As we venture into a new era without the ability to use therapeutic zinc oxide levels at weaning, there are still concerns regarding the ability to maintain piglet health and performance.
Optimal piglet performance need not be impacted in the absence of zinc oxide, a possible alternative involves taking a slightly different approach by looking at the sow first. Supporting piglet health by improved maternal immunity transfer, through colostrum, has been seen to help maintain piglet performance in the absence of zinc oxide over the weaning period and beyond.
Zinc is a vital micronutrient required for all stages of growth, removing its therapeutic use will require a multi-faceted approach to manage piglet health and subsequent performance post weaning. This will include feed and farm biosecurity, effective colostrum management, optimal gut health and diet reformulation. The addition of appropriate feed additives has also been shown to help support piglet gut health throughout this time of challenge, one such additive is orego-stim containing oregano essential oil (OEO).
The weaning period is a particularly stressful stage of pig production due to dietary and environmental changes that often result in intestinal dysfunction, which can present itself as post-weaning diarrhoea (PWD). PWD is a global issue associated with high morbidity, consequently leading to productivity loss and mortality. Zinc oxide has traditionally been used to help mitigate this challenge and in many countries, therapeutic levels of zinc oxide are added to piglet diets in the first two weeks (or more) post-weaning in the hope of preventing the development of PWD.
However, PWD is a multifactorial condition that is not solely attributed to bacterial imbalance in the gut; gut ’dysbiosis’ can also occur due to feed antigens, making ingredient choice and functional feeds an important factor to review in light of zinc oxide removal. Natural OEO supplement, orego-stim by Anpario, is an example of a feed additive which can support piglets at weaning in the absence of zinc oxide; maintaining voluntary intakes, aiding maternal immunity transfer, microbiome development and subsequently lifetime animal performance.
A recent trial conducted at Nottingham Trent University found that supplementing sow diets with orego-stim from 7 days prior to farrowing until weaning benefitted piglet health and lifetime performance. At 2 weeks of age, all piglets were offered creep containing the natural OEO additive until 1 week post-weaning. No therapeutic zinc oxide was used in the trial for either control or OEO fed piglets to understand if piglet performance could be improved in production systems without zinc oxide.
Figure 1-Piglet medication and mortality.
Sow supplementation of OEO helped piglets to perform in commercial conditions without zinc oxide. Orego-stim supported;
Significantly improved piglet average daily gain (week 1 of age, p<0.01).
Higher finisher weights (3.4 kg heavier than control pigs).
Lower incidence of health problems, resulting in a 39% decrease in therapeutic treatments compared with the control group (significant trend for reduction p<0.1).
Reduced mortality pre and post weaning.
The benefits seen in piglets from sows supplemented with Orego-Stim is hypothesised to be due to improved sow gut microbiome.
Early microbial colonisation in young pigs represents a window of opportunity to modulate the gut microbiome and achieve long-term benefits in immune development, disease resilience and digestive efficiency. Recent work by Hall et al., 2019 has shown that OEO supplementation of sows can modify the gut microbiome of not only the sow but also her progeny through maternal transfer. Maternal transfer is critical for the optimal development of piglet digestive function, gut integrity and immune development resulting in more robust piglets at weaning, even in the absence of zinc oxide.
Oregano essential oil is a well-documented phytogenic with many benefits, including antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immunomodulatory functions. When using a 100% natural source, such as that used in Anpario’s orego-stim range, the multitude of naturally occurring active compounds within the oil work in synergy for optimum benefits in the animal. This can help to support normal gut function and performance even during periods of stress, such as weaning.