Solving sow lameness starts with prevention

Lameness issues continue to be a significant problem in sow herds, causing 40% to 50% of all sow removals, according to Bill Minton, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Chickasaw, Ohio.

“What hurts most is when the culling for lameness occurs at 3rd parity,” Minton said. “It takes almost to the 3rd parity to break even on the cost of raising, acclimating and getting that animal into production. We are removing animals we haven’t even paid for. This has become a significant cost that is often overlooked.”

Minton advocates taking steps to reduce lameness problems early and to increase sow longevity up to 7 parities in herds. Not only will this lower costs in a system, it will improve worker well-being by not having to deal with the problems associated with lame sows.

Pay attention to gilt selection

Many lameness problems can be prevented by selecting gilts ahead of time, he explained. Producers should try to evaluate incoming gilts as soon as possible before entering the herd. This can be done in the grow-development units or during the quarantine period. Ensure gilts are structurally sound and the right age and weight before bringing them into a sow unit.

He recommended taking a good look at how gilts move and walk in a pen. Make sure the animals have good body confirmation, good hoof quality, and stand well on their feet. They should not be stiff gaited or have long toes.

The best size and weight for gilts entering a sow unit is around 300 lbs. and 28-30 weeks of age, he added. If gilts must be brought into a herd earlier, consider skipping a heat cycle to help the gilt develop adequate body condition.

“Put an emphasis on bringing in the right quality animals,” he said. “Spend some time selecting gilts. We easily overlook this and assume everything is okay. Then we bring in animals [to meet breeding targets] and it backfires in the long run.”

Watch every sow every day

Better observation of sows in gestation is key to reducing lameness issues that lead to culling, Minton emphasized.

“In gestation, make sure you get up every sow and observe every one for signs of early lameness,” he said. “Observe sows especially at feeding time to see if they are shifting weight, tapping a foot, or not bearing equal weight on all four legs. Do they have any swelling, cuts or bleeding? Observe sows while walking through the gestation barn or farrowing rooms.

“If we know what we are looking for early enough, we do have the opportunity to treat lameness,” he explained. “Oftentimes we intervene too late and don’t get a response out of our treatment.”

Treatment options

If the decision is made to treat an animal, Minton said there are several options depending on the cause of lameness. For health-related problems, products such as systemic antibiotics, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory products may help if problems are caught early enough.

Because nutritional deficiencies can also lead to lameness, review sow rations to determine if there are nutritional concerns. The addition of some trace minerals like biotin and zinc may help improve hoof strength, Minton added.

Providing individual sow care is another option. “Even special attention and TLC for some animals will help,” he said. “Remove them from a pen and put them in a hospital stall with a rubber mat for better footing.”

Hoof trimming can solve some lameness issues. “It helps especially for those long dew claws or an outside toe that’s quite a bit longer than the inside toe,” he explained. “We can use lopping shears and trim that off. A lot of times that will correct the confirmation of the animal so she is more comfortable walking.”

Another suggestion is using copper-sulfate foot baths. Minton said copper sulfate is an antiseptic for the hoof, which can help improve hoof strength. He suggested providing the foot baths for gilts when entering the sow barn and sows to walk through when moving between farrowing and gestation units.

Maintain good housing, environment, handling

Many other factors cause lameness in sows and gilts. These range from different types of housing, flooring, air quality and temperature to poor handling and fighting among animals.

Producers need to maintain a good environment and housing with proper animal handling procedures to minimize lameness issues. Overcrowding, improper ventilation rates, mycoplasma or erysipelas, and the health status of incoming gilts are a few factors that can lead to lameness.

Minton suggested using treatment-card data and other records to identify trends and specific issues that may be causing problems within a unit. It will offer guidance on areas that could be addressed.

“I think a lot of lameness is preventable and some of it is treatable,” he added. “But ultimately, it has a negative impact on sow culling and mortality. Intervention will have a positive impact on the sow herd.”

Reappearance of F18 E. coli strikes nursery pigs

A resurgence of the F18 strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in weaned pigs on a growing number of hog farms is causing a rise in mortality and a reduction in performance, according to Doug Powers, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service.

“We used to have the F18 E. coli or edema disease a long time ago,” Powers related. “With the work of veterinarians and nutritionists, we eliminated a lot of it. So it’s remarkable that we’ve seen an increase starting in 2020. And in 2021, we’ve seen a huge uptick in the F18 E. coli.”

Powers has seen some farms experience 30% nursery mortality during an F18 E. coli outbreak. In less serious cases, morbidity can reach 60% to 75% of the animals and reduce average daily gain and feed efficiency. In addition, the immune response of affected pigs to vaccines administered in the nursery phase may not be as good as expected.

Why the increase in F18?

“We still are not certain why the increase, but part of it is we are using less antibiotics in sow herds,” Powers said.

“The other thing is we’ve seen a high divergence of genetic terminal stock to Duroc,” he continued. “It appears from research that Duroc-sired animals have four times the amount of receptors available to attach to E. coli than other sire lines. It makes them more susceptible to E. coli.

Another piece of the puzzle is what other bacteria disrupt the gut and “opens the door for E. coli to become so severe,” Powers added. “We are finding ileitis and Salmonella in both the sows and pigs.”

After working with clients battling the F18 E. coli, Powers explained the steps they took to mitigate the effects of the bacteria in some herds.

Address sow bacterial loads

Powers first looked at the sow herd to determine the bacterial loads and how to halt the infections. “One way is to do a strategic antibiotic pulse to the sows to try lowering that infection rate,” he said.

“We also looked at products like zinc oxide to reduce bacterial loads,” he said. “We’ve had really good success with zinc oxide.”

Next they determined any co-infections in the pigs and discovered Salmonella was usually present and helped allow E. coli to become established.

His choice was to vaccinate pigs with a Salmonella vaccine just prior to or right at weaning instead of vaccinating for the F18 E. coli strain.

“The Salmonella vaccine helps prevent the binding of E. coli to those receptor sites because the Salmonella takes up those spots instead,” he explained. “So if we vacinate for Salmonella, we are getting benefits against E. coli as well. This has reduced the E. coli infections dramatically.”

Attention to the diet

Powers said they also worked closely with nutritionists at all the farms to modify pig diets and lessen the impact of E. coli.

“We can modify diets in the early phase right after weaning to have higher-fiber, lower-energy diets that are not so reactive to the pig’s gut,” he expained. “We try to improve the overall health of the gut to prevent the E. coli from binding to the receptors.”

They also are trying new products called endotoxin binders. These can help prevent E. coli from being absorbed by pigs.

Powers has seen significant improvements in a majority of the herds experiencing F18 outbreaks when they’ve taken these steps.

Watch for problems

But things can quickly go wrong if other issues occur to delay feed delivery to the newly weaned pigs, or the wrong feed is put into the feed bins and then fed to the pigs.

“It’s important to work with producers to reduce problems like out of feed, the feed mill can’t deliver, labor issues, or the motor on the feed bin quit,” Powers said.

“If pigs go without feed for 12 hours or more, we will see an increase in intestinal issues,” he added. “Those pigs have to have feed and water in front of them in a good environment.”





Early pregnancy testing in a beef herd pays off

Pregnancy testing cows in a beef herd can help producers make better management decisions to improve their bottom line. But the tests must be conducted early in pregnancy when the accuracy is high, reported Brittney Scales, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service.

“Reproductive efficiency in the cow herd is extremely important,” Scales said. “Pregnancy testing is a good method to monitor the herd and help make management decisions such as when and who to cull.”

Scales offered several steps producers can take to plan ahead for this coming year’s pregnancy testing and use the results to improve reproductive efficiency of their herds.

Well-defined breeding season

Scales recommends a well-defined breeding season to ensure accurate pregnancy testing. A breeding season is defined as the time from the day the bull goes in with the females to the day the bull is pulled out. If bulls run continuously with cows and aren’t pulled until pregnancy testing, some late-bred cows will appear open and may be culled unnecessarily.

The breeding season should fall within a 45- to 60-day window, according to Scales. Heifers are very healthy and should need only two estrous cycles to get bred, while cows will need more time. The estrous cycle is approximately 21 days long; therefore, a 45-day breeding season gives females two chances to get bred.

“Our goal is to have 80% to 85% of heifers bred within a 45-day breeding season and 90% to 95% of cows bred within 60 days running with a bull,” she explained.

Pregnancy testing time, options

Pregnancy testing can be conducted as early as 30 to 45 days after the last day the bull comes out, according to Scales.

Options for pregnancy testing are ultrasound, rectal palpation and blood tests. Trained individuals and veterinarians can conduct these tests.

“Typically, ultrasound diagnosis can be used within 30 days post-breeding,” she explained. “You can catch a pregnancy a little earlier with ultrasound around 30 days, whereas rectal palpation can determine a pregnancy closer to 45 days, depending on the expertise of the pregnancy tester.”

Blood tests are another option but come with some complications. If a cow or heifer aborted right before the blood draw, the tests would produce a false positive, Sales said.

Fetal viability, sexing

An advantage to ultrasound is the ability to determine fetal viability. This is not possible with a blood test.

“In ultrasound we will see the heart beating and can give a more defined fetal age based on size of the fetus,” she said. “If you want to know where she’s at in gestation, the earlier the pregnancy check — 30 to 45 days up to 100 days — the better. After that, the calf starts to drop below the pelvis, and the accuracy of gestational age declines.”

Fetal sexing is an advantage of ultrasound. At around 60 to 65 days of gestation, ultrasound can determine if the cow is carrying a bull or heifer calf.

Check for other issues

The use of rectal palpation and ultrasound will also identify if a cow or heifer has cystic ovaries or uterine infections. “Both negatively affect her reproductive performance because she won’t get bred,” Scales said.

These pregnancy tests can also differentiate twin calves. “It’s always good for a producer to know if a cow is going to have twins because she’s more likely to have problems calving,” she added.

Manage open cows, heifers

“Now that we have information on which cows are open and which are bred, the producer has some options for managing these open cows and heifers,” Scales said. “Open cows can be weaned early from their calf and sold.

“If we preg-check early, the cull cows can be sold prior to the historic market lows,” she continued. “Most people preg-check herds very late going into fall, so all these open cows hit the market at the same time, lowering market prices.”

Another option is moving open cows into a fall calving group if the herd calves twice a year. Regarding heifers, open animals can be sold immediately or managed and sold as feeders. Another option is to retain them and breed them for a later calving season.

These are some of the financial benefits to knowing early what cows and heifers are open, Scales explained.

“Thinking ahead, a lot of people will be calving in late winter/spring,” she said. “Scheduling an early pregnancy test this coming summer will help your bottom line. And remember to consult with your veterinarian about your individual operation and goals regarding your herd.”