Benefits of Feeding Plant Extracts to Sick Pigs Observed

With consumer concerns about bacterial resistance to antibiotics prompting the swine industry to look for additional methods to protect the health of pigs - including special feed additives - a University of Illinois researcher has explored the potential benefits of selected plant extracts. Two experiments were conducted to test the effects of adding plant extracts to pig diets to combat PRRS - porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome - and E. coli. Researchers used four diets in weanling pigs - including a control diet and three additional diets that included garlic botanical extracted from garlic, turmeric oleoresin extracted from ginger or capsicum oleoresin from pepper. Half of the pigs in each dietary treatment were challenged with either E. coli or PRRS virus - with the other half non-challenged. Feeding plant extracts reduced the inflammation caused by E. coli and the PRRS virus. Researcher James Pettigrew says inflammation in production animals is costly. He notes it reduces feed intake and diverts nutrients away from growth to the immune system. Bringing that quickly back down to normal after a challenge - he says - would help in production.

Speaking specifically about the two studies - Pettigrew says the pigs in the study challenged with E. coli that were fed any of the three plant extracts had a lower frequency of diarrhea than the pigs fed the control diet; were more efficient in feed use that those fed the control diet; and had sounder gut morphology compared with pigs fed the control diet. The doctoral student who led the studies adds that even the pigs in the non-challenged group benefitted from the plant extracts. Pigs challenged with PRRS - when fed the three plant extracts - were more efficient in week one and week two than those fed the control diet. The pigs also continued eating and gaining weight. This was especially true with turmeric. The pigs fed plant extracts had a lower blood viral load and lower concentrations of inflammatory mediators than pigs fed the control diet as well. The observations suggest feeding plant extracts could suppress ongoing inflammation and prevent secondary infections.

According to Pettigrew - the low concentration of extracts used - while still producing beneficial results - set this study apart. The researchers will continue to study the mechanisms behind the beneficial effects observed - including conducting gene expression studies. The goal is to see the big picture of how the plant extracts affected the challenged and non-challenged pigs.

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