Managing the microbiome (part 2): Nutrition for a healthy microbiome

Posted on January 6, 2022 in Swine Performance
LewtonBy Jaron Lewton

As discussed in part 1 of this series, while still not completely understood, the composition of the intestinal microbiome has been correlated with growth performance, animal health and even behavior.  The following nutrition considerations can positively impact microbiome composition.

Dietary fiber

Sows have a much greater ability to ferment and digest dietary fiber compared to younger pigs and, in sow diets, fiber plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy microbiome. By providing the sow with adequate dietary fiber, the cells in the intestinal microbiome have substrate to utilize. Rodent studies have demonstrated that, when animals are deprived of fiber, the cells in the microbiome will start to break down the animal’s intestinal cells to find nutrients no longer provided via fiber. Lack of dietary fiber may increase disease susceptibility and decrease nutrient absorption.

Different types of fiber are utilized by the microbiome in different ways. Ingredients like oats and sugar beet pulp are higher in soluble fiber while ingredients like soy hulls, wheat middlings, and DDGS are high in insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is easily fermented by the intestinal microbiome and provides an excellent source of energy to the sow through the production of short-chain fatty acids. Though not as easily fermented or utilized by the microbiome, insoluble fiber plays an important role in intestinal health and increases the speed of digestion while acting as a natural laxative.  In general, it is important to have a proper balance of soluble and insoluble fiber, both for the health of the microbiome and the animal itself.

Feed additives

As the swine industry has shifted away from the use of feed-grade antibiotics, much research has been focused on discovering new feed additives or antibiotic alternatives. Many of these feed additives impact pig health and performance, often somehow related to alterations at the microbiome level. Of the many available, a few that appear to have the most direct connection to the microbiome include prebiotics, probiotics, organic acids, enzymes and essential oils. Table 1 provides a quick comparison of these common feed additives and their impact on the microbiome relative to antibiotics.

Talk with your Vita Plus consultant to better understand how we can make diet and management changes to positively impact your pigs’ microbiomes and improve your herd’s health and performance.

About the author:  Jaron Lewton is a Vita Plus swine technical sales specialist.  He was raised on his family’s hobby farm in LaGrange, Indiana, and attended Huntington University to receive his bachelor’s degree in agribusiness.  During this time, he gained experience in animal husbandry as a farm hand in Laos, as well as greater knowledge of the feed industry through an internship with an egg production farm, where he specialized in nutrition and feed manufacturing.  Lewton then joined a management team of a 1,500-sow operation in northern Indiana before attending Michigan State University to receive his master’s degree in swine nutrition.  His thesis focused on utilizing feed additives in nursery pig diets.

Category: Animal health
Feed ingredients
Feed quality and nutrition
Swine Performance