Pig industry urged to learn from poultry farmers in bid to cut antibiotic use

Shot of a big pig on a farm

Pig farmers concerned with reducing antibiotic use could learn from practises used in the poultry industry to promote herd health, according to an animal health group.

Targets to slash antibiotic use in farming have been announced, with the pig sector facing the biggest task to reduce out of all the sectors.

A reduction in use of antibiotics in pigs by over 60% between 2015 and 2020 was announced.

Antibiotic reduction is a hot topic right now, following the publication of the new targets.

Overall sales of antibiotics to treat and prevent disease in UK farm livestock have achieved a record low following a 27% reduction over the past two years.

Poultry leads the way

In particular, the poultry industry has made huge developments recently, without compromising on health status.

According to Applied Bacterial Control, applying the same principles to the pig sector could provide answers for livestock producers across the UK.

“While there is pressure from all angles to cut down on antibiotic usage, it’s not simple case of just deciding to not use them,” explained Richard Turner, director at Applied Bacterial Control.

“However, focusing on the microbiome in pigs can be a useful tool in a producer’s armoury to minimise usage.”


The microbiome is the collective name for the microbials that inhabit animals and play a key role in influencing health in livestock.

“While there is still much to be discovered about the microbiome in pigs there is a lot that can be learnt from the work of the poultry industry,” added Mr Turner.

“The key thing we have derived is that the correct balance of bacteria has a direct correlation with improved health status.”

“Good management practises on farm will encourage the development of good bacteria in the pig’s gut – promoting a strong immune system and reducing the need for antibiotics.”

Water management

 Sows are responsible for the transfer of healthy bacteria to piglets during birth – therefore, it’s crucial to carefully manage the rearing environment, warned Mr Turner.
 “Water management is one area to focus on and it’s important to ensure a clean supply and a cleanable water system is in place. As well as this, pig producers should ensure not only that housing is washed down properly but also the correct products are used to ensure all harmful bacteria is removed.”
 The use of probiotics is also a useful tool to avoid antibiotic treatment, in combination with short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) to encourage healthy bacteria in the gut.

“This can reduce the risk of the development of salmonella and E-Coli bacteria and help to promote a healthy gut flora.”


Stress is an often overlooked factor but can seriously impact the well-being of a herd. “One of biggest periods of stress occurs at weaning,” explained Mr Turner.
“Stress often leads to disruption of the gut and more importantly the microbiome.”

While antibiotics are useful as a one-off treatment – with immediate impact on sick animals – it’s important to take a holistic approach to animal health and management, he urged.

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