Agricultural by-products, the promising alternative to antibiotics at weaning

The weaning period is a critical transitory phase in pig production and is characterised by multifactorial stress, contributing to altered intestinal activities and health issues. The piglet’s intestines become more susceptible to the invasion of pathogens, resulting in a rise in the incidence of post-weaning diarrhoea. Due to environmental and regulatory issues, there is a need to find sustainable and effective alternatives to the use of antibiotics and zinc oxide.

In this context, more attention has been paid to the presence of fibre in the diet of young piglets as a strategy to cope with post-weaning associated disorders. The fermentation of fibre-rich substrates in the intestines selectively stimulates the proliferation and metabolic activity of health-associated bacteria and consequently the production of beneficial metabolites in the hindgut.

To date, mainly purified fractions have been tested for their prebiotic effects at weaning while research on potential health-promoting effects of agricultural by-products remain rare. The potential prebiotic function of such fibre-rich by-products, considered as more economic than purified fractions, is therefore of great interest.

Hence, in this project, a diversity of by-products, differing in carbohydrate sources, has been tested in a three-step in vitro model of the piglet’s gastro-intestinal tract for their prebiotic potential. The most promising feed candidates of the in vitro screening were tested in vivo in the feed of weaned piglets to provide insights into how gut ecology (gut microbiota, barrier and inflammation) can be altered and manipulated for health purposes.

A range of new benefits could arise from this approach; attenuated weaning disorders for the animals, an accessible and economically favourable alternative for farmers and a decreased threat of antimicrobial resistance as well as a better management of resources for the society.

PhD of Julie Uerlings, with a scholarship financed by FRIA-FNRS (2016-2020), in collaboration with Nuscience.