Alternatives to antibiotics are often seen as too costly. However, in terms of return over investment (ROI) good antibiotic alternatives (ABA) deliver much more than disease management. In healthy flock antibiotics deliver no value but ABA still bring benefits. This applies to all species, but one example is given for reducing therapeutic antibiotic usage in turkey.
A trial was run by a western European turkey integrator for a duration of six month with the aim to reduce antibiotic usage while maintaining turkey health at least at the same level. CLOSTAT® was applied at the first sign of intestinal health challenges. Antibiotic use was decreased between 13 and 51%, depending on the antibiotics required (13% for beta-lactams, 44% for Colistin and 51% for the more expensive group including Tylosin, Doxycycline, Fluoroquinolones, TMPs). Despite these reductions incidences of diseases requiring treatment (e. g. colibacillosis) decreased between 34-38%. The replacement had a ROI of >3 for the integrator.
Antibiotics or other substances with anti-microbial effects such as zinc oxide are applied regularly in livestock production. While the EU has banned antibiotics applied as growth promoters (AGP) they are still regularly used for therapeutic reasons or in meta-phylaxis. Antibiotics will be used in livestock for the foreseeable future. Their use continues for economic reasons, rather than treating a group of animals for mortality risks. But even outside farm economics, animal welfare concerns would make treating sick animals a requirement. Within the needed use there are large variations in amounts used according to species and even country. It has been reported by different sources that some countries use 80x more Colistin in their swine production (per kilo produced), than for example Denmark (Fig 1).
Fig. 1 Antibiotic use by class and country 2016 (source October 2017/ Seventh ESVAC report-EMA/ European Union)
The cost for treatment with antibiotics is generally seen low, around 1-2€ cents per bird, particularly in poultry as they can conveniently be given via the water supply. This only covers a part of the real costs. Water lines must be cleaned prior to applying the antibiotic, to avoid clogging in the drinking lines. Application also requires labour time, how much depending on species and husbandry system. But even after application antibiotics still cause costs. It is well known to humans that after antibiotic treatment the intestinal microbiome is often severely disturbed, leading to diarrhoea and overall dysbiosis. While these effects usually resolve without further treatment in humans, in livestock they certainly cost feed efficiency.
Many of the alternatives applied for replacing antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) can also be used in programs to reduce the need to treat with antibiotics.
Active microbials modulate the micro flora, slow release butyrates have a positive effect on intestinal integrity. Particularly in piglets, slow release organic acids have shown positive effects on intestinal health from weaning. These are often combined with essential oils for maximum effect. In young animals, which in all species require most antibiotic treatments, supporting the immune response is beneficial to avoid the need of treating with antibiotics. However most of those alternatives are more expensive per ton of feed than just treating with an antibiotic. Unlike antibiotics for an optimal effect it may be required to apply more than one of them further increasing the cost per ton of feed. In the eyes of the farmer and feed miller antibiotic reduction programs therefore mean one thing: A cost without rewards in terms of higher sales prices.
Return over investment is easily calculated for antibiotics, cost of treatment over anticipated return due to reduced morbidity and mortality. Treatment in healthy livestock or flocks brings a negative ROI as the cost for the treatment bring no additional benefit.
If chosen well and applied correctly in many cases an antibiotic alternative should bring return over investment of at least 1, so that the higher application cost compared to antibiotics is of no concern.
What happens if an encapsulated butyrate (ButiPEARL™) is applied to a healthy flock of birds? Feed conversion improved due to the increase of surface for nutrient absorption, this alone has shown to have an ROI of >3.
What happens if an encapsulated acidifier with functional flavours (FormaXOL™) is given to piglets? Buffering capacity of the feed can be reduced as encapsulated calcium does not have a buffering effect in feed, and diarrhoea risk is reduced. This will have an ROI >3, the exact number depending on the level of challenge and litter size.
What happens if a probiotic (CLOSTAT®) stabilises the intestinal flora of an animal? The animals will be more resistant to intestinal pathogens of all types (i.e. Clostridia). In trials this has shown to reduce the need for therapeutic antibiotics by up to up to 50%, leading to an ROI of 5 from the saving on antimicrobials alone.
What happens when an immune modulator (Aleta™) is given to sows 2 weeks before farrowing and during lactation? More passive immunity is transferred to the piglet via the colostrum, resulting in decreased preweaning mortality with an average of one additional weaned piglet per litter. One additional piglet translates to a ROI of 7 under current European production conditions.
When antibiotics are used, the intestinal microbiome becomes unbalanced, taking on a mortgage towards future intestinal health of the animal. Therefore, while they are sometimes cheap, reliable, and easy to use, in the longer term they bring economic risks.
Good antibiotic alternatives clearly succeed when looking at farm economics compared to antibiotic use. They bring ROI even in healthy flocks or herds. Additionally, better health has positive impact on feed conversion and uniformity across all species, something therapeutic antibiotics certainly do not deliver.
Now is the time to act and replace all antibiotics possible, regardless of the legal need to do so.
The strong consumer demand for “NAE” meat (Meat produced without any treatment of antibiotics during the whole cycle) is daily.