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Steve Dunkley

Head of Knowledge Exchange (Interim)

AHDB Pork KE

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The impact of weaning age, environment, nutrition and sow parity on piglet performance and microbial diversity

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Research partners: University of Bristol, Rowett Research Institute

Sponsors: Defra, SEERAD, AHDB Pork-funded studentship (Bettina Schmidt) forming part of the Gutwean research

Project duration: 2005-2009 

Aims and objectives

  • To establish whether microbial colonisation in early life can impact on immune competence of the developing pig
  • To investigate the impact of long-term antibiotic use on the mucosal microbiota. 

Findings

  • The findings support the concept of the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ and has identified windows of opportunity during early life when appropriate manipulation of the mucosal microbiota may enhance immune function and natural disease resistance of the host
  • The quality of the microbiota obtained from the environment affects microbial diversity of the adult gut as well as aspects of immune education, function and epithelial defence
  • Prophylactic administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics in early life is not beneficial to the host. 

This study showed that the extensive environment favours the expansion of a natural microbiota which is dominated by lactobacilli. This could aid immune events that are beneficial for the host. On the contrary, an increase in hygiene status (from outdoor to indoor environment to isolation and antibiotic administration) leads to a decrease of lactobacilli in the gut mucosa. 

Further information

Download Thesis  - Characterisation of the Gut Mucosa-Adherent Microbiota: Environmental Influences and Contributions to Immune Development