Maintaining a healthy microbiome
You’ll find the word “microbiome” throughout swine industry presentations, publications and research. It is important to understand what a pig’s microbiome is, but it is more important to know how we can translate this concept into actionable items at the farm level to positively impact your bottom line.
A pig’s microbiome is the community of bacteria present on the animal’s skin, mouth, and respiratory, reproductive, and digestive tracts. In swine nutrition, we tend to focus on the intestinal microbiome, which is essential to breaking down undigestible fibers. However, it is also associated with feed efficiency, disease response and even animal behavior.
As nutritionists, we want to encourage the growth of beneficial or protective bacteria while preventing the growth of damaging bacteria. When beneficial bacteria are present in the microbiome, we see improvements in the health and functionality of intestinal cells, nutrient utilization, and feed efficiency. For example, up to 30% of a pig’s energy requirement comes from short-chain fatty acids produced by the microbiome rather than nutrients “directly” provided by the diet. Focusing on the proliferation of beneficial bacteria and prevention of damaging bacteria will also be the first line of defense against diseases.
The most critical time to focus on a pig’s microbiome is around weaning. Multiple management and nutrition strategies can be used to help maintain the pig’s microbiome, including:
1. Reduce stress at weaning. A disruption in the normal microbiome can be caused by a change in diet, heat or cold stress, transport, social stress, or handling stress, all of which are present at weaning. Keeping the barn at an appropriate temperature for the age of the pigs and eliminating unnecessary handling at the time of weaning, such as vaccinating, mixing and sorting pigs, etc., are examples of barn-level management decisions that can positively impact the microbiome of your pig populations.
2. Encourage feed intake post-weaning. Immediately after weaning, an interruption or decrease in feed intake will starve out beneficial bacteria and disrupt the microbiome, so it is important to get pigs eating as soon as possible after weaning. Feed intake post-weaning can be encouraged by:
- Feeding a highly palatable diet
- Providing appropriate feeder and waterer space (at least 2 inches of feeder space per nursery pig and one waterer per 10 nursery pigs)
- Mat feeding: Pigs like to eat in groups, and offering feed on a mat will encourage group feeding activity.
- Creep feeding prior to weaning: The composition of the microbiome is heavily impacted by diet. Offering a creep feed prior to weaning will allow the microbiome to adapt to the new diet at a gradual rate without disrupting feed intake.
3. Work with your Vita Plus nutritionist to customize diets to your farm’s needs. One size won’t fit all when you are trying to develop and maintain a healthy microbiome for your pigs. Utilizing farm-specific management and nutrition strategies are an essential piece to see results.
Contact your Vita Plus consultant to learn more about how farm-specific management and nutrition strategies can improve your swine herd’s microbiome and help your production reach its full economic potential.
About the author: Dr. Michaela Trudeau joined Vita Plus as a swine nutritionist in October 2020. She grew up in Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota to receive her bachelor’s degree in animal science with honors. Trudeau continued her education at the University of Minnesota and received a master’s degree in animal science. Her master’s thesis focused on the persistence of porcine coronaviruses in feed and feed ingredients. In December 2020, Trudeau received her Ph.D. in animal science at the University of Minnesota, where her research focused on understanding the mechanisms of growth responses to various antibiotic alternatives in nursery pigs.