One of the top technology options to watch as Canada shifts to new rules Dec. 1, 2018


A NEW era of swine production is taking shape as producers and the broader industry adjust to new rules, expectations and opportunities for how pigs are raised.

New science-driven, bio-based feed additive options have become a major focus, and one of the areas of innovation gaining attention is medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) technology.

MCFAs offer a fresh approach to enhancing swine diets and supporting integrated swine management strategies designed to optimize animal health and performance across all key phases of production, including transportation.

This technology is well established in Europe, where it has helped production systems sustain or optimize animal wellness and performance while they successfully transition toward a reduction or removal of the use of antibiotics.

However, while MCFAs have seen major gains in adoption in North America in recent years, the understanding of the role this technology plays and its potential benefi ts are still relatively new to many across the industry, despite a steadily growing body of science.

This science has developed the latest generation MCFA options, and there is rising interest in exploring more MCFA capabilities to benefit the swine herd, support productivity and expand the toolbox for the next generation of swine production.

As announced at the 2018 World Pork Expo in June, producers and swine industry companies now have the opportunity to ensure sustained, full life-cycle programs utilizing MCFA technology throughout all critical phases of production and movement of animals, including pigs enduring cross-border transportation between Canada and the U.S. This is due to the complementary nature of the latest-generation MCFA options now available in each country.


Five fundamentals

What, ultimately, is the future potential of MCFAs as part of the North American swine production toolbox? The MCFA story on this continent is still in the early stages of being written, with important new chapters coming in the weeks and months ahead as broadening adoption and ongoing science continually improve knowledge and strategies.

Here is an updated recap of five important fundamentals to consider regarding MCFA technology, based on the latest current knowledge, as this story continues to unfold:

1. MCFA 101: A unique, bio-based option

MCFAs are a unique form of fatty acids found naturally in a variety of sources as a component of triglycerides. There are four main types of MCFAs: caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid and lauric acid. Although commonly associated with coconut oil, MCFAs are more predominant in other places in nature, such as goat’s milk.

MCFAs have a molecular structure of six, eight, 10 or 12 carbon-length chains, which differentiate them from shortchain fatty acids (fewer than six carbonlengthchains) and long-chain fatty acids (more than 12 carbon-length chains).

This structure affords MCFAs unique mobility and activity in their interaction with and influence upon other molecules and microbes, enabling their capacity for use as a tool for supporting swine production when provided as a feed additive.

The leading type of patented MCFAs used for commercial feed additive purposes, including the latest-generation options available in the U.S. and Canada, are in a form that is unbranched and “free,” with no double bonds or ring structures. This makes them highly maneuverable and active immediately.

2. Opportunity to support gut wellness and morphology

Much of the science and commercial development exploring the benefits of MCFAs for feed additive use has focused on understanding and supporting the capacity of MCFAs as a functional feed ingredient with a role in influencing gut wellness and morphology.

The wellness and morphology of the gastrointestinal tract of swine, which is a highly complex microbial environment influenced by microbes both present and ingested, is increasingly recognized as participating in the overall health and performance of the animals.

The swine gut environment has an impact on the digestibility and absorption of nutrients, influencing everything from feed efficiency to daily gain and other key production parameters. It also has an influence on susceptibility to a variety of stressors that can affect performance and health.

These are challenges that can come in a number of forms, such as from heat or contaminants, for example. Fueled by ongoing science and a growing body of evidence, it is becoming increasingly recognized that, in general, animals achieving a higher plane of optimized gut wellness and morphology are better able to achieve overall wellness and performance.

3. New research-driven progress

In addition to the opportunity for functional feed ingredients such as MCFAs to support a stronger foundation of gut wellness and morphology, research is uncovering new opportunities for these ingredients to help with strategies to specifically address top threats and challenges.

This includes increasing knowledge of how MCFAs support animals during key periods of stress risk, such as periods involving diet change, longdistance transportation or exposure to other wellness challenges.

Supporting gut health assists in a higher plane of overall health for swine, which helps them better maintain weight and avoid stress or wellness loss, thereby protecting, preserving and enhancing value throughout all key phases of production.

In addition, MCFA technology is among the many alternative strategies being tested to support the feed efficiency advantages of medicated feed. It is also gaining broad interest across both the scientific community and the commercial pork production industry as a means to help optimize intrinsic health and wellness at a time when this is increasingly viewed as critical to the success of profitable and sustainable operations.

4. What the science says: Key research insights

Research is continually shedding fresh light on the potential of MCFAs. The following are among the latest key findings from a variety of researchers:

Insights on antibacterial activity. Through multiple publications, a generally accepted mode of action of MCFAs is to diffuse through the cell membrane of bacteria, which degrades the biological activity of the membranes, and then dissociate within the cell, causing a reduction in pH and resulting in collapse/inhibition of the bacteria (Van Immerseel et al., 2004; Messens et al., 2010; Petschow et al., 1998). Published data also have shown that microscopic analyses of bacteria, treated with individual MCFAs, demonstrated evidence of membrane disruption (Kim and Rhee, 2013).

Effective in both swine and poultry. MCFAs have been shown in vivo to be effective in swine and poultry alike. Twan et al. (2010) conducted a trial using the four MCFAs and evaluated the effect on Campylobacter jejuni colonization in broilers. The number of C. jejuni bacteria required to colonize 50% of inoculated broilers was estimated to be 200 times higher in broilers given supplemented feed than unsupplemented broilers.

These results indicate that susceptibility of broilers to campylobacter colonization is lower when given feed supplemented with MCFAs. Other studies have shown that caprylic acid is effective at killing different bacterial pathogens, such as Salmonella enteritidis in chicken cecal contents (Vasudevan et al., 2005) or reducing Salmonella typhimurium colonization in turkey poults (Evans et al., 2017).

PEDV potential. Multiple scientists from Kansas State University and Iowa State University (Cochrane et al., 2017) have established that MCFAs were equally as successful at mitigating porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) in a swine diet as a commercially available formaldehyde product and as individual fatty acids.

Promising swine weaning and digestion findings. An overview of MCFAs in swine (Kay, 2017) indicated that the benefits of MCFAs in weaning pigs have been demonstrated in terms of better growth and feed conversion and that this effect is particularly pronounced in times of challenge. Fewer incidences of diarrhea were reported, and studies have shown that MCFAs can improve the digestion of protein and fiber in piglets.

Optimizing nursery pig performance. Two trials (McManus et al., 2017) performed and presented at the February 2017 American Association of Swine Veterinarians meeting concluded that a commercial product containing patented, activated MCFAs should be considered to help optimize nursery pig performance when pigs are fed diets with or without antibiotics.

Economics from the experimental period (Summer, 2016) indicated that pigs fed this product had similar weight gain and a numerical trend for improved feed efficiency compared with pigs on an antibiotic- free diet — with a savings potential of 45 cents per pig.

Synergistic benefits. A study (Bass et al., 2018) on the efficiency of a proprietary blend of MCFAs and functional components versus a yeast-based product, or their combination, on weaned pig performance concluded that the inclusion of the MCFA blend in nursery diets was the most effective option to support significant growth and performance of weaned pigs in this trial.

European data resulted in patents. Europe, which has been at the forefront of using production alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters for more than a decade, developed research that resulted in key patents (Patents WO2001097799A1 and WO2006002927) regarding the combination and application of MCFA formulations — a critical part of the advancement, capability and acceptance of MCFAs in animal production.

5. Meeting today's needs

The latest research indicates that leading MCFA options are benefi cial in key phases of the swine life cycle and can support production systems regardless of whether or not those systems involve the use of antimicrobials. However, with the shift toward greater restrictions on antimicrobial use and stricter judicious use principles, MCFAs have gained rising attention as a leading option to help producers transition to this new landscape.

Because MCFAs are considered naturally occurring and a bio-based feed additive ingredient, they also fit the type of input increasingly preferred and well accepted in the current and future marketplace.

The opportunity for MCFA technology to support animals through stressors and wellness challenges also makes it a preferred tool in an increasingly animal welfare-conscious environment. The bottom line for producers and industry is that MCFA technology increasingly represents a key option as part of a “new toolbox” for 21stcentury swine production that can help support optimal results with or without the use of antibiotics.


Bass, B., R.A. Dvorak and T.P. Karnezos. 2018. Effect of a proprietary blend of medium chain fatty acids and functional components (OutPace Feed Additive), a yeast-based product, or their combination, on weaned pig performance. J. Anim. Sci. 96(Suppl. 2):151-152.

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Reprinted with permission from Feedstuffs, Sept. 4, 2018 edition "Benefits of incorporating MCFAs into swine diets discussed"