Antibiotic alternative for piglets shows promise
Scientists have found a naturally occurring amino acid could be a viable alternative to antibiotics for piglets, with the second round of trials showing promising results.
When piglets are weaned and transported to nursery barns, the stress can diminish their immune system function, appetite and weight gain. Antibiotics can help them recover, but a federal rule in 2017 restricted their use due to concerns about microbial resistance.
Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are investigating the use of L-glutamine to improve piglet welfare following weaning and transport. Initial trials found glutamine-fed piglets gained just as much weight as antibiotic-treated ones, but a research team led by Jay Johnson from the ARS Livestock Behavior Research Unit wanted to replicate those results on a larger scale that mimicked commercial production.
In the larger-scale trials, groups of piglets were weaned, transported to a nursery barn located 12 hours away and fed one of three diets: the antibiotic chlortetracycline, glutamine or nothing but feed ingredients.
They found glutamine-fed piglets gained weight as well as the antibiotic group, showed fewer signs of intestinal damage from pathogens and were less aggressive in pens with mixed litters compared to the antibiotic group.
The meat quality was no different than that of the antibiotic or control group, and glutamine- and antibiotic-treated piglets showed lower inflammation levels.
Johnson said further research will focus on learning how glutamine works to promote growth and wellbeing in piglets after weaning and transport.
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