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For more full-value pigs, managing gut health is an ‘all-the-time deal’

When you think about swine nutrition, it’s easy to picture it as just pushing feed through pigs.

But, according to swine nutrition experts at Hubbard Feeds, there’s much more to it. A pig’s intestinal system does far more than simply deliver nutrients and hydration. It also plays an essential role in building a strong barrier that protects it from invasive pathogens and environmental pressures, helping the pig thrive through every phase of production.

“Pigs are so valuable that you’ve got to have the gut working properly all the time,” says Stewart Galloway, Ph.D., Senior Swine Nutritionist for Hubbard Feeds.  “Even three days of scour early in the weaning phase slows the performance, creates more variation and, potentially, fewer full-value pigs.”

From a profitability standpoint, less-than-robust gut health can mean more fall-back pigs that must be sold in the less-profitable cull market or, worse, end up as a death-loss statistic.

“The goal from start to finish is to get the pig through to a primary market at optimal value,” says Jamie Pietig, Hubbard Feeds Field Nutritionist. “Even a 1- to 2-percent death loss can be a huge financial burden on the farmer.”

Managing for Stress

As pigs move through the production system, they encounter situations which open them up to potential gut distress. Times of transition are especially stressful and can have a longer-term impact on the animal’s ability to thrive.

“Health in general plays an integral role in production and your bottom line,” Pietig says. “Regardless of the health challenge, a healthy gut is necessary to protect the pig’s ability to fight off disease and grow to its genetic potential.”

During the pre-weaning phase, a pig’s immune system is just beginning to develop and its only protection is the residual maternal immunity imparted by the sow, leaving the pig vulnerable to dangerous pathogens.

As the pig moves through to the nursery, the change from an all-milk to a solid diet often results in gut distress, impacting the ability to successfully adapt to a new environment and the crop of new health challenges that come with it.

Then, during the grow-finish phase, pigs are constantly exposed to any number of pathogenic, environmental and seasonal pressures that can limit feed and water intake, resulting in slower growth and a weakened immune system which can make them more susceptible to chronic, acute and even fatal illnesses, such as hemorrhagic bowel syndrome (HBS).

A Program Approach

Just as a pig’s gut does more than simply deliver nutrients and hydration, a protocol for optimal gut health requires more than one solution.

“People often want a ‘silver bullet’,” Galloway says. “We believe the reality is that it takes a whole program approach to grow full-value pigs.

“Gut health is a top research priority for Hubbard Feeds, and has been all along,” he adds. “We’ve probably been at this longer than anyone, enlisting expertise from our Hubbard Feeds team as well as industry experts.”  

Key to Hubbard Feeds’ gut-health program is ensuring the animal is consistently provided a high-quality, balanced ration supplemented with all-natural products proven to help the pig develop and maintain a healthy gut.

Developed in collaboration with industry leaders, the program can be integrated with other initiatives for developing optimal value, such as Elanco® Animal Health’s Full Value Pigs™ approach.

First Things First

For any program to work effectively, anything that might negatively impact the outcome must be addressed.

“The first thing you always want to do is to make sure the pigs have a proper environment with good ventilation, feeders that are properly adjusted and plenty of fresh water,” Pietig says. “We also want to minimize out-of-feed events. Lack of feed for even a short period creates stress for the pig and can easily cause gut distress.

“Secondarily, we use products to improve the population of natural beneficial bacteria in the gut,” he explains. “We want to set up conditions for encouraging the growth of good bacteria and maintaining a healthy mucosal layer so the pig can get through those times of stress.”

Hubbard Feeds has done extensive research to develop or identify supporting products that are safe, efficacious and cost-effective in improving gut health in pigs, adding two to its program:

  • Grazix Porcine- F and Porcine -W™, two all-natural water products with fast-acting anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which use beneficial plant extracts to address serious gut distress in the pre-weaning and nursery phases;1 and
  • Assist™, a yeast-based, gut-health support product given during the grow-finish phase, employing a two-phase action shown to reduce the incidence of HBS by as much as 50 percent in herds affected by it.2

“For pre-weaned and nursery pigs suffering scours, we need to decrease inflammation in the gut, lower the pathogen load and prevent excessive water loss. Grazix does all three,” Galloway says.

But finding solutions meant re-thinking some established approaches to the gut-health problem.

“Initially, it was believed that decreasing the pathogen load was more important than decreasing inflammation, but we’ve found that it’s actually the opposite,” he explains. “Inflammation creates gaps between the cells lining the gut, which allows gut material to seep through to the underlying tissue, carrying bacterial pathogens and their toxins, resulting in continued or worsening inflammation.

Grazix binds to those toxins, helping to quickly reduce inflammation, creating a tighter barrier in the gut and decreasing water loss,” he says. “At the same time, it lowers the pathogen load in the pig’s gut, reducing the production of bacterial toxins.

“We’ve been using Grazix in farrowing for about three years now and it has proven to be very effective in stopping scours in the first week3,” he adds. “It seems the worse the problem, the better Grazix works, in most cases, even overnight.”

Unlike the immediate action provided by Grazix, the mode of action employed by Assist builds the protective mucosal layer over a period of 20 to 28 days, then supports it through the remainder of the grow-finish phase.

Assist helps to rebuild and maintain the mucosal layer protecting the gut tissue from the causes of HBS and other challenges,” Galloway says. “It also contains copper chloride, which acts as a natural anti-microbial, making it a nice two-pronged approach.”

 “It’s kind of like eating yogurt,” Pietig explains. “It takes a little time to change the microflora that make up the mucosal layer.”

Summing it up

When it comes to getting more full-value pigs out the door, optimizing gut health should be high on the list of priorities through every phase of production.

“Gut health is an ‘all-the-time deal’,” Pietig says. “Problems at any age can have a negative impact on the pig’s ability to survive and grow to its full potential.”

“We can’t exactly know when challenges may occur, but we do know they will happen. We’re not always going to have perfectly managed environments or consistent feed intakes,” he explains.

“What we can have, though, is a gut-health program that’s cost-effective – just a fraction of the overall per-pig cost of production4 – and enables us to have a positive influence over outcomes.”

For more information on Hubbard Feeds’ gut-health program, visit www.hubbardfeeds.com

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