New Year, New Challenge: Navigating the transition away from Zinc Oxide in Pig Diets

6th January 2023

One of the biggest challenges facing pig producers in the year ahead, will be the transition away from the use of pharmacological doses of zinc oxide in piglet feeds.

For years, the use of zinc at elevated rates in the diet of young pigs, has been seen as essential in fighting enteric disorders and post-weaning diarrhoea. As we move towards 'life after zinc', many farmers are understandably apprehensive about how this change will affect the health, welfare, and performance of their pigs. Given the positive impact that pharmacological zinc usually has when added to piglet diets, it is not unreasonable to think that its removal could result in digestive upsets and reduced performance.

Thankfully however, there are a broad range of interventions which can be taken to mitigate against the negative effects of zinc removal. Unsurprisingly, good management is crucial, doing the common things uncommonly well, and paying close attention to the basics.

Any strategy for zinc removal should start well in advance of weaning. Paying close attention to colostrum production by the sow and ensuring a minimum intake of 200g per pig will certainly pay dividends. Focussing on pre-weaning creep feed intake will become even more important, as we look to condition the gut of the piglets in preparation for weaning, and the inevitable transition from sows' milk to solid feed. There are many other factors which can also assist in ensuring successful removal of zinc on your farm:

  • Hygiene - Strict washing and effective disinfection of the first stage weaner housing is a non-negotiable, to ensure the long-term success of any zinc-free strategy.
  • Environment - Ensuring age-appropriate temperature and ventilation, feeder access and water quality will all play a role in reducing stress and vulnerability to bacterial challenges.
  • Sow nutrition - Including ingredients such as ColfaPig in sow feed helps by enhancing the immunoglobulin concentration of colostrum and therefore improving piglet immunity.
  • Pre-weaning feed intake - An intake of 400g of creep per piglet pre-weaning is crucial to condition its gut. Remember to offer creep in small quantities four times daily to keep feed fresh and palatable. Feeding Devenish In4Gut at this stage will help as it is a specifically formulated mix with bioactive components that help to create a robust gut environment.
  • Starter diets - Quality ingredients are key and need to be highly digestible, nutrient-dense and palatable. Devenish has recently launched its new EnteriMAX® range of piglet diets to the market. This range of piglet pre-starter, starter, post-starter and link diets has been developed with zinc removal in mind. The use of EnteriMAX® diets in large-scale trials in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and the UK has shown that the performance of pigs fed on these diets could be maintained and indeed improved relative to traditional diets including zinc oxide. Our novel EnteriMAX® formulations work to enhance the digestibility of the diet and reduce the onset of diarrhoea by maintaining a positive environment in the gastrointestinal tract of the piglet. This ensures maximum digestibility of nutrients in the feed and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, which invariably leads to diarrhoea.
  • Early post-weaning feed intake - Take time in the first five days post-weaning to feed pigs regularly (4 - 5 times daily). The simple presence of stock people in pens and the provision of fresh feed at regular intervals in the early post-weaning phase, will encourage feeding behaviour and feed intake. This is a key pillar in ensuring a successful weaning transition, especially in the absence of zinc.

Experience has taught us that there is no silver bullet to counteract the removal of pharmacological zinc from piglet diets. However, research over the past three and a half years has proven that by utilising EnteriMAX® diets in conjunction with appropriate management interventions, the removal of pharmacological zinc oxide from pig diets can be successfully achieved.

Devenish has the knowledge and the technology to help producers make the transition as smooth as possible.

Speak to your local representative or click here to find out more: EnteriMAX® piglet diets are available within the UK and Irish markets.

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