Why organic acid blends offer pigs a dual benefit
By Wendy Short North-east correspondent
THE prospective ban on all antibiotic additives has forced one feed company to investigate the role of organic acids in protecting piglets from disease and promoting fast growth rates.
Recent work at SCA Nut-ritions feed evaluation unit has shown that blending organic acids in post-weaning diets can boost growth rates by 11%, compared with feed containing no additive, says its nutritionist Mike Varley.
"Trials using organic acids have been ongoing on for 30 years. They are widely used in Europe, particularly Germany, but they have not caught on with UK pig producers," he says.
"Now the EU has announced a ban on all antibiotic digestive enhancers by 2006, we are looking for something to do a similar job. Research has shown organic acids to be effective, particularly when two or three different types are blended together.
"These blends are already in use in other parts of the world, either where antibiotics are banned or where producers show a preference for them."
Organic acids work by reducing pH levels in the pigs gut to discourage E coli bacteria from growing, says Dr Varley. They also support the digestive system by topping up the pigs own acid levels, which can become depleted when fed a starch-based diet.
"It has been suggested that adding probiotics – live bacteria – to the young pigs diet would have the same effect. But results have been variable in the past, no-one can be sure how many stick to the wall of the pigs gut, where they offer the best protection."
There is also concern that some probiotics could be killed during the pelleting process.
"Organic acid blends are reliable and cheap to add to feed. A home-mixer could include them without any extra expense. However, there is an argument for using a blend of organic acids combined with various probiotics and we are looking into how this can be done cost-effectively."
But it is not just antibiotic additives that are under threat. The amount of zinc oxide and copper permitted in pig diets is facing a drastic reduction after a recent EU ruling.
Adding zinc to the diet has traditionally been another reliable way of protecting pigs against scours. But its level of inclusion is being cut from 2500ppm to 100ppm. It is also expected that copper levels will be reduced, says Dr Varley.
"Until now, there has been little pressure to look at alternative ways of keeping intensive pigs healthy. Organic acids will grow in popularity and become more useful as research progresses."
• Boost growth rates.
• Blends most effective.
• Probiotics variable.