Is 2016 the year of antibiotic-free products? After a brief look at the supermarket shelves today, many may say yes. Antibiotic-free brands, such as Open Prairie Natural Pork, Applegate Natural & Organic Meats, Farm Promise Pork and Niman Ranch, are popping up in meat counters across the United States.

According to Dr. Tom Gillespie, a veterinarian with Rensselaer Swine Services, this shift in production is likely to grow and stay.

“The movement has finally impacted consumer choices in the grocery stores, and ultimately the societal change has given the opportunity for independent producers and even integrators to respond by raising antibiotic-free pigs to meet this new demand,” said Gillespie.

Since production costs and health challenges can be quite different from conventionally-raised pigs, Gillespie suggests producers’ expectations need to be open to different types of challenges when raising antibiotic-free animals.


“There are numerous risks that can lead to a higher cost of production,” said Gillespie. “In order to address these issues, the producer has to reinforce biosecurity practices and implement a nutritional program that is designed to strengthen the animals’ natural immunity.”

Russell Gilliam, U.S. swine business manager at Alltech, advises his clients to focus on five key areas of production when reducing antibiotic use or making the complete transition:

  1. Educate your team on the health challenges your pigs are most at risk of in antibiotic-free production. Routine monitoring and developing a list of pathogens in a population is vital to the success of an antibiotic-free system.
  2. Re-evaluate your biosecurity. Examine herd flow, cleanliness, transportation and employee traffic.
  3. Establish and implement an effective vaccination program with your veterinarian that supports herd health and safety.
  4. Build a nutritional platform in your pigs’ diet that includes technologies to reduce the risk of pathogens and improve immunity.
  5. Be ready to adapt. Reducing antibiotics or implementing an antibiotic-free program takes time. Observing how these changes impact the animal’s health and production is an important part of this process. Make sure there is room in the plan to make improvements in the process.

Alltech has been pioneering antibiotic-free solutions since 1980.