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As part of an interdisciplinary research project, the performance response of sows and their litters to the probiotic strain Enterococcus faecium NCIMB 10415, as well as some health characteristics of the piglets, were studied. Gestating sows (n = 26) were randomly allotted into 2 groups. The probiotic was administered by dietary supplementation to 1 group of sows and their respective litters (probiotic group), whereas the second group (control group) received no probiotic supplementation. The duration of the treatment was nearly 17 wk for sows (d 90 ante partum until d 28 postpartum) and 6 wk for piglets (d 15 to 56). Body weight and feed consumption were recorded weekly. The frequency of 4 toxin and 5 adhesion genes of putative pathogenic Escherichia coli was monitored weekly (d 7 to 35) by multiplex PCR assays, and fecal consistency of weaned piglets was studied daily. Probiotic treatment of lactating sows led to an overall pre-weaning mortality of 16.2% compared with 22.3% in the control group (P = 0.44). Animal losses during the first 3 d of the suckling period were decreased in the probiotic group (P = 0.09). For piglets (n = 153), which were weaned at 28 d, there were no overall treatment differences in BW gain, feed intake, or feed efficiency. Probiotic supplementation, however, led to nearly a 40% reduction (P = 0.012). The actual percentage of piglets with postweaning diarrhea in the probiotic group was 21% compared with 38% in the control group (P = 0.05). The study on virulence factors of dominant fecal E. coli isolates revealed a high diversity with varying frequency and distribution of each single pathogenicity gene. The 440 isolates carried 29 different pathogenicity gene combinations as well as each of the 9 pathogenicity genes alone. Altogether, isolates with more than 2 pathogenicity genes were quite rare (< or = 10%), and up until d 28 isolates without any pathogenicity gene occurred most frequently. Depending on the time of sampling, one-third or more of all isolates contained est2 or est1b as single gene or in combination with other pathogenicity genes.