One year without zinc: Reflections on the journey

Published: 2023-06-28

In the process of weaning without medical zinc oxide, there was an intense focus on which feed ingredients could be used, which management solutions should be applied, etc. to have a successful weaning. Meetings and conferences have been held to discuss solutions and present results.

In Vilomix we work with vitamin and minerals as a premix company and early on we were aware that there would be no 1:1 solution to replace zinc oxide.

Pig Progress has interviewed Kristina Sørensen, Product Manager at Vilomix about what knowledge we have gained during weaning without medical zinc. An article has been published in Pig Progress based on the interview. 

In the article, Kristina talks about how Vilomix put together a project with focus on what kind of adjustments should be done in piglet feeding without medical zinc oxide, while still maintaining a focus on health and hygiene in production. In the project Vilomix nutritionists gained a lot of experience and knowledge along with our customers.

Some of the results from the project can be seen in the table below.

Table 1 - Results of a feeding concept* covering both prestarters and concentrates for suckling and weaning pigs, including all learnings from the project. These feeds have been tested at 6 farms.
* Feeding concept included e.g. Pigi Gentle Plasma (a prestarter) and Pigi Power Yoghurt (a concentrate), both by Vilomix. ** Tested for 6 months. *** 2 farms were struggling with Streptococcus in the test period.

Focusing on a broad approach replacing zinc oxide

In the article in Pig Progress, Kristina explains that some Danish pig producers made the adjustments better than others. As a group they were in general well-equipped to make the changes compared to pig producers in many other countries, which may be due to the fact that the Danish pig industry has gained significant experience back since the year 2000 phasing out the use of in-feed antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention.

Right now, Streptococcus – which seems to have been suppressed effectively with zinc oxide – seems to be an increasing problem at Danish farms. Unfortunately, there is a tendency towards an increasing consumption of antibiotics nationwide. Even the best farm will have occasional gastrointestinal problems. However, it is important to determine whether it is pathogen- or feed-induced.

A simple strategy to phase out zinc oxide

A Danish pig producer from the farm Sofiesminde maintains a simple strategy for his pig production, which has proven to be stable and of high quality without the use of medical zinc oxide.

Sofiesminde produces 39,000 piglets per year, the majority of which are sold to a regular buyer, while the remaining 6-7,000 are made ready for slaughter. His herd is disease-free and he produces high-quality feed on his own.

To maintain the excellent quality, a focus on quality feed, individual blending ratios, as well as a big focus on washing and disinfection have managed to keep the feed consumption low in the weaning unit. He also managed to minimize the number of dead piglets. A "gentle" weaning process has ensured a strong and healthy herd. Additionally, he highlights the importance of having fresh perspectives on the piglets, as it enhances motivation and also makes you learn new ways of doing things.

Can we keep a high performance without zinc oxide?

We can conclude that it is indeed possible to maintain a strong and healthy herd if you take a broad approach to replacing medical zinc oxide. In the article in Pig Progress, Kristina outlines 5 tips that can help the transition:

  1. Barn hygiene is critical. It is important to ensure a thorough cleaning, disinfection and proper drying of the barn prior to the arrival of piglets. The drying process holds immense significance. If the farmer rushes through the cleaning and leaves the barn somewhat damp and cold and increases the heat upon the piglets' arrival, the surviving of bacteria will proliferate, which isn't good for the health of the piglets.
  2. Attention to protein source. To support a proper maturation of the gastrointestinal tract, the feed should be of high quality and easily digestible. Blood plasma, skimmed milk powder, potato protein and soy protein with the lowest ANF content (for example HP300, Vilosoy, etc) are great sources of protein for the little pig.
  3. Immediate and continued feeding​. Piglets experience some stress as a result of as they are mixed with piglets from other litters and exposed to different microbial environment. They may fight to find their place in the new hierarchy and besides, they do not have the sow's encouragement to come and eat. Hand-feeding and providing small portions are necessary to stimulate them to eat. This means that curiosity is important. It is crucial to make every effort to get them to eat immediately after weaning. The most successful herds are those that have a dedicated person for piglet management.
  1. The use of additives are important ingredients in the feed ration. They can contribute to supporting the development of the intestine and digestion of the feed and provide good productivity. In general incorporation of medium-chain fatty acids, and organic acids is recommended in the feed along with vitamins, minerals and probiotics. These additives can also be included in the water to support optimal piglet health and performance. It is also worth looking into a fibre source, because it promotes the proliferation of beneficial bacteria and enhance the intestinal barrier effect.
  2. The bigger picture (sows). Achieving best practices involves providing a tailored combination of essential elements that supports the piglets at each stage, taking into account the specific circumstances of the farm. The sow, along with proper sow care and effective management of the farrowing unit, plays crucial roles in ensuring successful weaning outcomes.

If you are facing challenges in your herd regarding the absence of medical zinc oxide, we recommend following these 5 tips for a successful weaning process. 

Read the interview with Kristina in Pig Progress or read Palle Eriksens' strategy
for a great weaning without zinc oxide

 A »Gentle«
start-up in the weaning unit

Read about a Danish farmers experience with implementing a concentrate from Vilomix. Pigs are growing well on a low-protein feed that is high in fiber, but the phasing out of zinc had initially a negative impact in ADG costs and an increased feed consumption in the piglets at Sofiesminde in Aalestrup. 

5 considerations for weaning without
zinc oxide

Dive into this interview of Kristina Sørensen, written by Pig Progress. The article focuses on minus zinc in the weaning phase and the use of Vilomix' feed concepts, which include both starter feed and concentrates.

All about zinc free weaning

The weaning period is one of the most challenging periods in the life of pigs, associated with stress, poor growth, and gastrointestinal problems. The solution to this has typically revolved around optimizing feed, but it is now becoming increasingly clear that without the use of zinc, the solution cannot be found in a feed ingredient alone.



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