Antibiotic-free production: What lessons can pork learn from poultry?

A rapid increase in the use of vaccines for respiratory and enteric diseases in swine over the past year will ultimately allow a reduction in antibiotic use, predicted Joe Connor, DVM, swine veterinarian, Carthage Veterinary Service, Carthage, Illinois.
calendar icon 23 February 2018
clock icon 3 minute read

Consumer pressure for more antibiotic-free production in all animal husbandry has led the industry to develop new techniques and increase vaccine use, Connor told Pig Health Today.

In the poultry industry, there’s been considerable research to see if essential oils, botanicals and similar alternatives may provide effective replacements for antibiotics. Similar research is underway to determine if these same alternatives might be useful in pigs.

Connor insisted that as a veterinarian he wasn’t nervous about reducing antibiotic usage in pigs, but he did wave a flag of caution. “The grow period of the chicken [typically 28 to 63 days] is much shorter than what it is in the pig,” he said, adding that antibiotics are still important for preventing disease and protecting the welfare of the herd.

He noted that the new veterinary feed directive rules help to ensure these medications are used only when necessary and under the supervision of a veterinarian familiar with the herd.

Management techniques can also help to reduce antibiotic use. “We can change the outcome sometimes with different stocking densities…[by] providing more square footage per pig, providing a little bit different environment for a pig,” which can result in good performance, Connor said.

“We expect to see a continual increasing use of either oral or injectable vaccines…that would allow us to reduce the use of antibiotics, either therapeutic or preventive,” he said.

The antibiotic-free production discussion in the pork industry always comes back to the economic equation and whether the consumer is willing to pay higher prices for the end product.

“I think we’ve got to be fully aware of that concern, and we’ve got to discuss how we can address it if it does move forward and take a greater percentage of our market,” Connor explained.

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