AN amino acid produced naturally in humans, pigs and other species is showing promise as an alternative to antibiotics and growth promoters for piglets.
US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists found that L-glutamine fed to piglets produced positive growth and health effects – an opportune result for the Americans after last year’s Veterinary Feed Directive banning the use of antibiotics in pig diets to promote growth.
Animal scientist Jay Johnson, of the ARS Livestock Behaviour Research Unit in Indiana, says that before the ban, producers used dietary antibiotics to improve the productivity of animals after stressful events such as weaning and transportation.
Johnson and his colleagues investigated L-glutamine as a natural remedy to improve intestinal health of piglets undergoing stress and improve welfare and productivity.
In piglets, stress can reduce immune function and leave the animals more susceptible to disease.
In a study published in the Journal of Animal Science, the ARS team weaned and transported piglets and then fed them a dry-feed diet formulated in three ways – mixed with dietary antibiotics, mixed with L-glutamine, and mixed with no supplements.
Piglets on the L-glutamine diet had better growth and intestinal health than piglets in the other groups. Piglets on the L-glutamine diet ate 60 per cent more food than did those in the other groups.
And piglets that received neither dietary antibiotics nor L-glutamine had increased intestinal damage, reduced growth, and increased behaviours associated with illness compared with piglets given antibiotics or L-glutamine.
ARS has filed a patent application for the technology.