Removing zinc oxide from pig diets

Zinc oxide has been used for many years in the pig industry to reduce diarrhoea in post-weaned pigs. However, as a result of potential risks to the environment and in line with regulations set by the European Union (EU), therapeutic use of zinc oxide was banned across the EU in the summer of 2022.

The UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) granted an extension in the UK, allowing the industry to use up any product purchased before the authorisation expired in June 2022. 

How does zinc oxide affect the gut health of pigs?

A pig with a well-developed gut is less likely to suffer from post-weaning complications, such as diarrhoea.

Reduced post-weaning dips in daily liveweight gain (DLWG) is also reported in piglets with a well-developed gut.  

Practical solutions to manage without zinc oxide

There is no single solution to mitigate the impact of removing zinc oxide from piglet diets. However, iyou can optimise gut health, maintain good biosecurity and manage colostrum effectively, then it is possible to manage the removal of zinc effectively.  

To ensure maximum impact, any mitigations must be made in well-managed environments, with good levels of: 

Any interventions should be made in conjunction with your farm vet and nutritionist.  

Podcast: Removing zinc oxide from pig diets – what are the options?

Video playlist: Practical solutions to manage without zinc oxide

Watch the videos on YouTube

Alternative practice review

Ahead of the ban on zinc supplementation in pigs, we completed a rapid evidence assessment (REA) in conjunction with SAC Commercial Ltd. and the Pig Veterinary Society (PVS).

The review assesses how alternative practices – nutritional changes, management changes, and improving the immune status – impact levels of post-weaning diarrhoea, post-weaning mortality and growth rate.

A plethora of alternatives are out there. The aim of the research was to make sense of them and establish what might work for you on your farm.

Unsurprisingly, there is no single intervention that scores as highly on repeatability or reliability as the use of ZnO at therapeutic levels to control post-weaning diarrhoea. This highlights the need for a multifactorial approach tailored to each farm, where all parties (farmers, vets, nutritionists, advisors, etc.) are involved.

The final report and a return on investment calculator are available on the project page. These provide a thorough review of the financial and time investments needed to convert or implement the alternative practices.

Inert fibres

Inert fibres are added to animal feeds with the specific function of improving gut health. 

Find out how they do this and what you should consider before using them. 

Find out more about inert fibres

Acidification (of feed and water) and fermentation

Acidification and fermentation can be used to reduce or control the disease-causing microbes that enter pigs guts through feed and water. To use these techniques on farm, you will need to make substantial investments.  

This information will provide you with an oversight of the required technology, case studies and key areas to consider. 

Learn more about acidification (of feed and water) and fermentation

Feed additives

Alternative feed additives that support the post-weaning transition are available from a range of suppliers. 

Here we provide some case studies and key areas to consider.

Read about additives that support gut health

Reducing crude protein

Altering the levels of certain nutrients can reduce stress on the developing pig gut.

Research suggests that reducing crude protein levels in weaner diets can lower the degree of post-weaning drops in performance.

All nutrition decisions should be made with a qualified nutritionist.

Useful links

Research: What works without zinc?

Find more information on appropriate nutrition for all pigs

Find more information on the nutrition for the weaned pig

Explore research into reduced crude protein diets (NUTWEAN)