In recent years, there has been a remarkable global surge in demand for animal-friendly production methods. Animal welfare organizations, food retailers and conscious consumers are united in their call for effective solutions to enhance the well-being of animals. While efforts to address this issue have often focused on production systems and management, it is important to recognize that there are multiple avenues through which animal welfare can be improved. These include breeding, transport, medication and, perhaps most crucially, feeding. By investing in these areas, we can simultaneously enhance animal welfare and profitability. One promising approach that addresses both concerns is the use of phytogenic feed additives.
For many years, antibiotics were the go-to solution in livestock production in numerous countries, as they were believed to be the key to ensuring profitability in animal production. Their use in animal feed seemingly led to positive results by suppressing negative environmental factors and increasing production. This desired effect has become less and less apparent in recent years, and it is also getting clearer that this approach is not sustainable. On the contrary, years of use of antibiotic growth promoters have given rise to a danger that threatens not only animals but also us humans: resistance. There are now numerous studies showing that the overuse of antibiotics in animal production can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which can be transmitted to humans through the food chain. This escalating issue poses a serious threat to the entire production chain, warranting a reassessment of our strategies. In recent years, many countries have taken steps to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal production, such as banning antibiotic growth promoters, introducing regulations to limit their use and developing guidelines for responsible use. Wherever we have a choice, we must resort to alternatives to reduce the selection pressure for antibiotic resistance and maintain the effectiveness of antibiotics in both human and veterinary medicine. In addition, it also improves animal health and food safety.
The multifaceted benefits of phytogenics
In modern agriculture, the focus on animal health and welfare is not merely a passing trend but a crucial ethical and economic imperative. All stakeholders in the food value chain, including suppliers, retailers, and consumers, recognize the significance of this issue. Given that feeding is the very first link in the production chain, it makes logical sense to intervene at this level to improve animal welfare. Extensive research has demonstrated that feed additives can play a pivotal role in this domain, with phytogenic substances leading the way. These natural compounds derived from plants have shown immense promise, with numerous studies indicating their ability to effectively replace antibiotics in many regards, especially when it comes to improving feed conversion, body weight, overall performance and, key to it all, gut health. By doing so, phytogenics can not only help to prevent bacterial resistances but also enhance safety and animal welfare.
Phytogenics offer a broad spectrum of activities and benefits. It all depends on their components. Specific phytogenic feed additives have been shown to improve feed digestibility, maximising the efficiency of available resources and increasing productivity. At the same time, some phytogenic additives cause an improvement in the gut microflora. A healthy gastrointestinal tract improves litter quality, reduces emissions and minimises the need for antibiotics. Above all, it increases animal growth and performance – and both humans and animals benefit from this..
Establishing the impact of phytogenic additives
At Dr. Eckel Animal Nutrition, one of the leading specialists for phytogenic feed additives, we leverage the power of phytogenics. Our strategy of promoting animal welfare through improved nutrition has been validated by the success of our range of products which are indicated by our ‘Animal Welfare Inside’ seal. These phytogenic feed additives have been specifically developed to enhance animal welfare, provide viable solutions that alleviate stress-related problems, reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and ultimately improve animal performance. Among the portfolio, one phytogenic complex stands out as an exemplary product. This phytogenic formulation by the name of Anta®Phyt contains carefully selected hop components and other plant-based ingredients. Hops have been utilized in medicine for thousands of years and are a key ingredient in beer production due to their flavour, antimicrobial properties and preservative effects. These remarkable plants contain specific phytochemicals that have structures similar to ionophores – molecules known to increase the permeability of cell membranes to ions. As a result, they inhibit the growth of gram-positive bacteria, presenting a promising natural alternative to antibiotics in animal feed.
Anta®Phyt is really a game-changer when it comes to reducing the use of antibiotics in animal production while ensuring animal welfare and performance. Its impact can be observed across multiple dimensions, including reduced Clostridium levels in poultry, decreased Streptococci counts in pigs, and lower populations of pH-lowering lactic acid bacteria in ruminants. These benefits are evident in all animal species, highlighting the versatile nature of this phytogenic feed additive. Poultry reared with Anta®Phyt experience drier litter, fewer footpad lesions, reduced instances of diarrhoea and improved feed conversion. In the case of ruminants, the benefits extend to a decreased susceptibility to subacute ruminal acidosis and a reduction in somatic cell count in milk. The antibacterial effect of Anta®Phyt has been demonstrated in standardized in-vitro tests, showcasing its efficacy against common pathogens found in livestock production, including Staphylococci, Streptococci, Campylobacter and Clostridia. And on top, Anta®Phyt has been extensively studied and shown to have a positive influence on performance parameters such as daily weight gain, feed conversion and various animal welfare-related indicators.
These effects were also seen, for example, in a trial with piglets. The aim here was to achieve a reduction in medication (Fig. 1). The results showed that this reduction is indeed possible. With Anta®Phyt, medication costs were significantly lower compared to both the negative control and the positive control (MCFAs and essential oils). Figure 1 illustrates the differences in medication costs (NC: 27 €, PC: 24 €, PA: 18 €) and number of treatments (NC: 40, PC: 32, PA: 25) between the groups. This is consistent with the numerically lower mortality rate in the PA group (NC: 3.7 %, PC: 1.4 %, PA: 1.3 %).
In addition, Anta®Phyt administration increased daily weight gain (49d; NC: 434 g, PC: 460 g, PA: 466 g; p < 0.05) and supported the improvement in FCR shown in figure 2 (NC: 1:1.54, PC: 1:1.52, PA: 1:1.52).
The promise of phytogenic additives
The remarkable potential of phytogenic additives goes far beyond improving animal welfare and performance. Phytogenic additives make our food healthier and safer, help prevent resistance and enable production that is more environmentally sound, sustainable and profitable at the same time. Every day, more evidence and experience confirms the positive effects of these additives when used in the right combinations.
With phytogenic feed additives, we have a powerful solution at our hands to address the challenges that the animal nutrition industry is facing. By harnessing the natural power of plants, we can improve animal welfare and increase profitability. We can address the urgent need to move away from antibiotics and tackle the key challenges of modern production in a sustainable, healthy yet profitable way. The further we explore the multiple benefits of phytogenics, the clearer it becomes that these green powerhouses offer a sustainable and effective approach to animal nutrition that benefits animals, producers and consumers alike.