The popularity of essential oils and other elements like oregano and chili powders is on the upswing. They certainly seem like a hipster thing to have in your medicine cabinet these days. Interest in essential oils has revived in recent decades with the popularity of aromatherapy, but do they really work?

An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. They can be used in perfumes, cosmetics and flavorings.

They’ve also been used medicinally throughout history to heal a variety of common ailments (I still rely upon more traditional medicine when I’m sick). An even more non-conventional/although not as well-known use is in animal feed.  Our sows (momma pigs) eat essential oils, oregano and chili powders daily and we have seen an improvement in their overall wellbeing, appetite and immunity.  Because of the improvement in the pigs’ general wellbeing, we have seen opportunities to reduce the use of antibiotics.

Twelve months ago, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) was spreading rapidly throughout pig farms and causing a drastic impact on pork supply and prices at the meat counter. The PEDv virus would most aggressively affect suckling piglets (baby pigs still drinking solely milk). They saw near 100 percent rates of mortality. For farmers like me, pigs are our livelihood, our passion and how we provide for our families. Essentially, if we are not raising and taking care of our animals well, we couldn’t put food on our families’ plates. Keeping our animals comfortable, well-fed and safe from predators and diseases not only makes sense as animal caretakers, but also financially.

We will not quickly forget Valentine’s Day 2014. It’s the day that PEDv was first identified in one of our pig barns. We raise and grow our pigs for markets less than one mile away from where our sows are raising their piglets. As we were learning more about the disease and how to recover, we began using a pig feed ingredient that contained essential oils, oregano and chili powder, along with other all-natural, organically-derived ingredients.

With the boost in immunity that we have seen on our farm, we have experienced fewer sows exhibiting signs of sickness as well as reduced instances of lameness (arthritis-like symptoms). This feed also helps our animals when the temperatures begin to rise in the summer. Essential oils are well known for their aromatic effect and our pig barn is no exception when it’s feeding time. The combination of essential oils, oregano and chili powder provides a scent of Italian zest and closely resembles the scents and smells of a pizzeria!

We closely follow the best practices set forth by the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus certification and adhere to the We Care Ethical Principles. Certifications such as these help us continually improve how we are taking care of our animals and do our jobs better.

We pig farmers made a commitment to eliminating the use of antibiotics for growth promotion (FDA Guidance 209 and 213). Though there has been no link to human resistance resulting from the use of antibiotics in animals, pig farmers are committed to doing their part to reduce the use of antibiotics.

We are always looking for ways to improve our animals’ wellbeing, and essential oils, oreganos and chili powder have become a big part of how we decrease the use of antibiotics.