A scientist at the Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center in College Station, Texas, has come up with an alternative to antimicrobials to control Escherichia coli, a leading cause of sickness and death in newborn and weaned pigs. Each year, the U.S. swine industry loses millions of dollars as a result of bacterial infections in these vulnerable, young animals.
Dr. Roger B. Harvey, a veterinary medical officer in the Food and Feed Safety Research Unit of the Department of Agriculture's ARS, has led an effort to develop a mixed culture of beneficial bacteria that is being referred to as RPCF—for recombined porcine continuous-flow. Scientists think that RPCF might one day eliminate the need for antimicrobial treatments.
His method involves colonizing the intestinal tract of each young pig with a mixture of beneficial bacteria obtained from other pigs. About 35,000 pigs have been tested at four nursery farms and one wean-to-finish operation in five U.S. regions. Those farms had pigs affected with disease caused by the F-18 strain of E coli. So far, the RPCF mixture of beneficial bacteria has been shown to reduce illness, death, and medication costs from E coli infections. Cost benefits to producers from mortality reductions varied, depending on the size of the farm; however, they averaged about $22,000 per farm in the first year of testing.
More about this research can be found in the March 2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, online at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar04/pigs0304.htm.