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Pig Journal Volume: 69
Publication date: May 2013

General Section

Feed intake in young pigs and its importance for the ‘post antibiotic era’
P.Toplis, I.J. Wellock, K.Almond, P.Wilcock, C.L.Walk

Abstract
Whilst diet composition is an increasingly critical factor for young pigs, as we seek to reduce antimicrobial usage, feed intake remains a key factor of overriding importance. Pig production remains an economic activity, not an academic one, and so it is pig producers who must embrace and deliver the required changes. Therefore, it is incumbent on us all to find cost effective ways to reduce antibiotic use which work not only at the test facility but also repeatedly at farm level. An antibiotic free era is being held out as a goal for pig production. However, as a scientific consensus is forming that the use of antimicrobials in human medicine rather than the veterinary sector is the driving force for antibiotic-resistant human infections, a more realistic goal would be to target ‘as little as possible, and as much as necessary’ in pig production. Some European countries appear nearer to this goal than others but the greatest differences appear in the attitudes and practices in the post-weaning period because this area presents the most difficulty.

The pig industry in many countries has evolved using lower quality, and lower cost diets supported by antibiotic therapy. Other countries have developed so called ‘safe’ lower performance diets which burden the industry with slower growth and added maintenance costs over the lifetime of the pig. Antibiotic reduction is more achievable and sustainable with higher cost diets that are highly digestible, but current levels of profitability prevent widespread adoption of this route. A step change is possible but only when consumers or retailers demand and fund it through sufficient margins by premium pricing. Progress continues to be made as a series of steps involving innovative feeding practices, novel ingredients and additives to improve feed intake and/or gut health. It is the objective of this paper to discuss key areas and nutritional progress necessary for a ‘post antibiotic era’, as well as present new research evaluating improvements in feed efficiency through the reduction of dietary phytate, an antinutritional factor and chelator of zinc oxide (ZnO) which may allow us to reduce pharmaceutical levels of ZnO by up to 30% with no loss of efficacy.

The breadth of this topic is huge, and this paper makes no claim to be an exhaustive review. In fact, we only make a passing comment on some key areas and wherever possible we point the reader to a relevant review. Our principle has been to include what we have found useful in guiding our thinking for farm advisory work. Our understanding of commercial practice is that the factor dominating both performance and gut health remains the level of feed intake pre- and post-weaning, with diet composition playing a vitally important yet less significant supporting role.

 
 
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