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Swine Cluster 4 (2023-2028)

Activity 15 | Animal Health

Altering sow microbiome to promote sow productivity and health and performance of piglets

Project Lead: Frederic Guay, University of Laval

Status: Ongoing

Why is this project important?


There is considerable scrutiny of antibiotic use these days, and much research on how to reduce it. Especially in young piglets, scientists know that the microbiome (the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live in animals and humans) and its development can improve the level of disease resistance and resilience. If researchers can develop a strong microbiome in piglets at birth, there is potential to reduce the use of antibiotics to treat illness over the long term.



What will researchers do?


  • As part of a collaboration among Laval University, the University of Guelph and University of Manitoba, scientists will study the impact of manipulating the sow’s microbiome on the establishment of the microbiome in her piglets.

  • They will then seek to improve resistance and resilience to disease in piglets during the post-weaning period and over the long term.  

  • For the study, researchers will use two herds of sows, one each at The Centre de Développement du Porc du Québec inc. (CDPQ) and University of Guelph.

  • To achieve their objectives, researchers will test various supplements. These include essential oils, probiotics (foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms intended to maintain or improve the "good" bacteria in the body) and postbiotics, which are the waste left behind after the body digests both prebiotics and probiotics.

  • Clearly, research is not all glamour. As part of supplement testing on the sow, which will take place during gestation and lactation, her piglets will have contact with her feces and be inoculated through skin glands and mammary glands. Scientists then examine the feces samples of the sow and piglets at different periods in time and analyze the microbiota to determine what kind of bacteria is present in the sow. That bacterium is ultimately transferred to the piglets, so researchers can identify the best treatments or supplements for the sow that will establish a strong microbiome for the piglets, one that helps them grow and stay healthy.

  • The study will also examine the transfer of the gene responsible for antibiotic resistance between a sow and its piglets. The goal is to determine if supplementation can reduce this transfer from mother to piglets and ultimately lower the use of antibiotics or improve their efficiency in piglets.

  • The project includes E. coli challenges where piglet resistance will be evaluated.



What will be the benefit of this research?


If science can produce piglets with better health, they can reduce mortality in both suckling and weaning piglets. This is critical, as piglet deaths during lactation and the post weaning period currently stand at about 20%. By reducing this to 15% or lower, it would represent 1-3 more piglets per sow per year. Each piglet weaned successfully increases revenue by $50-65 per sow per year, depending on the current market price. In a sector with thin margins, where every dollar saved or gained makes a difference, these numbers are significant.



What has been done so far?


Project preparation is ramping up at Laval University and CDPQ. The first trials with sows begin in the summer or fall of 2024 at the University of Guelph, and researchers expect initial results to be logged in the summer of 2025. Other experiments take place in 2025-26, with analysis of all results to be completed by 2028 (the final year of the project) barring any issues with the health of the sows or piglets in the study.


As is usually the case with research projects, this one is the product of collaboration among several private pork industry partners. Probiotech International is supplying a natural additive to improve the health and performance of sows, while Jefo Nutrition is providing probiotics for use in the study. Other key participants include Cargill, Manitoba Pork Council and six additional partners.



Project status: Currently in progress. Results expected in 2028.




  • Hooman Derakhshani/Co-Leader, University of Manitoba

  • Vahab Farzan, University of Guelph

  • Lee-Anne Huber, University of Guelph

  • Nicole Ricker, University of Guelph

  • Robert Friendship,  University of Guelph

  • Brandon Lillie, University of Guelph

  • Laetitia Cloutier, CDPQ

  • Anthony Vincent, Université Laval

  • Guylaine Talbot, AAFC-Sherbrooke

  • Donald Gilbert, Deschambault Animal Sciences Research Center (CRSAD)

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