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Changing gut bacteria could boost herd productivity

Making use of unconventional feeds to alter the bacteria living in pig guts could make herds more productive and less likely to need antibiotics, scientists report.

Rosie Nold, associate professor at South Dakota University, said using certain feeds to change the bacteria living along the gastrointestinal tract of animals — known as the microbiome — can alter the way they react to illness.

Writing in Pork Network, Nold said researchers have found that certain bacteria benefit pig production through increased feed-gain ratio, growth performance and decreased pathogen load.

But she said the beneficial properties of those bacteria can be enhanced further by reducing post-weaning stress, as well as altering the conditions of the microbiome through feeding practices.

Unconventional feeds, including spent cider yeast, have been shown to significantly alter the microbiota of piglets by reducing high levels of pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella.

At the same time, the same feed encourages the growth of bacteria that are beneficial to animals, Nold said.

Similarly, research has indicated that adding probiotics to pigs’ diets can alter populations of bacteria in a way which increases their ability to fight off disease.

“For example, Lactobacillus casei’s addition to the diet has been identified to reduce inflammation, decrease pH, and increase the [immunoglobulin A] antibodies, indicating an increased immune response within the gastrointestinal tract of pigs.

“The immune response can reduce the likelihood of infection within the gut which can result in an increased growth until market weight.”

Fermented feeds are another possibility for improving performance, with studies suggesting the increase in lactic acid-producing bacteria reduces the number of pathogens living in the gut, helping pigs to grow faster.

“Ultimately, the study of the microbiome is only getting started as it slowly uncovers which species colonize the gut and what their function may be in regards to the pig,” Nold added.

“At the end of the day, microbiology has the potential to influence production rates and decrease production losses via shifts in the microbiome.”

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