Are you ready with your zinc replacement strategies?

How do we produce 7-30 kg pigs without using therapeutically high levels of zinc oxide and keep our animals free of weaning diarrhea? The answer to that question may be more difficult than first anticipated and yet there are solutions out there that seem promising. The question is, are we willing to pay what it costs.

With 2022 approaching faster than we would like, the swine industry in the EU is facing a dilemma, not to unsimilar to the one posed in 2006 with the ban of the use of low-dose antibiotics as growth promoters. Zinc replacement strategies are a hot topic at the moment as we have as yet not quite been able to crack this nut.

As leading global pig producers, many look towards Denmark for guidance when it comes to topics like this and recent work done in Denmark offers to shed some light on the subject. So far it is still permissible to use maximum levels of 2.500 ppm zinc oxide for up to 14 days post weaning under veterinary prescription, which is common practice. However, there are some interesting trends emerging in Denmark where one can see that the total zinc oxide use is on the decline. This without an increase in antibiotic usage.

The trend is believed to be mainly due to a reduction of levels down to 1.500 ppm with a few farms in Denmark going completely zinc-free. Thanks to work done at SEGES that showed that, despite the apparent lack of effect of probiotics, yeast and seaweed, it was possible to lower usage to 1.500 ppm without significant negative effects on performance

Zinc consumption in Danish pig production
Antibiotic usage in Danish pig production

Interestingly when looking at farms that have been most successful at going zinc-free there are some common traits:

  • A reduced protein level with slightly higher lysine levels
  • Measures to increase feed intake immediately post weaning
  • Highly experienced tenured staff dedicated to the weaner unit
  • High level of biosecurity with defined rules of access between production areas

There is no ‘magic bullet’, but solutions do exist

One common theme that seems apparent at this stage is that there is no single feed additive or compound that is up to this task of replacing zinc oxide. However, a feeding strategy is still considered one of the most easily implemented tools available for the majority of farms. The most successful feeding strategies tested by SEGES in 2018 for pigs 7-30 kg seem to  combine the effect of low protein, combinations of additives, lower calcium levels and slightly adjusted amino acid profiles. The downside is that so far that the strategy with the most promise is also the most expensive, costing approximately €1.10 per pig. While another strategy that gave similar performance came with a price tag of around €0.90 per pig, with others showing no apparent effect.

Interestingly, both successful concepts contained organic acids at one level or another. Highlighting the usefulness of these products in any post-weaning diarrhea management strategy. (To find out why these products work take look at our blog that features a series of articles on just this topic.) Digging into the nuts and bolts the most successful strategy contained a combination product that contained lauric acid, butyrates, capric and caprylic acid combined with phenols and polyphenols. Additionally, highly digestible feed ingredients were included.

An alternative strategy to replace zinc oxide.

Innovad is a company that Agmondo has chosen to be represented on the platform because of their innovative and solution-oriented approach to managing on-farm challenges and the question of reducing zinc oxide is no different in this regard.

Within the portfolio of products available are several products that are gaining attention globally and more specifically Lumance® has enjoyed strong successes in Spain in particular. Faced with the challenge of removing both antibiotics and zinc oxide a large integrator in Spain producing more than 10 million pigs per year are currently using Lumance® as part of their strategy. This has resulted in not only complete replacement of antibiotics, but also more importantly in the Danish context, also a complete removal of zinc oxide. Added to which a significant improvement in performance on all parameters related to weaning diarrhea was also observed.

Effect of Lumance® vs. positive control

Parameter Control Lumance®
Cases of diarrhea 15% 2.5% *
Mortality 17% 0% *
Body weight (kg) 18.77 19.33 *
Feed conversion ratio 1.357 1.275 *

Lumance®: 4 kg/ton of feed
Control: 2.500 ppm zinc oxide & neomycin
*p<0,005

Lumance® is a combination product that contains tributyrins, propionic, sorbic, lauric, capric and caprylic acids, as well as plant extracts and essential oils. In other words, a combination very similar to the most successful group in the trial above. The main difference being that this is at a cost of around €0.40 per pig, which was completely offset by the improvement in performance. For more detailed information regarding the effects of Lumance download the technical paper here.

Innovad has also been quick in recognising that, as with the Danish studies, piglets that begin to feed quickly, both during and after weaning, are less likely to have post weaning performance issues. With this purpose in mind they developed TasteMaster that has proven to increase creep feed intake while containing important nutrients to help the animal get a quick start already prior to weaning for less than €0.20 per pig.

Combining both products addresses some of the issues that have been shown to play a key role in farms that have been successful in transitioning to a zinc oxide free production. Finding a replacement that reduces the negative effects of the transition period by controlling pathogens and supporting intestinal function, as well as getting piglets to start feeding as soon as possible. Both functions for a cost that is roughly 30% less than other solutions tested so far.

A multi-faceted approach

Irrespective of whether you have begun looking at your zinc oxide replacement strategy or not, the fact of the matter is that while there is no single direct replacement product, it is in fact possible to replace it without affecting your bottom line. It is also obvious that there will unlikely be a ‘one size fits all’ solution. So, while there may be 28 months until the new legislation takes effect it is important that you exercise due diligence and already now start investigating what solutions would work best in your operation. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, test one step at a time in a iterative process – if one step works, build on that – if it doesn’t, it’s easier to back up to the previous step and try something else.

Key points you should be looking at are:

  • Protein levels around weaning should, in general, be lower
  • Combinations of additives that give both antibacterial and intestinal support seem to work better
  • Increase feed intake around weaning as soon as possible
  • A dedicated approach to your weaning unit with experienced consistent staff is important
  • Increased biosecurity around your weaning unit

If you need guidance on which solutions may be suitable for your operation please feel free to contact us.

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