Building resilient pigs and sustainable environments

Monday, June 22, 2020

Building resilient pigs and sustainable environments


by Sangita Jalukar, Ph.D., Technical Services Manager, Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production


The impending phase-out of the use of zinc oxide (ZnO) in the European Union (EU) taking effect in 2021 creates a challenge for producers who will be raising healthy piglets without ZnO. Anticipating this shift away from ZnO, the industry is exploring solutions that provide benefits similar to ZnO without the harmful environmental effects.

Using ZnO as a feed additive in swine rations helps mitigate a number of issues in piglets, from post-weaning diarrhea (PWD) to piglet mortality. Although ZnO has been beneficial for producers, it's being phased out as a feed additive in many countries due to potentially harmful environmental impacts.

How ZnO impacts the environment

Pig manure is often used as an organic fertilizer on fields, and the composition of pig manure is becoming increasingly important to ensure environmental integrity. When pigs are fed ZnO, the majority of zinc ions pass through their body and into their stool. In fact, pigs absorb only 14 percent of ZnO with the remaining 86 percent excreted in manure1. That means, most ZnO fed in pig diets is eventually spread on fields and soaks into the soil.


This poses a larger environmental issue as zinc ions have the potential to accumulate in soil and contaminate water sources used for human consumption. Because zinc is a heavy metal, it is considered an environmental pollutant and health hazard. This has driven the global demand to end use of ZnO and transition to other products.


Healthy gut, healthy pig

As producers around the world are investigating products to replace ZnO, they are learning that maintaining health and resiliency among piglets starts from the inside out.


From birth, piglets face challenges that can compromise their productivity and growth, so improving gut health in piglets prior to weaning is especially important.


Weaning is a stressful time and can contribute to dysfunctions in the intestine and immune system that lead to limited growth and decreased performance2. The gut is the first to be exposed to pathogens, making it vital to build a resilient gut before sickness strikes. Insufficient maturation of the immune system in young pigs makes them susceptible to these pathogens leading to an imbalance within their gastrointestinal tract. Decreased gut health can lead to PWD, decreased weaning weight, increased antibiotic use and piglet mortality.


Maintaining gut health improves the overall health of piglets. A healthy gut allows nutrients to be absorbed more easily and provides better protection against pathogens, diseases and infections within piglets. A healthy gut lining improves productivity, leading to more profitability on the farm.


Moving forward without ZnO

Many products have entered the market to take the place of ZnO. Front runners in maintaining gut health integrity are Refined Functional Carbohydrates™ (RFCs™) found in CELMANAX™, derived from enzymatic hydrolysis of yeast combined with yeast culture. When introduced into pig diets, RFCs have a host of benefits that create resiliency in swine operations.


From supporting growth of beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, to reducing mycotoxin damage to the gut, RFCs improve animal productivity. RFCs bind to pathogenic bacteria, blocking their receptors and preventing the disease-causing bacteria from attaching to the intestinal wall, all while supporting beneficial bacteria.


RFCs are made up of:

    •  Mannan-oligosaccharides—short sugar units of mannose that support growth of beneficial bacteria
    •  Mannose—a monosaccharide that binds to E. coli and Salmonella
    •  Beta glucans—sugar units from the yeast cell wall that reduce effects of mycotoxins and
        improve immune function


When consumed, RFCs deactivate certain pathogens and bind to others that are harmlessly transferred through the digestive system and excreted. Through management of natural microbiota in the digestive system, feed additives like RFCs are a way to maintain immune system and animal efficiency.


The proof is in the study

In a study3 done by ARM & HAMMER™, feeding RFCs in both sow lactation diets (Table 1 ) and piglet diets (Table 2) improved 10-day and weaning body weights when compared to the control or ZnO group.




In the same study, CELMANAX supplementation in nursery rations improved feed intake, growth rate and body weight (P<0.001) but did not affect feed efficiency (P=0.521) compared to ZnO-containing treatments (Table 3).



The study concluded that piglets fed RFCs performed better than piglets fed ZnO. Supplementing RFCs in diets increased piglet weight through the end of the nursery phase. This has the potential to decrease the number of days for pigs to reach slaughter weight, resulting in improved profitability.


When fed to sows in lactation diets, RFCs have been found to increase immunoglobulin in colostrum4, reduce preweaning piglet mortality and increase piglet weaning weight5. Ultimately, RFCs prepare the piglet for transition into nursery.


Feeding for resiliency

Improving the gut health of piglets allows better partitioning of energy for growth, making pigs resilient and productive. By getting ahead of the curve and promoting gut health in piglets from birth, producers are saved from the headache of playing catch-up when piglets get sick. Not to mention, feed additives like CELMANAX are helping to create a more sustainable environment.


To learn more, visit

1 Burch, David. “The Role of Zinc in Piglet Health.” Pig Progress, 17 June 2014,

2 Guevarra RB, et al. Piglet gut microbial shifts early in life: causes and effects. J Anim Sci Biotechnology 2019; 10: 1. Published online 2019 Jan 14. doi: 10.1186/s40104-018-0308-3

3 Jalukar, et al. Efficacité des carbohydrates fonctionnels raffinés pour remplacer les niveaux thérapeutiques de zinc dans l’alimentation des porcelets en maternité et en post-sevrage. 2020. Presented at 52nd JRP French Swine days; Abstract 21

4 Hung IF, Lindemann MD. (2009) Presented at the Midwest Swine Nutrition Conference.

5 Peng Ma, Guozhu C, Jalukar S. J Anim Sci 2013;91,E-Suppl. 2.

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