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13 tips for rearing healthier, more profitable pigs with fewer antibiotics

It’s a fact of life that where there’s livestock, there’s disease, and on occasion antibiotics will have to be used to maintain animals’ health and welfare.

But controlling and limiting the amount of antibiotics on a farm doesn’t have to be to the detriment of a herd’s overall health — and can, in fact, lead to a more profitable and sustainable business.

Paul Thompson, BA, VetMB, MRCVS, of Garth Pig Practice in East Yorkshire, says pig producers are making positive steps to reduce the amount of antibiotics they’re administering to their animals.

But the next step has to be for producers to refine their use further by taking a closer look at how systems can be improved and how individual animals are treated once they become sick.

“We are always going to have some sick animals; it doesn’t matter whether you have one or 50,000 on your farm,” he said at the Pig and Poultry Fair in Warwickshire, UK (15 May).

“What’s critical is that animals are not left to suffer and are treated with as little as possible but as much as is necessary.”

While there isn’t one simple solution to suit every farm, Thompson says focusing on production detail has to be the next stage in improving herd health — ultimately reducing the need for antibiotics and creating healthier, more profitable pigs in the process.

Here, he lists the 13 areas pig producers should examine if they’re to take the next steps in controlling antibiotic use:

1. Stockmanship and training

Responsible use of antibiotics — and making sure they are administered properly — relies on having staff who are properly trained.

“A good stockman can make a bad system work well, while you can have a good system be ruined by a bad stockman,” Thompson says. “It’s critical to get that right.”

2. Pig flows

Peaks and troughs in production are difficult to manage: Too few animals creates uneconomical systems, while too many leads to compromised barn space which can lead to health issues. Meanwhile, failure to turn over sows often enough can lead to health challenges.

“Parity drifts and you suddenly get to the point where you have to rectify it by pushing extra gilts into the system,” Thompson says. “They don’t have the same level of immunity protection, so you have offspring coming through which have poor immunity.”

3. Replacement policy

Having a stable flow and good replacement rates is hugely important. If replacements are being brought on farm, veterinarian-to-veterinarian conversations between the two herds can help ensure a disease isn’t being inadvertently brought onto a farm.

All-in/all-out management is also fundamental, Thompson says. “Disease cycles from older to younger pigs, so it’s important to think about cross-fostering and repeated fostering back and forth.

“There will be a point where you have to decide whether to compromise the pig, euthanize it or take it out of the system to hand-raise it — something which can be uneconomical.”

4. Vaccination

Understanding the diseases and strains circulating on farm is key to administering appropriate vaccines — which might require extensive laboratory investigations.

“We shouldn’t be reaching for a random antibiotic when animals are ill; we should be doing investigations around sensitivity patterns, especially if we are using critical antibiotics,” Thompson says.

Understanding what diseases are present will also give producers the confidence not to reach for antibiotics unnecessarily, he adds.

5. Disinfection

Disinfecting pens — and using the right concentrations of disinfectant — is important in maintaining herd health. It’s also worth remembering that drying is one of the most effective ways of killing bacteria, so where possible give pens time to dry out before the next batch of pigs is moved in.

6. Sourcing finishers

 When managing finisher flows, producers should aim to use single sources, Thompson says. Subtle differences between herd immunity mean multi-source finishing can lead to increased health challenges and the need to use antibiotics.

 7. Gilt integrations

 Gilts provide the lowest immunity to their offspring, so giving them appropriate integration and vaccination is important.

“There’s evidence coming out that the enzootic pneumonic (EP) load of finisher pigs is linked to EP load in weaning, and a lot of infection spreads from sows and gilts to piglets when they are born,” Thompson says.

“Gilts excrete EP for 200 days after infection, and if you bring in an EP-shedding gilt at the point of service, it’s likely they will still be shedding at farrowing. This makes vaccination critical.”

8. Nutrition

Getting the nutrients right in feed is critical, but optimizing nutrition starts from birth, Thompson explains.

“Colostrum intake is vital and is one of the big issues now that we are seeing litter sizes becoming larger,” he says. “All of those animals need to suckle colostrum to survive, so looking at measures that address that such as split suckling is important.”

9. Ventilation

“Modern housing systems are increasingly complex, and we frequently see that people don’t get the best from them by getting ventilation wrong,” Thompson says.

“One problem we see is building companies install ventilation systems and teach one person how to use it, but if that person leaves, people will alter the controls without understanding them, and then you start to get problems in the herd.”

10. Batching

Batching is a useful way of separating age groups and reducing the spread of disease, Thompson says.

“People typically do 3-week batching, but increasingly we are asking them to try 5 weeks. It gives them even better separation.

“The concept is if most disease is transmitted from older to younger animals, then leaving a longer gap means most of the shedding will have stopped by the time the next batch comes up behind, so the disease dies out on the farm.”

11. Partial and total restocking

In cases where the level of disease is incredibly high, it can be more economical to do a partial or full restock.

“A partial restock will obviously require antibiotics, but it will give a significant disease reduction,” Thompson says. “We have done this several times where we know the farm is going to get pneumonia, but we can demonstrate an economic return and reduction in antibiotic use even after it’s been carried out.”

12. Targeted antibiotic administration

At some point, it’s undoubtable that some pigs will get sick and require antibiotic treatment. However, having systems in place to ensure only the animals that need treatment actually receive it is important.

“It’s cheaper to inject a few rather than blanket medication, so profitable rearing of pigs without antibiotics isn’t just about improving things from a health point of view — it’s also sound economic sense,” Thompson says.

“We need stockmen who are skilled at identifying sick pigs and going in to treat them, and what doses are needed. If you use water medication, think if you can target medication,” he adds. “I recommend second water lines to target the pens that need it.”

13. Health reviews

Regular health reviews with veterinarians enable producers to look at antibiotic use and identify where it can be reduced.

“Logging antibiotic use through an electronic medicines book can indicate where there might be problems or spot where using them might be a habit we can change,” Thompson says.




Posted on September 17, 2018


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