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Life without zinc oxide – can piglets thrive?

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.

Approaching life without zinc
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).

Weaning challenges
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.

Can piglets thrive without zinc oxide?
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.

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