What Dozens of Swine Trials Tell Us about Phytogenics and Profitability

Photo: iStockphoto_agnormark
Photo: iStockphoto_agnormark

Our scientific understanding of the application of phytogenic feeds additives (PFAs) has progressed considerably and continues to do so. At the same time, our practical experience continues to grow. BIOMIN has partnered with many feed and livestock producers to achieve better outcomes through PFA application. The 2017 BIOMIN Phytogenics Feed Additives Survey identified the top reasons why swine professionals use phytogenic feed additives. BIOMIN has conducted more than 60 commercial swine trials with PFAs in operations across the globe. This article highlights some of the most important commercial trials and their results for sows, weaners and finishing pigs.

Sow fertility improvement, reduced culling

While obtaining a complete data set that covers the full productive lifespan of sows is difficult to achieve in practice, commercial results reveal multiple benefits derived from PFA supplementation of sow diets. In trials where Digestarom® was used from day 80-85 of gestation until weaning, or only in the lactation feed, higher sow feed intakes, higher piglet weaning weights (0.25 – 0.7 kg), lower sow body weight losses and shorter wean-toestrus intervals were reported.

In trials where Digestarom® was applied for one or more complete reproductive cycles in gestation and lactation feed, a similar improvement was observed. The most salient result of these long-term trials was the positive influence of Digestarom® on fertility, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Digestarom® improves sow fertility in four long-term commercial trials

Digestarom® improves sow fertility in four long-term commercial trials

The enhancement in fertility combined with an equal or slightly higher number of piglets born results in one to two more piglets weaned per sow per year. Figure 2 highlights results of a trial in a 10,000 head sow unit (two herds with approx. 5,000 sows each) where the fertility enhancement meant less culling for reproductive failures in the Digestarom® herd.

Figure 2. Digestarom® reduces culling through better fertility

 Digestarom® reduces culling through better fertility

The consequent economic benefits of PFA application in sows stems from numerous sources, including enhanced fertility, more piglets weaned per sow per year, enhanced performance persistence and reduced replacement rates. (Read “Maximizing Sow Productivity using Phytogenics - A Nutritional Approach”).

Growth promotion in piglets

Looking across 14 commercial trials conducted in China, USA, Mexico, Russia, Poland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, reveals that using Digestarom® in weaner/ grower feed results in a seven percent improvement in weight gain and more than a three percent improvement in feed conversion, on average (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Average Daily Gain (ADG) and Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) improvement with Digestarom®

Average Daily Gain (ADG) and Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) improvement with Digestarom®

These data have been obtained partly from trials where in-feed antibiotics were compared against phytogenics. (For further discussion of head-to-head comparison of growth promotion of sub-therapeutic antibiotic application vs. PFAs in pig diets, see “Proven Tools to Replace AGPs”).

The ability of Digestarom® to support growth promotion stems from its multi-component mode of action. Scientific trials have shown that Digestarom® enhances the digestibility of feed ingredients, especially of crude protein, by almost 10% (Maenner et al., 2011). The same publication reported a modulating effect on the gut microbiota. Other scientific studies have shown that Digestarom® is capable of reducing inflammatory processes in the gut tissue while also stimulating one of the mayor cell defense mechanisms, the Nrf2 pathway (Gessner et al., 2013).

Combatting scour in piglets

Unspecific diarrhea poses health and performance problems in piglets. Digestarom® P.E.P. liquid is a phytogenic product specifically developed for treating diarrhea in piglets. Trials in South America, Europe and Asia indicate that this phytogenic liquid product used as a preventive application in newborn piglets has the potential to increase weaning weights and to lower pre-weaning mortality as well as the incidence of unspecific diarrhea in piglets, as shown in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1. Adjusted weaning weight for 23 days in nursery

 Adjusted weaning weight for 23 days in nursery

Table 2. Impact on mortality and weaning weight of first parity litters


Performance improvements in finishers

BIOMIN has conducted more than 20 commercial trials of Digestarom® in finisher diets in Asia, Europe and the US, comparing outcomes against (1) diets with no other additives, (2) diets containing antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) and (3) more recently with diets containing Ractopamine. (The latter, while banned for pigs in the EU and parts of Asia, is still permitted in certain areas).

Zootechnical performance parameters like weight gain or feed efficiency were the most commonly observed and recorded parameters. Due to different trial set ups, very different feed ingredients, and great variability in the starting weights, a direct comparison of the trials results is not feasible. Nevertheless, ADG improvements of 3.5% to 9%, and reductions in FCRs of 2% to 6% are comparable with those observed in piglets. In addition to zootechnical parameters, lean meat percentage, carcass characteristics, meat quality and stock uniformity have a major impact on the profitability of pig finishing.

Even with a wide variety of feed ingredients, in different climatic conditions and production technologies, the use of Digestarom® in finishers has demonstrated its economic advantages for the producer, accomplishing an average return on investment of 3 – 7:1.

More lean meat in finishers

Figure 4 shows a commercial trial that included ten Austrian farms in which Digestarom® improved average lean meat percentages by 0.81 points.

Figure 4. Increase in lean meat with Digestarom®

 Increase in lean meat with Digestarom®

Uniformity improvements in finishers

Unfortunately, herd uniformity was not recorded in the majority of the commercial finisher trials. To highlight one particular example where it was observed, Figure 5 shows the results of a commercial trial in Germany where more than 90% of the Digestarom® group were in the highest three weight categories compared to less than 75% in the control group.

Figure 5. Digestarom® improves distribution of weight categories

 Digestarom® improves distribution of weight categories


Although not all standards of scientific trials are met in commercial trials, the importance of the latter in demonstrating the value of PFAs under different production conditions, at different production levels and under different climate conditions should not be underestimated. Commercial trials in pigs at various production stages indicate the value of Digestarom® to swine producers in geographies throughout the world.


Gessner, D. K., Syed, B., Steiner, T. and Eder, K. (2013). Influence of a phytogenic feed additive on inflammatory processes in intestinal cells. In: 5th European Symposium of Porcine Health Management, May 22–24, Edinburgh, UK, p. 145.

Maenner, K., Vahjen, W. and Simon, O. (2011). Studies on the effects of essential-oil-based feed additives on performance, ileal nutrient digestibility, and selected bacterial groups in the gastrointestinal tract of piglets. J. Anim. Sci. 89, p. 2106-2112.