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Essential Oils in Drinking Water: Using Flexibility and Speed to Help Pigs During Gut Health Challenges

While adding phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) to the feed is the most common application method, many producers are realizing the benefits of including PFAs in drinking water. PFAs can be used to tackle diarrhea in post-weaning piglets, a challenge likely to result in decreased feed intake. Drinking water application of PFAs ensures they are delivered to the gut during times when they are most needed.

Mathias Zaunschirm

In Brief

• Bans on the use of antibiotic growth promotors in livestock production around the world have resulted in a performance gap.
• Phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) can help bridge the gap due to their broad spectrum of beneficial biological effects.
• Drinking water application of PFAs is flexible and quick and is increasing in popularity.
• Application can take place in combination with other additives such as organic acids, probiotics, or vaccines.

The use of feed additives based on natural ingredients, such as essential oils, is gaining popularity in livestock production. These phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) are not limited to the use of essential oils but cover a broad spectrum of ingredients from herbs and spices, to essential oils and other non-volatile extracts.

Phytogenic feed additives are known to exert a broad spectrum of beneficial biological effects in livestock animals, such as:

  • anti-inflammatory activity
  • antioxidant activity
  • gut microbiota modulation
  • improvement in gut barrier function

These all result in an improved quality and function of the gut, which will ultimately have a positive effect on animal performance (Lillehoj et al., 2018, Windisch et al., 2008). Since the 2006 ban on using antibiotic growth promotors (AGPs) due to the emerging risk of antibiotic resistance in Europe,  several bans on using single antibiotics for disease prevention followed in other countries around the world. As such, animal producers are constantly looking for alternatives to fill the performance gap in livestock production, and feed additive companies are developing solutions to meet the market needs.

Phytogenic feed additives are known to exert a broad spectrum of beneficial biological effects in livestock animals.

Common application of PFAs

The most common application method for PFAs in swine production is inclusion in feed. This presents some challenges for animal producers, such as:

  • Thermostability / recovery of feed additives during the feed manufacturing process
  • Mixing quality of the feed mill
  • Feed quality (possible mycotoxin contamination)
  • Difficult on-farm application due to low inclusion rate
  • Feed refusal (e.g. due to animal sickness, smell of feed additive)

Water application as an alternative route to improve performance

In swine production, administration of a broad range of medications (including vaccines) as well as other feed additives, such as vitamins, minerals or acidifiers is common practice. As livestock producers realize the additional value of PFAs, supplementation via the drinking water has gained popularity.

Four points to consider during PFA administration via drinking water:

  1. Water quality: check for microbiological and chemical contamination
  2. Water solubility of the additives: PFAs need to be water soluble to achieve homogenization
  3. Possible interaction of additives in drinking water
  4. Potential clogging of additives in the nipple drinkers

PFA administration via the drinking water, which can be complementary to or instead of in-feed inclusion, has big advantages. Application can easily be achieved on-farm, e.g. with a dosing system, offering the producer full security that the PFA reaches the animal.

PFAs applied via the drinking water avoid the problem of suppressed feed intake during times of illness or enteric challenge and so continue to exert their beneficial effects, supporting recovery.

It is known that sick animals reduce or completely stop their feed intake, which means that when PFAs are applied in the feed, ingestion decreases, leading to less support of the animals’ health and therefore compromised performance. But PFAs administered via the drinking water avoid this problem since water intake does not drop when animals are sick. Therefore, the PFA can continue to exert its beneficial effects, supporting the animal during times of challenges to recovery.

Essential oils are an alternative to pharmaceuticals in managing uncomplicated cases of diarrhea.

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol – a flexible and rapid drinking water solution during enteric challenges

BIOMIN offers Digestarom® P.E.P. sol, which can be applied via the drinking water to flexibly and rapidly support animals during enteric challenges. Digestarom® P.E.P. sol is a liquid form phytogenic blend of oregano oil, citrus oil, and anis oil extracts, formulated to optimize animal performance.

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol:

  • helps maintain feed intake under challenging conditions
  • modulates gut microbiota to decrease pathogenic bacteria pressure
  • decreases intestinal stress making more nutrients available for production
  • enhances gut integrity to improve immune resilience against stressors

A key advantage is the flexibility in dose rate and duration of the Digestarom® P.E.P. sol application depending on the challenge. With a proven rapid, targeted response, Digestarom® P.E.P. sol can be added to the drinking water in combination with other additives such as organic acids (e.g. Biotronic®), probiotics or vaccines.

Experiences in swine

Post-weaning diarrhea is a multifactorial disease occurring in piglets during the first two weeks after weaning. It results in:

  • severe diarrhea
  • dehydration
  • high mortality (reaching up to 30% in the following 1-2 months)
  • reduced body weight of surviving piglets associated mortality

The determining factor is Escherichia coli, the bacteria responsible for colibacillosis, but many other stress factors during the weaning period such as dietary changes, new environment and changes in gut morphology might contribute and negatively influence gut quality and function. Colistin is commonly used as a broad-spectrum antibiotic for the treatment of post-weaning diarrhea in piglets (Rhouma et al., 2017).

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol reduces post-weaning mortality and improves performance in piglets

At a commercial farm in France, application of Digestarom® P.E.P. sol in combination with colistin was compared to colistin application alone on the mortality of post-weaning piglets. In this trial, 1,197 piglets were divided at weaning into six treatment groups and their mortality monitored for 14 days. Comparisons were made between the metaphylactic treatment with colistin vs. the application of Digestarom® P.E.P. sol in the drinking water (45ml / 1000L) throughout the trial in combination with colistin (Figure 1). The treatment groups are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Treatment groups and number of animals per group.

Treatment group

Treatment

Number of animals

1

2 x 4-days of colistin

177

2

2 x 4-days of colistin

238

3

4-days of colistin + Digestarom® P.E.P. sol

200

4

4-days of colistin + Digestarom® P.E.P. sol

192

5

4-days of colistin + Digestarom® P.E.P. sol

197

6

4-days of colistin + Digestarom® P.E.P. sol

193

 

During the whole period, a total of 21 piglets died in the colistin groups compared to only 5 piglets in the groups combining Digestarom® P.E.P. sol with colistin. Overall, the average mortality of the colistin treatment groups was 5.4% compared to 0.4% in the groups receiving a combination of Digestarom® P.E.P. sol and colistin (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Piglet mortality compared between piglets receiving colistin alone or in combination with Digestarom® P.E.P sol in the drinking water
Table 2. Treatment groups and number of animals.

Treatment group

Treatment

Number of animals

1

4-days of colistin

361

2

7-days of colistin

338

3

2 x 4-days of colistin

300

4

4-days of colistin

340

5

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol

215

6

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol

289

7

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol

312

On another commercial farm in France, the effect on post-weaning mortality of Digestarom® P.E.P. sol (without colistin) was compared to colistin administration. At weaning, 2,155 piglets were divided into seven groups and their mortality monitored for 21 days. Comparisons were made between treatment with colistin at different times and doses and application of Digestarom® P.E.P. sol in the drinking water (45ml/1000L) alone. The treatment groups are shown in Table 2.

During the trial, a total of 65 piglets from the groups receiving colistin died (4.9% mortality) compared to zero piglets in the groups where Digestarom® P.E.P. sol was applied (0% mortality; Figure 2).

Economic calculations at both commercial farms revealed economic benefits. The economic impact of a 1% mortality rate was estimated at EUR 12.00/sow/year (ITP France, 2005), resulting in savings to producers of EUR 60.00/sow/year and EUR 58.80/sow/year, respectively.

Figure 2. Piglet mortality compared between groups receiving colistin or Digestarom® P.E.P sol.

At a third commercial farm in France, Digestarom® P.E.P. sol supplementation via the drinking water for 14 days confirmed its supporting effects during challenging times and performance improving properties for post-weaning piglets (Figure 3). A total of 574 piglets were divided into three replicates (3 runs in total). Within each replicate, there was a control group plus two groups that received Digestarom® P.E.P. sol (40ml/1000L) via the drinking water.

Piglets supplemented with Digestarom® P.E.P. sol had a greater average daily gain (ADG; +78g/d), improved daily feed intake (+84.5 g/d) and better feed conversion ratio (FCR; -9 points) compared to the control (average of the 3 runs; Figure 3). Strong performance post-weaning would likely contribute to better performance throughout the finishing period, thus improving economic returns for the producer.

Figure 3. The average effects of Digestarom® P.E.P sol administration on performance parameters (average daily gain (ADG), feed intake and feed conversion rate (FCR)) compared to the control group, P < 0.05 indicates a statistically significant difference.

Conclusion

  • Digestarom® P.E.P. sol as the liquid phytogenic solution via drinking water represents a valuable complementary or standalone alternative to in-feed additives due to its high flexibility and fast response during various challenges in swine, increasing the tolerance to stressors and thereby improving animal performance.

References

ITP France. (2005). Alternatives aux antibiotiques. Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir. PORC Magazine 393. 80-83.

Lillehoj, H., Liu, Y., Calsamiglia, S., Fernandez-Miyakawa, M.E., Chi, F., Cravens, R.L., Oh, S. and Gay, C.G. (2018). Phytochemicals as antibiotic alternatives to promote growth and enhance host health. Veterinary Research. 49: 79. doi: 10.1186/s13567-018-0562-6.

Rhouma, M., Fairbrother, J.M., Beaudry, F. and Letellier, A. (2017). Post weaning diarrhea in pigs: risk factors and non-colistin-based control strategies. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. 59(31). doi: 10.1186/s13028-017-0299-7.

Windisch, W., Schedle, K., Plitzner, C. and Kroismayr, A. (2008). Use of phytogenic products as feed additives for swine and poultry. Journal of Animal Science. 86(14 Suppl). E140–E148.

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