It is important that the U.S. pork industry keep an eye on the broad lessons we are learning from the ban on antibiotic growth promoter (AGP) use in Europe.

American pork producers should be interested in alternatives to AGPs because one day, you too may have to raise pigs without them.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the main defensive strategies in use. Some are familiar, while others are more novel and need more study. These are presented in no order of importance.

All In, All Out (AI/AO) — Can be very expensive when converting a barn, if done properly. On a new farm, AIAO production costs 16% more than a conventional design.

AIAO with Segregation and Batch Farrowing — Ideal strategy for new units. Extra cost over one-site is 35-40%, but the payback is under two years.

Partial Depopulation (Growers/Finishers) — Costs 8% more, but extra buildings are often available here on our mixed farms or from a friendly neighbor. Return on extra outlay is over 10:1.

Partial Depopopulation (Pathoclean) — A specialized, segregated clean-down protocol pioneered by the United Kingdom breeding company, ACMC Ltd. Quicker and cheaper than full depopulation/repopulation, which is seen as too expensive due to lost production.

Cleaning & Disinfection Update Protocol — Producers are frightened by the higher cost, but the return on extra outlay (including labor) is between 7:1 and 12:1, depending on the current procedure.

Matching Diets to Immune Status — Pioneered by Iowa State University, feed manufacturers are doing their best to put it into practice. It works, especially with high lean:gain genetics.

Streaming — Also a relatively new idea. Disease-cured pigs are put into spare or temporary housing until shipped. Adds to the cost, but the payback is quick.

Postweaning Feeding — Difficult to do well, but it suits specialist “nurserymen.” Without macrolide AGPs available, for example, it is vital that you get on top of needed skills.

Fully Wet Feeding — Helps a great deal, but only if you are neat and tidy. Return on extra outlay is 5:1 (about the same as a good AGP). Payback is about two years.

Later Weaning — With our older, more varied buildings, compared to medium-to-large U.S. units, we are definitely finding that moving away from 21- to 23-day weaning to 30-32 days pays handsomely when AGPs are unavailable. While we already have welfare legislation banning weaning under 3 weeks of age, the more astute among us are moving up to 4-week weaning anyway.

What's Next?

We are now deeply involved in neutraceutical replacements for AGPs, with much research in progress. A neutraceutical (the “in” word in Europe) is a health-enhancing product or strategy based on biologically natural sources. To date, these involve probiotics, amino-acid-bound trace elements, oligosaccharides, essential oils, herbs and herb extracts, immunostimulants (plasmas and nucleotides), enzymes and organic acids.

If a good AGP can earn 11% over cost, then the best of the replacements can manage 8%, on average.