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Raising Weanling Pigs Without Antibiotic Growth Promoters

17 July 2013

Managing young animals without antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) can be a challenge, according to Dr Hans Stein of the University of Illinois. Wayne Du, Pork Quality Assurance Program Lead at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) summarises the latest thinking in 'Pork News & Views'.

As a pork producer you may wonder: Is it possible to raise weanling pigs without AGPs and  achieve good production performances? The answer is yes, with some reservations, according to Dr Hans Stein, Professor of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois.

The main concern over improper use of antibiotic drugs in both humans and livestock production is that it could result in the development of drug resistance. In some cases, this could lead to the development of the so called “superbugs”, or multi-drug-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile. These bacteria can cause illnesses or infections that are difficult to treat in both humans and animals. It is debatable whether the creation of superbugs is related to livestock production. However, there is increased pressure from the public to stop the practice of using feed grade antibiotics in healthy animals.

According to Dr Stein, managing young animals without AGPs can be a challenge. One key area that producers must pay attention to is the animals’ intestinal health. In general, intestinal health is the most determining factor for pig health. E. coli, Salmonella and other disease-causing bacteria may colonise the gastrointestinal tract. This could cause diseases or infections. The result can be reduced feed intake and daily weight gain, gut disorders and diarrhoea.

Dr Stein developed a brochure entitled 'Strategies for managing weanling pigs fed no antibiotic growth promoters'. He recommends some practical measures that producers can take to help pigs perform well in the absence of AGPs. Here is a brief summary.

Summary of Practical Measures

  • Wean pigs between 21 and 28 days and use segregated early weaning or all-in-all-out production.
  • Keep facilities clean and at the proper temperature.
  • Avoid over-crowding to prevent stress on pigs and control disease agents to reduce pathogen exposure.
  • Feed pelleted or liquid diets to enhance energy and nutrient digestibility.
  • During the first two to three weeks post weaning, feed small amounts several times per day instead of providing feed ad libitum. This will help reduce the incidence of diarrhoea.
  • Feed alternative cereal grains such as barley and naked oats which may reduce pathogens and increase the concentration of favourable or beneficial microbes.
  • Feed additives such as acidifiers, functional proteins, probiotics, prebiotics, copper, zinc and mannan oligosaccharides that may improve pig health and growth performance.
  • Feed low protein diets to reduce the amount of undigested protein that reaches the hind gut. This will help reduce microbial fermentation and diarrheal disease.

In summary, raising weanling pigs without AGPs can be managed without loss of growth performance by following the suggested management strategies. However, production costs are likely to increase because some of the strategies discussed above may add to diet costs.

Further Reading

For details, read Dr Stein’s brochure, which can be downloaded by clicking here.

July 2013

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