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Three-step approach for spotting sick sows

A three-pronged approach to observing sows can help identify illness, lower mortality and increase productivity, according to a leading vet.

Bill Minton of Four Star Veterinary Service, Chickasaw, Ohio, said taking a closer look at pigs during farrowing, gestation and lameness can reveal potential problems before they become serious, Pork Network reports.

And by training staff to look and respond to signs of sickness quickly, producers can improve animal well-being and their bottom line in one move.

Farrowing watchfulness

Farm staff should regularly check to see how the gilt or sow adjusts to being in a farrowing crate and whether she is eating and drinking, cleaning the feeder, or is in distress, Minton advised.

Most operations have someone in the room during the farrowing process, checking the sow regularly. If too much time passes between pigs being born (more than 20 or 30 minutes), someone should manually check the sow.

Post-farrowing care

Make sure all the afterbirth has passed and that the sow is well and eating normally — especially during lactation, Minton emphasized.

Check that sows are comfortable and monitor their body condition, especially at warmer times of the year, he added.

“At some farms we take a rectal temperature routinely at 24 hours post-farrowing to make sure we don’t have residual complications and that she’s properly cleaned. Uterine infections will show up on temperatures of 103 degrees or more,” he explained.

If a sow has a high temperature, it will be put off from eating and drinking, which will affect milk production. 

Lactation care

During weaning, make sure the udder is functioning properly and do everything possible to enhance appetite for increased milk production, Minton said.

Gradually reduce room temperature to keep sows comfortable, and address signs of shoulder sores and lesions as they appear.

Prevention is the key to minimizing the number of sick sows during farrowing and lactation, he said, which means early detection is critical.

Gestation observation

Minton said that a thorough, daily observation during feeding will have the biggest impact on evaluating sows. Farm staff should listen for abnormal sounds like coughing and panting, and look for abnormal stools and signs of lameness, he added.

“Record and follow-up on suspect sows,” he says. “Make a note and call it to someone’s attention or take proper action.”

Eliminate lameness

More than 50% of sow deaths are caused by lameness, but early intervention and aggressive treatment could reduce that figure significantly, Minton said.

“If you have a 2,500-sow operation and you’re not treating 8 to 10 sows on a daily basis, you’re probably not treating enough,” he said.

Lameness can be caused by housing, diseases, injury, nutrition, environmental issues or genetics.

“Look for sows that have difficulty standing or rising,” Minton advised. “If animals shift their weight or tap their feet, look for swelling, cuts or bleeding. If an animal avoids the group or is walking slowly, check them out more closely.”

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