The role of functional feed ingredients (FFI) in a zinc-free weaning environment

Friday, December 24, 2021

The role of functional feed ingredients (FFI) in a zinc-free weaning environment

Kobe Lannoo, category manager pigs, Agrifirm


In a context of growing challenges for livestock worldwide, caring about sustainability of animal production has become mandatory. By targeting the critical period after weaning in pigs, Agrimprove has developed a global approach to reduce dependency towards antibiotics and Zinc Oxide.

Good farm management practices and high quality feed formulations are by far the most important points when addressing this challenge. However, in practical conditions, we cannot always adapt the existing farm practices. Therefore there will always be a need for a well-balanced FFI approach in order to improve the robustness of piglets to face the challenges around weaning. Surprisingly, the Agrimprove approach for zinc free weaning doesn't start in the nursery. Rearing robust piglets starts in the womb even before the piglets are born.

Self defence is natures eldest law

Around weaning, enforcing the immune status of the piglets is one of the most important pillars in the strategies for zinc free weaning concepts. At the age of 21-26 days, piglets are not mature enough to build up their immune system and react to upcoming challenges like E.Coli. At that age, there is often a gap between passive and active immunity. Therefore, the passive immunity received via maternal colostrum is of utmost importance. This colostrum becomes more and more limited for piglets due to the genetically increased number of liveborn piglets. The same amount of colostrum is simply divided over more piglets. By adding the Agrimprove product C-Vita in the gestation and lactation feed of the sow, trials have shown a significant increase in colostrum quality with higher concentrations of immunoglobulins (Fig. 1) leading directly to more resilient piglets. These advantages are already reflected in the pre-weaning mortality (Table 1), but the higher immune status will also contribute to the overall post-weaning robustness. Simply said: When piglets have a higher immunestatus they can better defend themselves for the upcoming challenges post-weaning.


If you fail to prepare for the weaning, be prepared to fail the weaning

3 to 4 weeks… that is all the time there is to prepare the intestine for the biggest challenge in the life of a modern domesticated pig. Focusing on intestinal health means finding an equilibrium between a balanced microflora, a strong intestinal barrier, and a high intestinal surface with long villi to optimize feed digestion. This is where remarkable functional feed ingredients can play their role. By adding START+ to the creep feeds and weaning diets, we offer the immature intestine a powerful prebiotic component. This mimics the role of the natural prebiotic components in sow milk. Feeding START+ will improve the microbiome composition, strengthen the gut barrier and improve the intestinal morphology as can be seen in below graph (Fig. 2).



The nursery: Protect what was built with the Aim For Zero 4 in 1 concept

Overcoming the most critical period can not only be done by focusing on piglets' endogenous protection mechanisms, like the immune system and gut maturation but also through functional feed ingredients. These can offer the piglets additional support to smooth the transition period. The Agrimprove approach focuses on four important pillars, in one concept, whilst aiming for zero intestinal problems during the crucial days after weaning.

Killing incoming pathogens at stomach level with Aromabiotic

A specific combination of Medium Chain Fatty Acids (Aromabiotic®) acts as a gatekeeper of the intestine. By killing incoming pathogens, like E.Coli, before they can cause damage to the intestinal cells; which can lead to diarrhea. This antimicrobial activity will be triggered by the acidic environment in the piglets' stomach.

Capturing pathogens leads to reduced adhesion of E.coli in the intestine with Vitafibra®

On top of Aromabiotic®, a well-defined mixture of specific fiber fraction, called Vitafibra, will further protect the intestinal tract. The fiber fraction is chosen for its' ability to coagulate E.Coli leading to reduced adhesions to the small intestine, and less disruption of the microbiota. In the end, this reduced invasion by pathogens supports the piglet in a smooth weaning transition.

Focus on endotoxins

In the development of the Agrimprove zinc-free weaning concept, a lot of attention has been given to endotoxins. When killing Gram-negative bacteria like E.Coli, a toxic substance is set free. This substance is known as endotoxins or Lipopolysaccharides (LPS). They will bind to specific receptors in the intestine (TLR-receptors) and cause local inflammation. The toxin binder solution Vitafix Protect has the unique capability to bind to LPS and wash them out of the piglets intestine without triggering the inflammation cascade. As an add-on, the TLR-receptors will be disabled by some of the fibers inside Vitafibra. These synergistic effects of binding the toxins (Vitafix Protect) and protecting the gut (Vitafibra) are scientifically proven and unique in the animal nutrition market.

Keep the intestinal barrier intact with Vitanox

Weaning a piglet automatically leads to a nutritional shift from a milk-based diet to a cereal-based diet. By feeding creep feed like Babito® before weaning, the intestine can be trained to cope with this sudden change better. This shift requires the intestine to adapt tremendously fast. Due to this stress, an increased amount of oxidative stress is imposed on the gut. Resulting in metabolites, known as free radicals, being produced. These will attack the intestinal barrier and cause leakage of the intestine, seen in the stable as diarrhea. By scavenging these free radicals, the polyphenol mixture in Vitanox will safeguard the intestinal barrier and create a healthier intestine.

All the above clearly shows that, next to good managerial and nutritional practices, there is an important role for functional feed ingredients in a zinc-free environment. The above mentioned concept is the Agrimprove total approach. Depending on the local situation and the existing practices the focus of this approach can be adapted. It can be considered as a toolbox with every different FFI being a tool which can be used or not depending on the specific situation. It is however, advised that discussion between Agrimprove specialists, nutritionists, veterinarians and farm managers occurs to reach optimal results. When combining the insights of all specialists together, it will be possible to reach the mutual goal of reducing the use of antibiotics in farm animals. This is what we mean by farming ideas!


For more of the article, please click here.

Article made possible through the contribution of Kobe Lannoo and Agrifirm

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