Decade-long program finds producers sometimes overlook simple fixes when trying to reduce antibiotic use
When producers think about reducing their use of antibiotics, novel alternatives and nutritional strategies are among the first solutions that come to mind. But according to a long-running program by Trouw Nutrition, some of the simplest solutions are often overlooked.
Trouw Nutrition began to formally advise customers about their antibiotic use nearly 10 years ago, beginning a program it now calls “Small Switches. Big Change.” Over the years, according to Trouw Nutrition sustainability antibiotic reduction manager Barbara Brutsaert, the company has noticed some trends in the advice they dispense — and it’s not always what producers expect to hear.
“People often think to replace antibiotics,” Brutsaert said. “But what we are doing is reducing the need for antibiotics, and it’s not so much replacing one thing with another.”
Over the past 10 years, Brutsaert said, some of the common problems Trouw Nutrition has found itself troubleshooting include pellet quality, feed biosecurity, and undetected, underlying health conditions.
Many feed management practices have an impact on how well piglets eat post-weaning, and pellet quality is one of them. Piglets are sensitive to pain during teeth eruption and can stop eating if their pellets are too hard.
But while the hardness of the pellets should be appropriate for piglets, pellet durability is also critical, Brutsaert said. When pellets are prone to breakage, it can affect the flowability of the feed and the homogeneous nutritional delivery to piglets.
“If animals consume less feed or only part of the nutrients of the feed, the balance in the gut is interrupted and pathogens can start to grow, which increases the need for antibiotics,” Brutsaert said. “It’s important to have enough feed intake, and a consistent feed intake.”
The overall hardness and durability of the pellet can be controlled with a moisture optimization program — which has the added benefit of reducing energy costs in the feed mill as well.
In poultry, the structure of the pellet is critical to the development of the digestive system, which is crucial for a strong immune system. Structural problems within the feed can be corrected with the careful selection of raw ingredients, Brutsaert said. Oat and rice hulls are good examples of ingredients that can improve the structure of a broiler feed.
Most producers take steps to avoid exposing their animals to pathogens directly, Brutsaert said. But feed biosecurity is often overlooked — and it’s a growing concern as storage times of raw materials increase in order to mitigate global supply chain concerns.
“Especially with this last year’s weather conditions, extreme humidity or heat heats up the silos on one side which leads to more moisture development, and related mold and Enterobacteriaceae growth in the silos,” she said.
Mold growing on grain not only has the potential to introduce mycotoxins, which suppress the immune system and increase susceptibility to disease, but it also consumes the expensive nutrients contained within the feed, Brutsaert said. Controlling heat and humidity in storage is essential, and adding organic acids to help preserve feed and grains has been shown to be very effective, Brutsaert said.
It may go without saying that exposure to pathogenic bacteria ramps up the need for antibiotics, but many viruses can also contribute to bacterial diseases, Brutsaert said. It’s important to know the immune status of animals before they reach maturity, and to know if immunosuppressive viral infections are present.
The virus behind infectious bursal disease (IBD), for example, is known to suppress the immune system in broilers, and contribute to a host of bacterial diseases and other maladies, such as coccidiosis. It may also interfere with vaccine efficacy. Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus may have a similar effect in pigs.
Even subclinical viral infections, which can occur when animals are vaccinated incorrectly, may open the door to other bacterial infections. Correct vaccination strategies should be customized to the immune status of the animals, because in the first weeks of life maternal antibodies can interfere with live vaccines, Brutsaert said.