Recent advances in commercial EU dam genetic lines have led to sows producing more piglets born alive, leading to more finished pigs than ever before. Therefore, the nutritional support required by the modern sow is increasingly important to ensure maximum lifetime performance. Sow feed intake and management during lactation is one fundamental aspect in maintaining optimum performance and with increasing numbers of piglets born alive, the requirement for high quality milk for each piglet is amplified. Meeting such milk requirements can lead to a higher incidence of sow body condition loss and put her under an increasing degree of oxidative stress.
Sows of a prolific nature are more likely to produce piglets with lower birth weights and increased litter variability (Kim et al., 2013). Piglets of low birth weights can struggle to consume sufficient quantities of colostrum and therefore incidence of pre-weaning mortality has risen as litter size continues to increase (AHDB, 2016). Pre-weaning piglet growth performance is directly related to colostrum and milk intake (Declerck et al., 2016), therefore maximising sow intakes and supporting milk production is the most cost-effective method to improve sow and progeny performance.
Ensuring gilts are supported nutritionally and their immune systems are well developed before joining the breeding herd is paramount to lifetime performance. During parity one, the gilt must meet challenging energy requirements for maternal growth and foetal development. There are multiple factors involved in maximising feed intakes during lactation, this includes provision of high quality feed and feed hygiene, as well as ensuring feed palatability and form allowing for adequate voluntary intakes. Flavours and some essential oils can help to increase feed interest and have been shown to provide a benefit to lactation intakes.
How Can Oregano Essential Oil Help?
Oregano essential oil contains many volatile components which are involved in driving voluntary feed intake; two main ones are carvacrol and thymol. The mode of action of natural oregano oil within the animal is complex; however, it has been found to have a role in appetite enhancement and antioxidant function, as well as in both immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory processes. Oregano oil has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on the gut microflora of the sow and her offspring.
Orego-Stim® is a leading high quality, phytogenic based eubiotic, containing 100% natural oregano essential oil on a unique carrier system. It has been developed to help manage intestinal health in livestock by supporting optimum gut integrity and reducing enteric stress. Orego-Stim has been shown to enhance voluntary feed intakes as a result of the positive response it has on pathways responsible for appetite stimulation and digestive enzyme secretion.
Orego-Stim Improves Sow and Progeny Performance
In recent trial work conducted with Nottingham Trent University in 2018, the inclusion of oregano oil in the form of Orego-Stim, within sow diets was shown to enhance retention of sow body condition throughout lactation, resulting in a significantly improved sow body condition score at weaning (Figure 1) (p<0.05). Maintaining body condition score would be expected to improve metabolic status of the sow and can help improve hormone status and conception rates associated with subsequent parities (Tan et al., 2015).
In this study, piglets from sows receiving Orego-Stim had significantly increased body weights and average daily gain at one week of age (Figure 2). It is well documented that increases in pre-weaning growth rate and weaning weights benefit growth performance post-weaning and survivability (Cooper et al., 2001) (Wolter and Ellis, 2001), therefore improving pre-weaning average daily gain can impact lifetime performance.
Orego-Stim Improves Sow and Progeny Gut Health
A well balanced sow microflora will subsequently benefit piglet health and performance as initial microbial colonisation occurs by transfer from the sow at birth, during lactation and possibly during gestation (Leblois et al., 2017). Therefore, early microbial colonisation in young pigs represents a window of opportunity to modulate the mature gut microbiome. The composition of this microbial population has been linked with overall growth performance (Raymayo et al., 2016) and the functionality of the microbiota present has been associated with lifetime feed efficiency (McCormack et al., 2017). An optimum gut microbiome is of paramount importance, especially during weaning. At this time piglets are subjected to a massive variety of stressors which can result in impaired growth performance associated with scours as a result of the post-weaning growth check. Reducing severity and incidence of post-weaning scour can improve piglet health and performance.
Oregano essential oil has been found to have many beneficial effects on gut health and microbial populations in pigs; for example, inclusion of oregano essential oil has been associated with decreased intestinal E. coli populations, most likely as a result of its effect on the promotion of intestinal barrier integrity and immune status (Zou et al., 2016).
Addition of Orego-Stim has been found to provide benefits to sow microbial populations, increasing the abundance of beneficial Lactobacillaceae. Piglet litters supplemented with Orego-Stim have also demonstrated a reduction in the abundance of Enterobacteriacea at weaning compared to litters from control treatments (Figure 3). This could help to reduce the likelihood of bacterial proliferation post-weaning by potentially harmful bacteria (E.coli spp. and Salmonella spp.). The piglets in this study retained a numerical benefit in body weight and showed improved growth performance to 10 weeks of age and finisher weight compared to piglets not receiving Orego-Stim through sow supplementation, highlighting the importance of early microbial colonisation and sow gut health.