Challenges at weaning
Historically, high levels of in-feed zinc oxide have been one of the go-to management tools to prevent and curb PWD in young piglets. However, this practice has been under scrutiny for some time now due to environmental concerns. As a result, some areas of the world have started regulatory steps to implement bans on using zinc oxide in this way. The European Union has been one of the front runners in this regard, with a full ban on high in-feed levels of zinc oxide coming into effect from June 2022.
As high levels of in-feed zinc oxide are being phased out, a renewed interest in optimising known management measures has emerged. A good example of this is presenting soaked piglet feed (gruel) to the animals towards weaning. By soaking the feed in water, the transition from a liquid to a solid nutrient source can happen more gradually, whilst at the same time allowing for an increased feed intake in the early days of weaning. As a result, piglets are better prepared to enter the next stage of production. The benefits of offering gruel to piglets have been confirmed in recent research as well, and as such its merit as a good management tool should be clear.
Gruel also gives an opportunity to supplement probiotics early in the animals' life: when using probiotics, it is often recommended to get them into the animal as early as possible. As such, adding probiotics to gruel makes sense. This also helps to improve digestion and enhance energy levels within the animal at an early stage, which is especially important for the survival of poorer or smaller piglets. A good example is Huvepharma's Clostridium butyricum, a well-known probiotic with proven benefits in regard to supporting the microbiota and gut health.
To examine the probiotic's effect on piglets, a field trial was carried out in Thailand. A total of 64 sows were divided over a control and a C. butyricum group (CB), with piglets being followed up for 21 days after birth. At the end of the 21 days, piglets in the CB group had a higher body weight compared to those in the control group (Figure 1).
At the same time, the severity of diarrhoea incidences in this CB group was significantly lower (Figure 2). As a result, it is not a surprise why these animals performed better: reduced diarrhoea severity equals improved gut health, meaning the animal was able to utilise the provided feed better, thus leading to improved body weights.
Weaning is a difficult period for young animals and can have a big impact on their performance as well as their health status further down the line. Traditional tools to manage the weaning period are changing, shifting the focus to alternatives. This includes adding novel feed additives to support gut health at weaning, such as the probiotic Clostridium butyricum. And as field trials show very clearly, the animals agree!