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Protect Your Piglets Against Neonatal Diarrhea with Essential Oils

Diarrhea in piglets can lead to significant mortality pre-weaning. While antibiotic growth promoters once offered protection while piglets' immune systems were developing, consumer and legislative pressure have reduced AGP use, leaving a gap in performance. Essential oils can help bridge this gap and help prevent scours in pigs.

Tyler Turner

In Brief
• A wide range of pathogens commonly found on farms can cause neonatal diarrhea.
• Neonatal animals have naïve immune systems, increasing the likelihood of infection.
• Controlling and eradicating such a broad range of pathogens on farm is challenging.
• Using essential oils to support gastrointestinal development and antibacterial properties will boost performance.

Losses associated with neonatal mortality can have a substantial economic impact on any production operation. For piglets on commercial farms, pre-weaning mortality can be up to 20% (Edwards and Baxter, 2015) where an estimated 60% of losses occur in the first three days of life. These losses could be due to:
•    Prolonged birth leading to a weak, slow piglets
•    A cool draft causing shivers that burn much needed energy reserves
•    Not receiving sufficient colostrum in early life

These piglets are disadvantaged and more susceptible to pathogens in the environment.

Many causes of diarrhea

Given the wide array of pathogens that commonly cause enteric disturbances in piglets, such cases are often labelled by herd health managers as unspecified diarrhea. While much is known about such pathogens, with the Iowa State University Veterinary department being a good resource (Iowa State University, 2020), on-site control remains a challenge. Vigilance is needed to spot weak piglets or early warning signs of diarrhea to take proactive actions to stem the spread of disease, ensuring better piglet litter uniformity.

Neonates face more challenges

There are several challenges faced by neonates at a critical time in their development and therefore managers need to use all the tools available to safeguard early gastrointestinal health.

There are several challenges faced by neonates at a critical time in their development.

Even at low challenge levels, cumulative pressure can hinder performance as nutrients are used to resist and recuperate from the challenge. This can delay the development and functionality of the gastrointestinal tract which may only become apparent at weaning through poor litter uniformity or complications during diet transition in the next phase.

Numerous studies have indicated that early development problems can have a significant impact on lifetime performance in finishing pigs. Producers need solutions to help them achieve the genetic potential of their livestock.

Achieving genetic potential

With backing from the livestock industry, producers are reducing or eliminating the prophylactic or metaphylactic use of antibiotics to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance on-site and in the food chain. Phytogenic feed additives, such as essential oils, are plant-derived compounds with bioactive properties including high anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as microbiota modulating effects.

Essential oils are the forerunners for use as an alternative to pharmaceuticals in managing uncomplicated cases of diarrhea. BIOMIN has been a pioneer in the development and application of complex essential oil blends to give the widest efficacy possible.

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

Bacteriostatic effects of essential oils

Essential oils encompass a broad family of compounds which can exhibit bacteriostatic effects in various ways. By interacting with the membrane of pathogenic bacteria, essential oils can induce ion leakage, forcing the bacteria to divert energy into re-establishing osmotic pressure, thus inhibiting growth. Interfering with the membrane can also inhibit cell wall synthesis, reducing the ability of the bacteria to grow and multiply.

Essential oils can disrupt bacterial growth by inhibiting the enzymes involved in energy metabolism or protein synthesis. In the case of protein metabolism, when essential oils disrupt flagellin synthesis, this leads to bacteria with no flagella or severely inhibited motility (Nazzaro et al., 2013). Essential oils are most effective against pathogens with single membranes. However, given the hydrophobic nature of essential oils, those of low molecular weight can also disrupt cell function of Gram-negative bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella.

In addition to bacteriostatic effects, essential oils can disrupt the cross-communication between pathogenic bacteria, termed “quorum quenching”, which reduces the ability of the pathogen to mount the coordinated challenge necessary to induce diarrhea. Given the versatility and broad spectrum of bioreceptors that essential oils can interact with, their full potential to moderate pathogens remains unexplored.

BIOMIN solution

The BIOMIN solution to address low vitality and neonatal diarrhea in piglets is Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid. Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid provides a synergistic blend of essential oils in combination with a rapid release energy source from medium chain triglycerides and extra antioxidative support from vitamin E.

Producers have commended the high efficacy and rapid response delivered by Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid as part of a neonatal care SOP, giving their piglets a kickstart as well as controlling acute outbreaks of diarrhea. When exploring the responses from several piglet trials which all reported incidences of diarrhea in over 80% of animals in the first week, the benefits of the preventative application of Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid truly stand out.

Compelling results in piglets

Comparing the results of 1470 farrowings, a first application of Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid at birth and a second application to weaker piglets 24 hours later reduced piglet mortality by 3.4 percentage points (Figure 1). This means for every 100 piglets born, an extra 3.4 piglets were weaned, giving a significant economical return when considering market prices.

Figure 1. Reduction in piglet mortality using Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid at birth as part of a preventative strategy

As well as increasing the number of weaned piglets, supporting early gastrointestinal development with Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid application contributed to better nutrient utilization leading to larger and stronger piglets at weaning. Based on the same studies, piglets that received Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid were 10% larger at weaning than their cohorts (Figure 2). Size is an advantage post-weaning as this suggests a greater resilience to transitional stressors, such as diet change and grouping or environment challenges that could impair performance.

Figure 2. Average increase in weaning weight of piglets given Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid at birth as part of a preventative strategy.

Digestarom® P.E.P. improves performance

  • Given its high efficacy and ease of use, Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid should be part of every neonatal health SOP as a safeguard against early pathogenic challenges causing performance losses or mortalities.

References

Edwards, S.A. and Baxter, E.M. (2015). Piglet mortality: causes and prevention. In C. Farmer, ed., The Gestating and Lactating Sow, 1st ed. Wageningen Academic Publishers. pp. 253 - 278

Iowa State University, (2020). Index of Diseases. [online] Available at: https://vetmed.iastate.edu/vdpam/FSVD/swine/index-diseases [Accessed 02.05.2020].

Nazzaro, F., Fratinni, F., De Martino, L., Coppola, R. and De Feo, V. (2013). Effects of essential oils on pathogenic bacteria. Pharmaceuticals. 6(12), 1451-1474.

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