Prevalence of Pathogens and Benefits of Organic Acids in Pig Production

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Several studies have shown that the prevalence of different microorganisms varies depending on the stage of production. In addition, it has been widely suggested that supplementation with organic acids in animal feed can improve growth performance without the need for antibiotics in weaned piglets. 
During the 25th International Pig Veterinary Society Congress (IPVS), which took place last June in ChonQuing, China, Dr Juan Antonio Mesonero Escuredo, who was the Global Director of the Pig Intestinal Health Programmes at Trouw Nutrition, presented the interesting results from two important research studies on pigs conducted by Trouw Nutrition, a leading company in speciality feed services, premixes and nutrition in the animal nutrition industry. 
Currently, producers from around the world are looking to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal feed. In this regard, research suggests an integrated approach that takes into account the specific risks of microorganisms, incorporating the food-farm-health axis as the main basis for helping producers to achieve their objectives in terms of reducing the use of antibiotics, without compromising the performance of their products.  

The type of transmission of pathogenic microorganisms within a litter can be influenced by the production stage 

The researchers at Trouw Nutrition examined the patterns of eliminating pathogens in the different production stages (sows, piglets and fattening pigs) and reviewed the prevalence or absence of eight pathogens and their virulence factors, which were: Escherichia coli F4, F5, F18 and F41, Cryptosporidium, Rotavirus, Clostridium difficile and Clostridium perfringens
In all productions stages, Clostridium perfringens was found to be the most prevalent pathogen, being detected in 60% of the sows, 73% of the weaned piglets and in 69% of the growing pigs. For statistical purposes, it should be pointed out that all of these animals were randomly selected, evaluating fecal samples at the rectal level.  

Although this study could not establish causal relationships, the results suggest that sows can serve as sources of infection for Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli F5 and Cryptosporidium; on the other hand, weaned piglets can serve as a potential source of Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli F41 and Clostridium difficile; while the fattening pigs that end up in the producer, just like with the sows, can serve as a source of infection for Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli F5 and Cryptosporidium. In view of the fact that diseases of the gastrointestinal tract generate large losses throughout the food industry, identifying opportunities to prevent the spread of pathogenic microorganisms in a pig litter can help maintain the health, viability and profitability of pigs. 

Replacing antibiotics in pastures with organic acids can improve growth and the immune response of weaned piglets 

According to additional observations, Dr Mesonero Escuredo presented an investigation that delves into how the replacement of antibiotics with pasture additives composed of mixtures of organic acids used in animal feed can affect the growth performance and immune response of weaned piglets. 
In this controlled study, the researchers assigned 28-day-old weaned piglets to a negative control group (with a standard feed, free of aggregates), a positive control group (food supplemented with chlortetracycline, an antibiotic) and a treatment group that received a diet supplemented with the combination of organic acids, an additive for the animal's intestinal health.
The study's researchers evaluated the average daily weight gain and feed conversion rates over a 28-day period and carried out blood tests and evaluations of different cells from the immune system; faecal samples from the piglets were also analysed on day 24 for the 16S rRNA sequencing and analysis of bacterial diversity. 
When reviewing the results, piglets in the group that received food that had been supplemented with a combination of organic acids showed a higher average daily weight gain (164.25 grams for the control group compared to 195.85 grams in the group that received the mixture of organic acids) and lower feed conversion rates (2.09 for the organic acid piglets compared to 2.32 for the control group, this parameter refers to the pig's weight gain in kilograms for each kilogram of food consumed), both of which were statistically significant results.  

Comparing immunological responses 

The immune response of the piglets, in addition to defending the animal against pathogenic microorganisms, plays a fundamental role in its growth. The researchers at Trouw Nutrition evaluated key immunity parameters, comparing piglets receiving a combination of organic acids with piglets receiving chlortetracycline and a control group. 
The piglets that received the feed supplement with organic acid showed increases in their erythrocyte count (red blood cells, responsible for oxygen transport through hemoglobin), leukocyte counts (white blood cells, responsible for defending against pathogens and foreign bodies, in addition to enabling healing), and in the percentage of eosinophils (a type of white blood cells) on day 28, as well as an increase in immunoglobulin G (a type of antibody, defence protein) on day 14. The total antioxidant capacity was higher on days 14 and 28. All of these differences were statistically significant. 
Finally, the animals that received the organic acid feed additive showed higher levels of beneficial bacteria, among which were Ruminococcaceae, Lachnospiraceae and Lactobacillus. The levels of the genus Faecalibacterium, one of the anti-inflammatory bacteria that plays an important role in maintaining the stability of the intestinal microflora and the animal's intestinal health, were also higher in the piglets that received the food with a mixture of organic acids in comparison with the piglets that received antibiotics in the feed.
These results suggest that supplementing diets with organic acids can improve growth performance by increasing the proliferation of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract and possibly by modulating the immune response of weaned piglets; although, the mechanisms of action that drive this response require further investigation. 

In conclusion, the findings of this research support the need for an integrated approach to farm health management that addresses the prevalence of pathogens throughout the pig production chain, in order to ensure higher-quality products.

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