Kansas State University researchers are exploring alternatives to the zinc oxide commonly used to help maintain health and growth in newborn pigs amid concerns that it may not be available in the future.
Jordan Gebhardt, an assistant professor in the Kansas State department of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, said zinc plays an important role in a variety of functions in pigs. “Pigs have a physiological requirement for zinc due to the functions it is involved with, including producing enzymes, immunity and nutrient metabolism,” said Gebhardt, who presented the university’s most recent research on the topic during Kansas State’s Swine Day on Nov. 18.
“In addition to the physiological requirements, higher levels of zinc in the form of zinc oxide are often fed for the first two to three weeks after the pig is weaned from its mother to reduce the incidence of postweaning diarrhea and improve feed intake and growth performance,” he said.
Despite its benefits, zinc oxide is currently under scrutiny in the European Union, where control measures have been implemented due to a concern for its accumulation in the environment and potential effect on antimicrobial resistance, Kansas State pointed out.
For producers, Gebhardt said a potential move to ban the use of zinc oxide means the industry should be looking for viable alternatives now so it is prepared in case of future actions.
“There will not be a single change or strategy that can be incorporated to fill the void,” Gebhardt said. “We think there should be a combination of strategies, possibly including diet formulation, herd health and such management factors as weaning age, disinfecting facilities and a warm, draft-free environment.
“The use of zinc oxide provides significant benefits when used immediately postweaning, so it is important that swine producers use this technology judiciously and be proactive in educating the public and policy-makers about the importance of zinc oxide in swine diets on the health and well-being of swine,” he added.
Much of the past year’s research by the Kansas State swine team and graduate students is available online in the "Swine Day Research Reports."
Swine Day was held entirely online this year and attracted more than 800 participants from 35 countries.