Aim For Zero: the right start to a future without medicated zinc and less antibiotics
High concentrations of zinc oxide have been used for many years as a welcome supplement to antibiotics to prevent post-weaning diarrhea in piglets. Recently, however, there has been increasing concern regarding the use of antibiotics in pig production. On the one hand, this is due to the occurrence of antibiotic resistance in pigs and its possible transfer to humans who also rely on antibiotics to treat serious bacterial infections. On the other hand, there is also an increasing understanding of, among other things, the ecotoxicity that has led to the European Commission’s decision to ban the use of therapeutic concentrations of zinc oxide in feed throughout the European Union by June 26, 2022 at the latest.
As the EU members states may determine the length of the transition period, the end of the marketing authorization varies from country to country. Therefore, very soon after the European Commission’ announcement, the Netherlands decided to withdraw the marketing authorization of Gutal®, the only zinc oxide based veterinary product authorized for use in the Netherlands, and ban its use from May 2018. Other countries have already followed, such as Belgium and France.
This meant that in these countries we supported our customers step by step and helped them to prepare themselves to be able. As a result of this we are able to share our field experience with our customers in the countries still facing this challenge. As in addition to the challenge of eliminating medicinal zinc, they are also confronted with another challenge: the new EU Regulations on the use of antibiotics that will come into effect from January 28, 2022. The main objective of Regulations 2019/4 and 2019/6 is the banning of the routine use of antibiotics and (preventive) group treatments.
Earlyfeed is known in the market for its cost-effective solutions and innovative concepts to support gut health and thus reduce the use of antimicrobial agents. One example is the well-known product Aromabiotic®, a patented specific blend of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). At Earlyfeed we are convinced that the key to a successful ban on medicinal zinc and a reduction in the use of antibiotics calls for an integrated approach. That is why we have launched the ‘Aim For Zero’ program together with Agrimprove. This is a 3-in-1 concept which contains comprehensive advice with the focus on three pillars: management, nutrition, and the application of innovative solutions.
Good farrowing house management is vital
The farrowing house is important for a profitable and healthy production unit and is also the starting point of the ‘Aim-For-Zero program’. Postma et al. 2016, emphasized the importance of good farm management, improved biosecurity, optimized vaccination, and smart use of antimicrobials. This resulted in a significant 52% reduction in antibiotics from birth to slaughter.
Furthermore, low birth weights and low daily growth lead to reduced growth in later stages, which can result in significant economic losses. López-Vergé et al. concluded that the suckling and weaning periods are the most critical for growth retardation throughout the entire life of pigs. If piglets have enough colostrum intake and eat solid feed at an early stage, this effect is reduced. After all, a high colostrum intake has a stimulating effect on growth before and after weaning.
Rapidly evolving genetics in pig production means bigger litter sizes and, as a result, the piglets also have less access to colostrum and milk; consequently, the gut develops not only less well, but also less efficiently. A well-developed gut and gut microflora are vital for problem-free weaning and for reducing growth retardation. This is very clear when we look at the relative ease with which 26-day-old piglets are weaned, compared with early weaned piglets. Teaching the piglets to eat as from day 2 after birth is vital for a successful and healthy weaning process. The active support of all piglets will contribute to a healthy microbiome on the one hand and ensure a well-developed gut on the other. The gut must be able to absorb nutrients optimally and prevent problems with gut microflora and health. Earlyfeed has developed the START+ concept to stimulate piglets’ gut development. This concept, based on the activity of prebiotic components in sow colostrum and milk, will stimulate early gut maturation. Good farrowing house management will deliver more benefits than ever in zinc oxide- and antibiotic-free production.
Keeping the piglets healthy is the most important thing and that is exactly where the ‘Aim-For-Zero program’ focuses on. Questions to ask include: What factors can we change? What are the genetics of the production unit? What is the unit’s health status? Can drinking water quality and climate conditions be improved? How are the piglets housed after weaning, and how can we reduce these stressors with feed under these conditions? It is important to look at the bigger picture! It is much more than just suppressing Coli; it is about supporting healthy gut microflora and maintaining the gut barrier function.
Providing a well-balanced creep feed before weaning will lead to a better adaptation to solid vegetable feed after weaning. After all, the acid production in the piglets’ stomach is stimulated and there is better intestinal development, which ensures a better digestion of vegetable proteins and carbohydrates. This results in a lower risk of diarrhea and better performance.
To respond to the challenges after weaning we offer Vitastart Zero, a nutritional solution that, in addition to our feed advice, focusses on a safe start for piglets. To achieve this, on the one hand, we look at the use of inert and fermentable fibers, the checking of the acid-binding capacity, the use of specific energy sources for the gut microflora and microvilli and pay close attention to protein digestibility. On the other hand, the concept also includes the innovative solution Vitazero. This additive combines the antibacterial effect of MCFAs, the proven antioxidant effect of plant polyphenols and the pathogen binding effect of specially selected functional fibers. At the same time, we continue to stimulate the feed intake which is vital to guarantee safety. To this end, we use tasty and easily digestible raw materials such as extruded grains.
Looking forward to 2022!
Now, about 3 years after the official launch, the many positive field trials show that weaning without medicinal zinc oxide and antibiotics is very feasible, provided that all the different aspects are managed correctly. With Earlyfeed, you can already anticipate the stricter EU legislation, with effective start date of 2022. With a sound management and the use of the right nutritional solutions such as Vitastart Zero you do not have to compromise on technical performance and the related economic results.
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