Keep guard up for strep, parasuis in newly weaned pigs

Newly weaned pigs face many challenges — new environment, feed, pen mates. They also face the challenge of bacterial infections like Streptococcus suis (strep) and Haemophilus parasuis (parasuis), the two most common systemic bacterial diseases found in weaned pigs.

Strep and parasuis can both flare up when immune systems are stressed, according to Daniel Gascho, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service.

“Where do strep and parasuis come from?” Gascho asked. “They are always here. A lot of research has been done that shows almost 100% of pigs have strep by the time they are weaned.”

Expect the same for parasuis, he warned.  Swab samples taken from the floors and walls of most nurseries will be positive for parasuis without the pigs showing a sign of the disease.

Strep, parasuis symptoms

The most common symptom of strep is swollen joints in nursery pigs.

“It’s that pig with the fat hock, a little lame, doesn’t want to get up,” Gascho said. “We call it dog sitting, where their back end is down and propped up on their front legs.

“Also pretty common and what most people think of with strep is the neurological form — a pig that’s paddling, eyes twitching, maybe going in circles, head pressing. You’ve all seen this.”

Nursery pigs sick with parasuis look depressed, gaunt and are slow growing. A necropsy of a pig infected with parasuis will have lots of fibrin, a protein associated with blood clotting.

“Just like strep, parasuis can get into joints and…can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause some meningitis and swelling of the brain,” Gascho explained. “This is why it is very important to diagnose these diseases. The treatment or prevention may be completely different.”

One other caution: Just because strep was diagnosed in the nursery a year ago doesn’t mean the symptoms you’re seeing are strep related.   Producers will “come out money ahead in the long run” if they get an accurate diagnosis and use the right treatment protocol for the pathogen at hand.

Ounce of prevention

While many nursery pigs carry these bacterial diseases, they don’t all get sick. Gascho recommended “an ounce of prevention…to prevent their immune system from getting depressed, because any stressor will trigger these diseases.”

For example, nurseries that are too cold, too hot, poorly ventilated or overcrowded could compromise a pig’s immune system enough to activate a disease outbreak.

“There are always some stressors that we can’t avoid,” he added. “Weaning alone is a huge one. They just went from milk to pellets or ground feed. The best thing you can do is to do everything perfectly that you have control over.”

If flare-ups occur, try to prevent it from happening in the next group. Use all-in/all-out management and thoroughly clean between groups.

Management options

In some cases, autogenous vaccines can be very useful, especially for strep, Gascho said. The key to making vaccines work is diagnosing the type of strep.

“A few years ago, I did research on strep and at that time, there were at least 134 serotypes of Strep suis alone,” he said. “It’s very critical you diagnose the strep because if it is the same strep every time, then it’s a great candidate for a vaccine.”

In very severe cases of strep, infected sows can be treated with an antibiotic for strep right before farrowing to decrease shedding. “If you have a really bad strep, this might be an option,” Gascho said. “If you can cut nursery mortality by 3%, you easily cover the cost of treating all sows in the herd.”

Pigs showing neurological symptoms must be treated with an antibiotic as soon as possible.  “Time is of the essence,” he said, adding that using a corticosteroid was “very critical in these cases to help reduce swelling of the brain. It won’t treat strep but will buy you some time to allow an antibiotic to work.”

He suggested using an appropriately labelled antibiotic for treatment of strep and follow directions.

Watch for dehydration

“Another big thing to consider is if the pigs can’t walk, they can’t drink and they will die of dehydration,” Gascho said. “Even if they can walk, but are unstable and getting beat around, they don’t stand a chance in the main pen with pigs.”

He recommended putting these sick pigs either in a hospital pen or in a small pen in an aisle with a little water while being treated. After a few days, they should be strong enough to join the other pigs.

“The big picture is there’s always a treatment to try” for strep and other bacterial diseases, Gascho added.

“Don’t give up. Find [the affected pigs] as soon as possible and know when your individual treatments are not keeping up. It doesn’t take very many dead pigs to justify the cost of treating the whole room…And no treatment in the world will make up for preventing them from getting sick in the first place,” he concluded.

Batch farrowing benefits Indiana hog operation

Batch farrowing made sense for Nate and Doug Hoeing’s sow operation. The brothers run a 1,200-sow operation on a family farm in Rush County, Indiana. Farrowing sows once a month instead of weekly offers a couple of major benefits.

“The batch system is labor saving,” Nate said. “We can do the work ourselves and only need hired help at weaning to move sows and load pigs. The rest of it we can handle.”

“Plus, now we have a larger group of pigs at weaning and they are easier to sell,” he added. The Hoeings wean about 2,000 pigs at a time, which are more easily placed in large finishing barns.

Growing in use

Batch-farrowing systems are on the increase, according to Doug Powers, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service. He works with the Hoeings and other clients who are using the system.

“About a third to half of our clients are going to a batch system,” he explained. “They get a bigger group of pigs to fill a 2,500-head wean-to-finish barn as quickly as possible. At the same time, they don’t leave any small pigs behind to transfer disease to the next group.”

Batch farrowing isn’t for all operations, though. The size limit for the system is about 2,500 sows, Powers said. After that, it’s difficult to make it work.

How it works

On the Hoeing farm, the brothers are busy 2 weeks of the month when they begin weaning. Starting on a Monday, they move sows and weaned pigs out of the farrowing crates and completely wash the barn. By Thursday, sows ready to farrow are moved into the clean facility. Usually 190 to 200 sows farrow in each batch.

On the weekend, breeding starts for sows moved out of the farrowing barn. A typical breeding group is 210 to 220 sows. The brothers also get ready to start processing litters, which takes place that next week. Any sows not farrowing by Thursday of this week are induced.

“Then things slow down for a couple of weeks so we can get other things done,” Nate said. The pigs are weaned at 17 to 24 days of age.

Strong litters, sows

The Hoeings use three farrowing barns and fill all of them up at the same time. Their gestation facilities include rooms with 600 individual crates and an updated pen-gestation system that holds 400 sows.

They moved to self feeders in farrowing to help sows improve their condition and to increase weaning weights.

“On the day the sows farrow, we feed them very little,” Nate explained. “On day 2, we give them 5 pounds and then they go on a full feed (ad libitum).”

This feeding regimen improved the herd’s overall sow condition. The last group of sows averaged 14.5 pounds per weaned pig weight and weaned between 11 to 11.25 pigs per litter.

One disadvantage to a batch system is if a sow doesn’t breed, it won’t necessarily cycle back in a regular breeding week. To help them cycle within a group, an altrenogest supplement is fed to the sows. Unbred sows are culled.

High health

The farm has a high-health status. It was depopulated in 2018 and repopulated with high-health gilts. Today, it is negative for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and mycoplasma. The herd has very few scours or respiratory issues.

The Hoeings powerwash and disinfect the facilities between batches and have extra time to allow the rooms to dry. And because all pigs are moved out of the facilities, none remain to transfer disease. All of this adds up to good herd health.

For the brothers, good herd health and the batch system frees up time for them to do their other chores, like manage a herd of 100 brood cows, and help their father with his crops.




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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