Gut Health In Pigs
With the push to eliminate antibiotic growth promoters, hog producers are focusing on gut health early in a pig’s life to manage disease. The gut has a significant role in a pig’s immune system because of its direct exposure to everything the animal consumes including pathogens, toxins, nutrients, and beneficial bacteria. The function of the gut is to absorb nutrients, keep the animal hydrated, and deliver an immune response to clear out the nasty stuff.
Chris Sievers is a veterinarian with the Swine Vet Center in Minnesota. He says the intestinal system is a complex environment.
"There’s a lot of microorganisms, bacteria. It’s a colony, and how in balance is that living? A healthy gut is a gut that’s in balance and has healthy gut bugs if you would, versus pathogenic ones," says Sievers.
Early on in a pig’s development, the surface area of the intestine doubles within the first 10 days of life. The intestine also contains 50% of the pig’s immune cells. An obvious indicator of disease or reduced intestinal function is diarrhea.
It’s harder to quantify a healthy gut, but the best way to encourage it is the right nutrition and eliminating stressors in the environment.
"Stress is the other piece that can really affect that in terms of cold stress or other disease pressure that can affect how that gut is in balance," says Sievers. "So if we can keep that gut in balance, the pig’s healthier, it can perform for us at the level that we want him to."
Maintaining an animal’s healthy digestive system isn’t a one-time deal, it’s a continuous process throughout their lives.