Fighting Antibiotic Resistance: a Plant to Reduce Diarrhoea in Piglets

Alternatives to antibiotics must be found to combat antibiotic resistance in animal production. The forage plant sainfoin reduces postweaning diarrhoea in piglets, thus reducing the need for antibiotic treatment.

Diarrhoea in piglets is a problem affecting pig farms worldwide. It occurs after weaning, a major traumatising event in a piglet’s life. Separated from its mother, deprived of maternal antibodies, it must adjust to a new feed, to new gastrointestinal flora, and sometimes to pathogens that challenge its digestive tract. In addition, the piglet is in a new environment, with new conspecifics. All these changes weaken the animal, which often develops diarrhoea, usually within ten days of weaning. Although the etiology of the diarrhoea is not always infectious, the most common pathogenic agent is an enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). Post-weaning diarrhoea generates economic losses not only due to the cost of the medication used in its treatment, but also due to piglet mortality.

Fighting Antibiotic Resistance

Postweaning diarrhoea is usually treated with antibiotics. This strategy, which appears to be the most practical one, is nevertheless only a short-term solution. With the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health, it is essential to discover alternative treatments, particularly in animal production. Optimising piglet feed also constitutes a solution for limiting the occurrence of postweaning diarrhoea. As demonstrated previously by Girard et al. (2018), chestnut tannins can reduce the severity of diarrhoea and avoid the need for antibiotic treatment. Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifoli) is also a tannin-rich fodder and easily be grown in Switzerland.

Agroscope researchers conducted an experiment on twenty piglets to assess the efficacy of sainfoin in reducing postweaning diarrhoea. Piglets were assigned to two groups of ten individuals each. The first group was fed a standard feed formulated according to Swiss recommendations, whilst the second group was given a feed containing 12.6% sainfoin. Four days after weaning, all of the piglets were infected orally with a strain of ETEC. The sainfoin significantly reduced the severity and duration of the diarrhoea, enabling the complete avoidance of antibiotic treatment.


Girard M., Thanner S., Pradervand N., Hu D., Ollagnier C. & Bee G., 2018. Hydrolysable chestnut tannins for reduction of postweaning diarrhea: Efficacy on an experimental ETEC F4 model. PLOS ONE 13 (5), e0197878.


  • Tannins are widely recognised for their antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
  • 12.6% sainfoin (which is rich in tannins) added to the feed of weaned piglets reduces postweaning diarrhoea caused by an ETEC infection.
  • Sainfoin should be considered as an effective bioactive compound when formulating a feed to reduce postweaning diarrhoea.

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