Properly prepare gilts to match farm’s Mycoplasma status

After living with Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae (M. hyo) for years, producers now know that maintaining a stable M. hyo status is key to reducing the disease’s impact.

“The more we know about M. hyo, the more we realize how important it is to have a gilt properly prepared for either a negative or a positive farm and not mix those statuses,” said Cary Sexton, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Kinston, North Carolina.

Synchronize M. hyo status

“First, you need to understand the status of the sow farm the gilts are going to,” Sexton said. “Then, the gilts need to be properly prepared, either exposed and vaccinated or both if going to a positive farm or kept clean if going to a negative farm. I would recommend working with your veterinarian to determine the proper sow-farm status.”

Most commercially available genetic stock now has a negative status, he explained. Any sow farm with a different M. hyo status will need a plan to synchronize health of the gilts before they are mixed with the herd.

“There are multiple ways to synchronize, but it has to be some type of exposure,” Sexton said. “Exposure should be at weights around 40 pounds to make sure it’s long enough for the animals to get through an infection and clear the active shedding phase. If you put shedding gilts into a stable-positive farm, it could turn clinical.”

The most common exposure methods are direct inoculation with a live M. hyo culture or fogging with lung homogenate material.

“Direct inoculation is the most labor intensive,” he said. “You have to catch each animal and inoculate it. In a barn with 1,000 gilts, it is a full day of work versus fogging that only takes a couple of hours after the environment is readied for the procedure. The most difficult part is getting exposure done consistently on an every-group basis.”

Mounting immune response

After exposure, gilts must be closely monitored for illness, including secondary infections.

Animals sickened by exposure need to be treated to help them recover and to ensure the infection doesn’t become chronic, Sexton explained.

“You want them to get exposure and mount an immune response while continuing to grow. Ultimately, they will stop shedding or shed at a very low level by the time they are ready to move onto the sow farm,” he said.

Because M hyo is a very slow-growing pathogen, it may take 7 months to complete this process. Producers must plan for adequate time and space to handle gilts for these extended periods. This time lapse increases with natural exposure as each new exposure results in resetting the time clock.

Eliminating M. hyo

Interest in M. hyo elimination is growing as producers learn about its benefits. A negative herd could see a $5-to-$7-per-market-hog improvement from when it was M. hyo positive, particularly in the growing-pig segment of production.

Two types of operations are more interested in eliminations, according to Sexton. A farrow-to-finish farm will recoup the most benefits by owning hogs to market, while a farrow-to-wean operation sees a benefit in the health of weaned pigs sold to customers.

Improvements in testing methods for M. hyo also help make eliminations successful. Deep-tracheal swabs examined by polymerase chain reaction are reliable and repeatable, he added.

If an operator is considering an elimination program or wants a change in the M. hyo status, Sexton recommends first determining the herd’s status. Then he or she should meet with a veterinarian to discuss options for the farm.

“Have a conversation about wanting to make a change in M. hyo status or looking for a different source of genetics,” he said. “You need to [identify] the cost-benefit ratio of each option. Is it worth the time and money to do an elimination? Or is there a way to get exposure of these animals to produce a stable-positive farm? You may be surprised which one rises to the top.”


Post-farrowing sow care important for piglet care

“We put a lot of time and attention on day-1 pig care, but we also need to recognize that sow care is an important component of it,” reported Laura Carroll, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

“I’m a firm believer that we can’t produce quality weaned pigs unless we have a heathy, happy sow,” she said. For example, a scouring litter could be the result of a sow not milking well rather than a primary enteric disease in the piglets.

Carroll discussed the strategies she sees used by successful farrowing teams for handling sow care.

Set a routine, work together

The best sow and piglet care comes from teams who develop a good, consistent routine and stick with it. They can divide up tasks while still working together as a team.

“For some teams, it works well to have multiple people in the same farrowing room during morning chores,” Carroll said. “This allows another set of eyes on the same farrowing crate, which can be a benefit. Someone may notice something that the other teammate didn’t.”

Strong communication

Successful teams do a good job communicating with each other to make sure everyone is aware of problem sows or litters. Some teams keep white boards hung in a hallway or office to keep track of sows with issues.

Another method utilizes colored clothespins attached to a farrowing crate to quickly indicate sow problems. For example, a red clothespin indicates the sow is off feed, and a green clothespin means the sow is lame.

“I like this technique because anyone could walk into that room and know what’s going on by the clothespins,” Carroll said. “It’s an easy identification as you walk by. It helps you stop and pay attention to her.”

Pain mitigation

“This is an area that is often under-utilized in sow care,” Carroll said.

“Anti-inflammatories are a good tool to utilize for sows post-farrowing for clinical signs such as off feed, reluctant to rise or lethargy,” she added.

They can also be used in conjunction with an antibiotic to treat mastitis or lameness. “From an animal-welfare standpoint, it’s the right thing to do.”

Focus on gilts

Sows and gilts go through an acclimation period when moved to farrowing crates. Carroll recommends making sure all females find the water source, especially gilts.

“Some gilts have difficulty finding the water nipple,” she said. “Some teams place a small amount of peanut butter on the nipple prior to loading the room, to help the gilts find the water source. Four to six hours after the room is loaded, team members can look for the presence or absence of the peanut butter to indicate if she has drunk yet or not.”

If possible, put gilts together in one section or one farrowing room so team members can pay special attention to them. “Gilts tend to require a little more attention to ensure they have a smooth farrowing process,” she added.

After farrowing, team members need to carefully check and monitor all sows and gilts for any possible problems. Here is Carroll’s standard checklist of what to look for post-farrowing.

Post-farrowing sow care checklist

  1. Make sure sows get up every day. Watch to see if sows are quick to rise. If they get up slowly or are unable to get up, investigate further and treat appropriately, if needed.
  2. Is the sow passing stool easily? Constipation can be an issue around farrowing time. If necessary, administer a laxative.
  3. Is the sow eating and drinking? A sow’s appetite may decline pre- and post-farrowing. But 24 hours after farrowing, she should be eating well. If not, let her out of the crate to walk around the room. This will usually stimulate appetite and water consumption.
  4. Check the vulva for discharge. If there is foul-smelling, yellow-brown discharge, treat with an appropriate antibiotic based on your veterinarian’s recommendation.
  5. Check for red, hard udders. This is a sign of mastitis. Treat with an antibiotic and possibly an anti-inflammatory medication based on your veterinarian’s recommendation.