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Early bacterial colonisation of the gut has long-term health impacts for pigs

Strategies being developed by Canadian Scientists that will promote the colonisation of the gut of newborn piglets by beneficial bacteria are expected to benefit health, productivity and profitability.

18 October 2019, at 10:10am

To improve pig health and performance while reducing dependence on antibiotics, scientists working on behalf of Swine Innovation Porc are assessing the factors that regulate microbial succession in the pig and whether core members of bacterial communities are associated with health, production and performance.

piglets feeding together in a pen

Speaking to Farmscape, Dr Andrew Van Kessel, the Head of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science with University of Saskatchewan, explains in the uterus piglets are in a germ free environment but, as they are born and exposed to the world, colonisation of the gastrointestinal tract by bacteria begins and more types of bacteria become detectable as the piglet ages.

"When we talk about succession we're trying to understand if there is a common succession pattern that we see in pigs and what are the early factors that are important in that succession pattern?," explains Dr Van Kessel.

"Is the vaginal tract of the sow important? Is the composition of the bacteria in the sow's faeces important? Is there something about that early environment that's important that impacts the succession profile early in the pig?

"The reason it's important is we think that those early experiences likely have long term effects.

"If the early experiences of the neonatal pig are affected and changed, that may result in a bacterial profile that's much different as an adult and those differences in profiles may be important with respect to their health and performance."

Dr Van Kessel says we know the microbial species present in the pig gastrointestinal tract are diverse and are impacted by the environment, by diet and by genetics and the challenge is to understand which are beneficial and which play no role.