May 2015: What’s so great about medicated feed anyway?

It may not be a popular view, but I’m not a fan of in-feed medication. It adds complications all along the line, from the feed mill to the pig unit, and is a pretty brunt instrument for the accurate treatment of pigs.

My initial view was formed about two years ago when a wise industry insider explained to me that this system of delivering antibiotics just wasn’t sustainable, and would come under increased scrutiny if the industry was ever called on to account for antimicrobial use.

The main concern was based on the physics of how medicated feed actually makes its way out of the feed bin. Unless you have a dedicated bin for medicated feed, the likelihood is that subsequent batches of feed added to the bin will carry low levels of antibiotic to the pigs at non-therapeutic levels that promote the formation of resistance. As it turns out, these “carry-over” levels are central to the current debate on medicated feed use.

The UK remains one of the few major EU pig producers that still allows in-feed medication. Visit the Netherlands and it’s completely unknown as the feed mills dismissed the whole idea as unworkable some time ago – and not just because of the regulatory aspects; mixing relatively small batches of feed and the cleaning required for the mills and delivery trucks between batches made the whole process uneconomic.

But there is a better way to deliver medication to large batches of pigs, and that’s in their drinking water – and it’s not just me saying that. This is such a topical issue that the Irish Pig Health Society invited a Dutch speaker to talk about water soluble delivery systems at its 2015 Symposium.

The sophistication of the systems that are now available is mind blowing. Admittedly they’re much easier to install in a new-build situation, but the technology is available to install systems that allow water dosed with medication down to individual pen level.

Additional benefits include the ability to start treatment – once the medicine’s on the farm, it’s just a case of turning the dosing pump on – and, just as importantly, it’s just as quick to end the treatment.
Of course many UK farms are already reaping the benefits of in-water medication. These include a BQP finishing unit I visited for this issue where owner Paul Howland was delighted with ease-of-use and convenience of the system.

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About The Author

Graeme Kirk has been editor of Pig World since March 2013. Born into a farming family in South-west Scotland, he’s spent his career in agricultural journalism.