Researchers around the EU have been studying how sampling saliva from piglets and sows could help farmers to target treatments and reduce anti-microbial resistance among pigs.

The study which is being carried out by researchers at Teagasc, the University of Murcia and the University of Lyon, is focused on how piglet’s rapidly learn to become independent from the sow in the early stages of life. However, it is doing this through a non-invasive approach to avoid inducing distress in the animals.

This is key, as handling a piglet for even one minute for blood sampling can cause so much stress that the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in its blood reaches levels that would kill a human, Edgar Garcia Manzanilla, head of Teagasc’s pig development department said.

The collection of saliva samples is hugely beneficial said Manzanilla, not only is it a non-invasive method of collecting information, but the substance itself can tell researchers a huge amount. He told Agriland:

“Pigs are by nature very curious, they sample everything in their environment, so saliva contains a lot of information.

“We take advantage of that, we have a sponge, we give to them and they chew it, then you have a perfect sample, you just take a glove and squeeze it out.”

Information such as how the environment affects the microbiome of a pig, their intestinal health and their immunity can be gained from these samples, explained Manzanilla, who added that the long-term aim is to get pig farmers doing this type of testing themselves.

“Normally, you would have to call a vet to come on to your farm, collect the blood from the animal and then do the analysis somewhere else. What we are aiming for here is to give these samples to the farmers and they can do it any time they want.

“There is a bunch of pigs going through the farm every week, so they could each week, take one of the sponges, put some of the saliva in a kit that we give them and then they test how well or ill those animals are.”

The analysis of these samples could help farmers to catch illness in their herds earlier than is typically possible and ultimately reduce anti-microbial resistance by targeting treatments more effectively.

“When you are decreasing those treatments or preventing the resistance, it results in an animal that grows better, better quality of life for the animal and you are safeguarding the public health to some extent,” said Manzanilla.

He pointed out that the benefits of using this kind of testing on commercial pig farms will likely transfer into humans, as these animals ultimately end up in the food chain.

“So, it is of benefit beyond the animal itself, the environment is better, the animal is better and the people are better too,” he concluded.

You can watch the interview in full by clicking here.