:0) and lauric acid (C12:0).
MCFAs are naturally present as parts of triglycerides in various vegetable fats/oils, particularly, coconut and palm. Typically, MCFA content in coconut oil is high; of the oil fraction 3.4-15% is composed of caprylic acid, 3.2-15% of capric acid and 41-56% of lauric acid. High contents of caprylic (2.4-6.2%), capric (2.6-7.0%) and lauric acid (41-55%) can also be found in palm kernel oil.
Figure 1 – Semi-quantitative caecal counts (CFU/g) of Salmonella Typhimurium on day 8 after the oral challenge. Group size: 8 animals per treatment.