Pointers for keeping show pigs healthy

The flourishing show-pig business helps many people learn about pigs or keep a hand in the swine industry. The key to making show pigs enjoyable and successful is producing a pig with excellent health and nutrition, reported Brittney Scales, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service (FSVS).

From the FSVS office in Mexico, Indiana, Scales works with clients ranging from those who are new to show-pig competitions to those who have been doing this as a family for many generations. She offers several pointers for keeping the pigs healthy and giving them the best chance to perform well in the show ring.

Health status concerns

When purchasing a show pig, you should know the vaccine status of the animal. At a minimum, pigs should be vaccinated for circovirus and Mycoplasma, both diseases that cause porcine respiratory disease. Circovirus is particularly troublesome because it is endemic among pigs, meaning that all pigs will get the disease if they are not vaccinated for it.

Scales recommends a vaccine with a two-shot protocol that includes ½ dose of the recommended, labeled vaccine at 3 weeks of age followed by a second ½ dose 3 weeks later.

Show pigs also should be vaccinated for the most common influenza strains in the area. For example, her office offers an autogenous flu vaccine for the local area.

Another disease concern with show pigs is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), the US hog industry’s most costly respiratory disease.

“If you are getting pigs from more than one farm and commingling them, it is wise to vaccinate them or ask the seller to vaccinate them with a modified-live PRRS vaccine,” Scales said. The pigs should be vaccinated even if the sows received a modified-live vaccine for PRRS.

Other typical health problems in show pigs are worms and mites. “Even if you were told your animals were dewormed, it is never a bad choice to go ahead and deworm them once they arrive at your fam with either injectable ivermectin or SafeGuard® in the feed,” she said. “Mange is also very common in show pigs. If you are concerned about mange, ivermectin is the best choice as it covers internal and external parasites.”

Adequate housing, ventilation

During spring, wide temperature swings can lead to pneumonia when pigs are not housed properly. “I cannot tell you how many calls we get from clients who say their show pigs are coughing,” Scales said. “When you buy these young pigs weighing 50 to 60 pounds, they are prone to pneumonia. The quickest way to knock your show pigs back is allowing them to catch pneumonia by not being in a warm environment.”

Poor ventilation will also lead to pneumonia. A barn or shed must have proper air movement. “If you walk into your barn and it feels stuffy or it is hard to breathe, then you can guarantee it feels the same for your pigs,” she added.

Coughing in pigs can also be caused by roundworm larval migration through the lungs. A virus or bacteria is not always the culprit.

When bedding pigs, be sure to use high-quality shavings. Scales has noticed a skin rash developing on pigs when poor-quality shavings are used.

Common show-pig surgeries

The most common reasons purchased show pigs require surgery are a rectal prolapse and a scirrhous cord. Both procedures require sedation and/or anesthesia and must be performed by a veterinarian.

A rectal prolapse typically is caused by a pig coughing due to a poor environment or straining due to chronic diarrhea. Scales added that it’s important to determine the cause so it can be prevented from happening to other pigs.

Occasionally the prolapse will invert on its own. But Scales recommends opting for surgery in a timely manner before the rectal tissue sits outside the body too long and becomes swollen and necrotic. Veterinarians repair the prolapse with non-absorbable suture material. Scales recommends show pigs keep that suture in throughout the show season.

The other common surgery is the scirrhous cord in barrows. The scirrhous cord is a chronic fibrous enlargement of the cut end of the spermatic cord in the barrow.

“This can cause your barrow to look like there is a hard, firm ball where the testes were located,” Scales said. “This leads to confusion if the animal is truly castrated or if there is an abscess under the skin. It can also be mistaken as an inguinal hernia, better known as intestines coming out of the castration incision site.”

While the surgery is considered cosmetic and not needed for health reasons, it is necessary for show, she added.

Good nutrition

Going hand in hand with good health is good nutrition. Starter feeds for young pigs should contain 20% to 22% protein, and grower feeds should have 17% to 20% protein. Quality nutrition programs for pigs include the amino acid lysine to help build muscle, and also include fat and fiber.

Scales recommends obtaining more information on swine nutrition from a feed mill or feed company representative.

In addition, check with your FSVS veterinarian for any questions regarding show-pig health concerns.

Managing Mycoplasma’s persistence in finishing

A dry cough heard in a finishing unit usually indicates Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae (M. hyo) is causing respiratory distress and reducing growth in pigs almost ready for market.

“We’ve been seeing M. hyo in finishing where it pops up in mid- to late-finishers,” reported Bryant Chapman, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service (FSVS). “It decreases feed intake and potentially causes mortality, especially if it has a secondary disease with it as well.”

Working from the FSVS clinic in Chickasaw, Ohio, Chapman helps clients reduce the effects M. hyo can exert on a farm if left unchecked. The cost of finishing pigs infected with M. hyo is estimated at $3 to $5 per head more than pigs without the disease.

Immediate response

“Mycoplasma is a slow-moving bug and is slow to show itself, which is why we see it in finishing,” he explained. “Clients will call and say ‘I have healthy-looking finishing pigs, but they have this dry, non-productive cough.’

“Depending on when the hogs will be marketed, we rely on antibiotics. Feed-grade and water-grade medications given over a period of time do fairly well to decrease the symptoms at the finishing level. And we do follow-up with injectables on a few animals needing it.”

Because M. hyo is a respiratory pathogen, dusty conditions and poor ventilation will exacerbate the symptoms. It also appears more in the winter when buildings are closed up.

Seeking the source

“Some farms we work with on finishing, the clinical signs show up at the end stage when they get compounding factors like porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) or the flu and we find M. hyo via testing,” he added.

To test M. hyo in finishing, Chapman recommends using lung tissue from freshly euthanized pigs rather than oral fluids from live pigs, which is a less sensitive test.

Typically, the source for an M. hyo outbreak is at the sow farm. Sometimes, the outbreak in finishing is the first indication that a sow unit may be infected with M. hyo, especially if the sow unit went through an elimination for the disease. Tracheal or laryngeal swabs for testing verify the disease outbreak.

Depending on the severity of the outbreak and the herd’s health status, sow farms may work out a control program with their veterinarian to use vaccinations and exposures. Or they may decide to undergo an elimination of M. hyo.

Pros, cons of elimination

“Many farms choosing to go through an M. hyo elimination have either been exposed to or associated with PRRS,” Chapman said. “If they are going to do a PRRS elimination, they will just go that extra length of time to eliminate mycoplasma.”

Eliminating two diseases at once is a positive, but the time needed to eliminate both is 8 to 9 months.

A successful elimination is also helped by the farm setup. “If you have the availability and resources to stock enough females for a closure, or you can have off-site breeding facilities for a closure, it might be feasible,” he explained. “But if you have to completely shut down females for 8 or 9 months without any prep for a pause in production, that would be pretty painful for a farm.”

Hog farms have used different methods to eliminate M. hyo and other disease from their herds. Generally, all methods are costly, and the level of success is 50% to 80%, Chapman said.

Some farms have been able to keep M. hyo out of the system. He works with a few farms that are negative and have not found it in their finishers.

In the end, producers dealing with M. hyo will need to decide based on a cost/benefit analysis what path will be best to handle the pathogen in their own unit, he added.


Check with your Four Star veterinarian to determine the best steps forward following a mycoplasma outbreak on your farm.

Early intervention minimizes health issues caused by calf scours

Early identification and treatment of calf scours is the best way to prevent serious health issues in newborn calves, according to Trey Gellert, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Chickasaw, Ohio.

Scours are the leading cause of death for calves during their first 35 days of life. The major causes include bacteria (Clostridium, Escherichia coli and Salmonella), viruses (rotavirus and coronavirus) and parasites (Cryptosporidium parva, coccidiosis and Giardia).

“It’s not necessarily the scours we worry about but the symptoms the scours can cause,” Gellert said. “Calves possess the capacity to fight most types of scours. It’s the dehydration due to scours that will kill a calf.”

He recommends several management tips to help keep calves healthy.

Identify early

“The focus during the first 2 weeks of life should be looking for signs of dehydration because you expect calves to be scouring,” he said. “If I expect it, then I’m more likely to intervene earlier.”

Caregivers should check calves daily, looking at manure and watching for slow or lethargic calves. “If a calf is just a little slower than usual, that’s the calf you need to pay attention to,” Gellert explained. “It might not be scours, but it’s important to figure out why that calf is a little off.”

He recommends doing a skin-pinch test on the calf’s neck to see if the animal is dehydrated. If the skin does not snap back quickly, the calf is dehydrated and needs rehydration. Other signs of dehydration are a dry nose or gums.

Sunken eyes also indicate a problem. “The more sunken the eyes, the more dehydrated the animal will be,” he said. “This is a later stage of dehydration and a lot of people will notice it. The calf also may be lying down and very dull because it doesn’t have enough energy to get up. We have to do a lot of fluid replacement to get these calves back to a correct status.”

Rehydration treatments

Many different oral electrolyte products are available to rehydrate calves. Gellert suggests working with a veterinarian to find the correct electrolyte balance to help the calf absorb and hold water. These compounds also have alkalizing agents to buffer acidosis that occurs with scours.

The replacement fluids are administered orally, subcutaneously or intravenously. Oral fluids are most easily given but work the slowest of the three methods. Fluids given subcutaneously under the skin work faster than oral, but the fluid must still be absorbed.

“I like to use a combination of oral and subcutaneous in cases that are severe enough to call for more than just oral rehydration,” Gellert said. “This method will give you your best success.”

Intravenous fluids given directly into the blood stream work rapidly but are generally given by a veterinarian.

Some cases of scours like bloody scours will require more than rehydration. Gellert recommends bringing in a fecal swab or feces to be tested to help determine the causative agent. Depending on the results, an appropriate treatment plan will be determined.

Preventing scours

A pre-calving or pre-freshening vaccination protocol will help protect newborn calves against major causes of scours like E. coli, rotavirus and coronavirus.

“Cow-calf herds should look for good colostrum protection,” Gellert said. “It will give systemic immunity and local gut immunity against early calf scours.”

Oral products are also available for the newborn calf to help protect against bacterial causes of scours. These need to be administered in the first 24 hours after birth to be effective.

Basic biosecurity also helps reduce scours. Gellert recommends making sure calves are born in clean, dry environments to decrease disease pressure from scour-causing pathogens.

“For dairy beef calves, make sure everything is clean and disinfected including nipples, bottles and pens,” Gellert added. “Simple things like that will help decrease disease pressure.”

Other basic biosecurity safeguards apply, like disinfecting a nipple bottle when shared between calves. Boots can pick up scours, and the caregiver will walk the pathogen through the barn. Make sure caregivers wear clean clothing and boots.

“A good-quality milk replacer also gives the calf the energy it needs to fight scours so the calf can mount its own immunity to these diseases,” he added.




Swine veterinarians award debt-relief scholarship to Gascho

A Four Star Veterinary Service (FSVS) veterinarian was awarded a debt-relief scholarship by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) Foundation during its recent virtual annual meeting. The AASV Foundation awarded a $5,000 scholarship to Daniel Gascho, DVM, with the FSVS Mexico, Indiana, clinic.

The AASV Foundation awarded three $5,000 scholarships to early-career swine practitioners through the “Dr. Conrad and Judy Schmidt Family Student Debt Relief Endowment.” The purpose of the scholarships is to help relieve the student debt of recent veterinary graduates engaged in swine practice who still have significant debt burden. Qualified applicants must have been engaged in private practice with at least 50% of their time devoted to swine, providing on-farm service directly to independent pork producers.

Gascho is a 2017 graduate of Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine and is the top associate veterinarian at the FSVS practice in Mexico, Indiana. His clients range from potbellied and show pigs to large commercial herds. He serves almost exclusively private and family farm clients. He has been a continuous member of AASV since joining as a student and has attended multiple annual meetings.

Strategies to curtail rising sow-lameness problems

Sow-lameness issues are on the rise, especially for sows in group housing, according to Michael Pierdon, VMD, Four Star Veterinary Service. Lameness is a leading reason that sows are culled early from the herd.

“Sow lameness is not a new problem, but it has come into focus as sows are moved into pen gestation,” Pierdon explained. “Structural soundness is much more important in a loose-housing environment than in a stall environment. They really need to be sound in order to survive in the herd.”

He sees other causes of sow lameness, too, including inadequate gilt nutrition, pen hazards leading to injuries and delayed identification of lameness.

Located in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, Pierdon works with many hog producers who house gestating sows in pens. He employs four management strategies to address sow lameness and reduce the number of involuntary removals from herds.

1. Structural soundness

Preventing lameness starts with gilt selection. “Make sure you get animals with structural soundness and integrity because poor structure will lead to lameness quickly,” he said.

Unfortunately, genetics companies have not been forced to focus on leg and foot soundness since sows moved into gestation stalls 30 years ago. Pierdon hopes that changes, and there’s a renewed focus on sows with bigger feet and bone structure to handle the rigors of pens.

“Once you establish proper structure and good gilt selection, then you must develop the gilt properly to ensure she meets her genetic potential, and that’s largely done through nutrition,” he continued. “She must have the nutritional program that supports bone and hoof health, or we predispose her to lameness issues.”

2. Reduce injuries

Injury is a leading cause of sow lameness, Pierdon said. Most of the injuries are to the foot and hoof.

“We are learning that a significant amount of lameness is due to ascending infections from damage to feet and breaks in the hoof wall that get infected,” he said. “If that infection isn’t identified early, it has the chance to spread deeper into the tissue and joints and ultimately becomes an unresolvable issue.”

Poor equipment design increases the chance of sow injury.

“Sow barns built for gestation stalls typically have a pretty wide slat gap,” Pierdon said. “But when the sows must move around on those floors when the barns convert to group housing, the gap is wide enough that a sow can get her toes stuck and damage her hoof. We need to continue to work toward smaller gaps or another type of flooring.

“We also see a lot of gating and feeders that are fastened to the floor with bolts sticking up and sharp edges all in the path of feet. Anything that can be stepped on and cause foot injuries are what we really worry about,” he added.

3. Identify lameness early

One key to reducing lameness is detecting it early before the problem progresses to the point it can’t be resolved. This can be difficult.

“Sows are tough and will hide or manage to survive with their lameness for quite some time until it becomes really severe,” Pierdon said. “If you gauge lameness by the sows not eating that day, then it is too late. By the time they can’t get to the feeder, their lameness is so advanced that the likelihood of resolving it is minimal.”

He recommends evaluating sows daily to watch their gaits and look for any sign of lameness like unsteadiness, shifting weight or gingerly tapping feet on the floor. Waiting for sows to progress to three-leg lameness is too late to identify the problem and expect recovery.

“Workers have to be very attentive to the animals,” he explained. “They have to really watch sows stand and move in order to identify lameness.”

4. Proactive treatment

“Workers also have to err of the side of aggressive treatment,” he continued. “They need to be proactive if they want a chance to resolve these issues.

“A lot of people do not realize how severe the damage is by the time they identify it and start treating these animals. Workers get frustrated because they try to treat lame animals and it doesn’t work. Sows must be identified and treated way earlier in the course of the lameness issue.”

Treatment options depend on the severity and type of lameness. Pierdon recommends working with a veterinarian to determine the best treatment protocols.

“Lowering sow lameness often has to be a multifaceted approach,” he added. “It’s a real challenging issue when sows are housed in pens.

“Success to me is keeping lameness at a manageable level and maintaining normal removal rates. It also is giving the crew wins where they feel like they have some power to influence this issue and reduce the number of animals they identify as lame.”


Check with your Four Star veterinarian to investigate sow lameness at your farm.



Plan now to better manage pastures for healthy cow-calf herd

Hog manure helps sustain profitable cow-calf herds when pasture grazing is well managed. But pork producers often lack the knowledge to manage pastures for calf production, according to Harrison Dudley, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Kinston, North Carolina.

“I have some producers who have tried to make the cattle part of their business more productive,” Dudley said. “They have tried to maximize the number of head per acre and end up in trouble because they run out of grass at certain times of the year.

“The producers doing the best job in this type of system manage the grass and match the cattle to their ability to grow the grass,” he explained.

Dudley offers suggestions to better manage pastures fertilized with hog manure for a successful cow-calf herd.

Manage the grasses

“Most of our forage base is a warm-season perennial so when winter comes around, there’s not much growing there,” Dudley said. Compounding the problem are dry summers with periods of heavy tropical rains that produce marginal-quality hay.

“We see a lot of mono-crop pasture management,” he explained. “We need more biodiversity in the pasture. Plant two- or three-variety grazing mixes or have different plots for different grass peaks.”

For example, Dudley suggests a rotation of oats, ryegrass and wheat, each planted in 30-acre pastures.

“Instead of planting the cheapest grass on all your ground to produce a ton of grass for 30 days and then nothing after that, you have staggered pastures with different grass peaks,” he explained.

Match stocking density to grass

A common mistake made by many cow-calf producers is stocking the pastures for peak grass production. When grass production starts to drop, overgrazing occurs, and cattle start experiencing nutritional issues.

“Cows drop body condition really quick,” Dudley said. “Stage your stocking density so you can carry cows through lighter parts of the year.

“Focus on producing good quality and adequate quantity as well. Sometimes people focus on quality but don’t have the quantity.”

Stocking densities vary by region. In the Kinston area, Dudley said they stock a cow-calf pair on 1.25 to 1.5 acres. Two hours west, the stocking density for a cow-calf pair is 2 to 2.5 acres.

Select genetics for environment

“Match the genetics of the animal to work in your environment,” Dudley continued. “We may pick animals that are the best but are developed in a very different system than an eastern North Carolina hog farm. They may perform really well on wheat pasture and cornstalks in Nebraska but probably don’t have the same genetic composition as animals that will do well in North Carolina.

“You should select females that have proven they can work in your system,” he emphasized.

Dudley works with some producers who select and develop their own heifers for their cow-calf herd. “They are developing their own heifers, making the right bull selections and keeping the cows around until they are 10 to 15 years old,” he said. “It does require a special type of producer to keep a heifer.”

Producers looking for help with a cow-calf herd and pasture management should contact their local veterinarian or click here to email Dudley.


Combat seasonal infertility with strong husbandry

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Seasonal infertility continues to be a widespread problem for sow herds across the US. And if you don’t have a problem with seasonal infertility, it may mean you are not recognizing it, reported Daniel Gascho, DVM, with the Four Star Veterinary Service office in Mexico, Indiana.

Gascho offers several suggestions for recognizing and dealing with seasonal drops in fertility that occur in late summer and early fall but may not be noticed until winter.

“The signs can range from the obvious of just a lot of sows and gilts are not pregnant and I don’t know why,” he said. “But for people focused on breeding, they may notice delayed return to heat after weaning. You may notice, when they do cycle again, that it’s at an unusual time and not on a normal 21-day cycle. Or you may notice she was pregnant and then she lost it.”

Causes for seasonal issues

Many factors are involved in seasonal infertility. Top of the list is hot weather when sows don’t like to eat or breed, according to Gascho.

Another big factor is poor nutrition caused by mycotoxins or poor corn quality. “We sometimes jokingly refer to it as ‘combine-itis’ because people working in the fields this time of year are busy, and general husbandry drops a bit,” he explained. “They are not paying as close attention to the things that play a role in infertility.”

Other stressors can cause infertility problems like moving sows too quickly after breeding, crowding or fighting in gestation pens, and not pushing feed intake while sows are nursing piglets.

“But you could have a perfect farm, and you’re still going to see a drop in fertility this time of year,” he added. “That’s the part we don’t fully understand. A lot of people suspect it has to do with natural hereditary instinct of swine where wild pigs quit breeding in September so they don’t have litters during the winter.

“Our commercial animals aren’t affected by temperatures, but some scientists hypothesize it has to do with photosensitivity — the length of the day.”

Strategies to manage infertility

Regardless of the cause, producers can follow management strategies to minimize the seasonal infertility issues.

Because heat is the leading cause of infertility, Gascho recommends using cool cells, misters and ventilation rates to keep ambient temperatures low and sows comfortable. This equipment also must be checked regularly to make sure it is working.

“When sows are too hot, they don’t feel like eating, which makes them not maintain their weight, which makes them not breed well,” he said.

Reduce feed issues by paying attention to quality, especially in the fall when last year’s crop has been stretched to cover until the new crop is harvested. That’s when Gascho sees a spike in feed-related issues like mycotoxins, mold contamination, odor, lower quality and poor nutrition.

Keep sows healthy by providing adequate feed. “Make sure you’re pushing feed intake during stressful times in their lives when they are nursing piglets or you are trying to get them to ovulate,” he added.

To help manage infertility problems, Gascho suggested, “Heat checking twice a day to find [females] that are not bred. Sort them out and get them rebred. This may require ultrasound to check for pregnancy at 4 weeks if that’s appropriate for your farm.”

Focus on animal husbandry

In addition, Gascho recommends closely following good husbandry practices to reduce infertility issues.

“We just have to focus extra hard and make sure we do all of the things that we can control exactly right so we don’t have that on top of this seasonal or inherent thing that always happens,” he said. “Don’t get discouraged because everybody fights this.

“The best way to manage it is to find [unbred females] right away and do something about it so they don’t disappear into your herd and 3 months later, half of them aren’t pregnant.”


Check with your Four Star veterinarian to investigate seasonal infertility at your farm.


Well-managed estrus helps gilts, sows achieve top performance

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Success in pork production starts with a well-managed sow herd that cycles together and on time. Unfortunately, reproductive problems can derail the breeding process.

“One of the biggest [challenges] we battle is making sure we get these gilts cycling and breeding appropriately,” said Daniel Hendrickson, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Farmland, Indiana. “It’s very, very important that we get these gilts off to a good start and get them bred in the herd.”

A successful first parity sets gilts up for successful parities throughout their lifetime, Hendrickson added.

Getting gilts bred

The main reason gilts do not get bred on time is lack of good boar exposure, according to Hendrickson. Boar exposure should start in the gilt-development unit and continue when they enter the sow farm.

“Make sure not only are gilts getting more exposure, but multiple boar exposures,” he explained. “Gilts react differently to different boars because different boars put off different amounts of pheromone.

“And sometimes it takes getting those boars in with the gilts…You’re not going to get very good exposure if you don’t actually get that boar into the pen and let him get in contact with the female.

“Also, gilts [should be] at adequate size, adequate age, adequate body condition. All those things can affect estrus.”

Hendrickson wants gilts bred at 36 to 38 weeks of age and farrow at 1 year of age. He also wants gilts weighing at least 300 pounds. “We want them old enough and big enough so when they do farrow…there are fewer dystocia problems,” he said.

Sow challenges

In sows, Hendrickson sees some seasonal influences on breeding. In late summer, there can be an uptick in sows with delayed estrus. Instead of coming into heat at 5 days post-weaning, they come into heat 6, 7 or 8 days post-weaning. In the winter, he notices another delay in estrus due to the cold weather.

“I believe the main [problem] that affects sows coming out of farrowing is body condition,” he said. “If they go into the farrowing house too skinny, then they come out of the farrowing house too thin. Then the sow’s body goes into a protective mechanism where they know they’re not in good enough condition to cycle like they need to.”

When sows and gilts do not come into heat, Hendrickson said to look for the cause in genetics, management and boar exposure. If the cause is not apparent, then he uses estrus manipulation products.

How to manipulate estrus

“Our ideal situation is to use our hormones or injectables, P.G. 600 and Matrix, at a bare minimum,” he said. But if the cause for estrus delay is not found, then he will use a product to get females in heat and bred.

“The only time P.G. 600 is successful is when a gilt’s either been cycling and quit cycling through her estrus, or she’s never cycled before,” he explained. “That’s when we can use P.G. 600 to stimulate that gilt to cycle that first time and then go from there.”

But if a gilt cycled 7 days ago and the breeding crew missed it, or the gilt didn’t have a very strong heat, P.G. 600 will not change the cycle or help it.

“An example of how I suggest my clients use P.G. 600 is once we definitely know those gilts are of age and the right size, we really stimulate them with multiple boars…for 4-, 5- and even 6-week period…Then we’ll go in and use P.G. 600 to help stimulate those gilts that haven’t cycled within that first window.”

Matrix is a product Hendrickson uses to help organize a group of sows or gilts for possibly batch farrowing or a breeding project. The product delays estrus and works well on females that have been cycling, he added.

To organize a group of gilts where some have and some have not been cycling, he suggested putting the group on Matrix or a progesterone product for 14 days. On the last day or after the last dose, he gives the gilts a dose of P.G. 600. This results in a high percentage of gilts coming into estrus together.


Better manage your sow herd with uniform body-condition technique

After noticing an alarming difference in sow body conditions in several herds, Cary Sexton, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service (FSVS), became concerned.

“I saw people that were highly subjective in their ideal animal body conditions,” he said. “On farms with multiple employees who evaluate sows, I saw a lot of group-to-group variability among sow groups in crated gestation. Pen gestation was even more variable.”

The variability among sows was especially concerning because feed budgets are based on sow condition, explained Sexton who is with the FSVS Kinston, North Carolina office. If the herd isn’t uniform, then some sows eat too much feed, and others don’t get enough.

The solution

Sexton looked at different ways to objectively determine sow body condition. Most were eliminated including ultrasound and fat-depth measurements, which requires a high level of technical skill.

He decided to focus on a sow caliper designed by Mark Knauer, PhD, swine specialist at North Carolina State University Extension. Knauer agreed to meet with Sexton and some pork producers to discuss the caliper.

Knauer designed the sow caliper to standardize sow body condition instead of relying on visual scores, which can lead to expensive herd problems. Underfed sows more frequently experience impaired reproduction and well-being issues. Overfeeding sows leads to higher feed costs, more farrowing problems and higher pre-weaning mortality.

Implementing sow caliper

The sow caliper is a sturdy metal device that’s designed for easy use on sows. After Knauer demonstrated the caliper, Sexton said producers were supportive about trying it in their herds. Employees were less supportive, with concern about how long it would take to measure sows with the caliper.

“But once they used it, the employees felt they were doing a better job determining body condition than previously,” Sexton said. “And most employees can do it in about the same time as they previously were taking in performing visual scoring.”

The caliper must be used properly to accurately determine body condition. Sexton said the caliper must be placed at the last rib and with the pivot point on the spine for proper calibration.


He recommends checking sows with the caliper at breeding, pregnancy check at 50 to 60 days, and at 90 days. Gilts can be started at pregnancy check or after to prevent interfering with conception. It can also be used in a gestation pen system if the animals are housed in crates until pregnancy check or beyond.

“The first few weeks of pregnancy are the cheapest time to recover condition lost during lactation as the sows have less nutritional demand from the next litter,” Sexton said. “The condition can also be carried over into the gestation pens in assigning them and being able to more closely manage the amount offered each animal.”

$250,000 feed savings

Some of Sexton’s clients have used the sow caliper for several years. The biggest change for them was sow feed management.

“We saw huge feed savings for some companies, and one system saved $250,000 a year,” he said. “For a few systems where the sows tended to be thinner, there was a feed increase but with better management and feed utilization.”

Sexton said his biggest surprise was seeing how the small differences between body conditions can cause big variabilities in the animal. For example, he’s noticed sows in good body condition with adequate nutrition will handle disease challenges better.

Another benefit of well-conditioned sows is more piglets born live at the second and third farrowings, he said. The sows also continue to hold the higher numbers in subsequent farrowings.

Employees regularly using the sow caliper also observe sows more frequently. Health issues like lameness can be caught early and addressed before growing into major health problems, Sexton added.

For more information on the sow caliper, contact Mark Knauer.



Parasites persist in hog production, especially in niche markets

Environmentally controlled hog facilities eliminated most swine parasites. But Ascaris suum (roundworm) continues to persevere on some conventional farms and frequently on farms for niche markets.

“Bringing pigs indoors onto slatted floors has decreased the overall prevalence of parasites in swine,” reported Laura Carroll, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. “But roundworms can still be a problem in conventional swine units.

“Niche production systems where pigs are raised on pasture or on solid floors with bedding are more prone to developing parasitic infections,” she said. In addition to roundworm, these farms can also face issues with Trichuris suis (whipworm).

Roundworm encounters

Roundworms continue to persist in hog systems because they are difficult to eliminate with common sanitation methods, Carroll explained. The adult female can lay up to 2 million eggs a day — eggs that are resistant to disinfectants and chemicals.

The clinical signs of roundworms may include a cough that is non-responsive to antibiotics, thumping, unthriftiness, poor hair coat, decreased growth rates and presence of adult worms in feces. On necropsy, the most prevalent lesions are milk spots on the liver due to larval migration of worms and detection of adult worms in the small intestine.

“Roundworms can cause decreased growth rates and feed efficiency, and increased mortality — particularly in younger animals,” Carroll said. “They can also cause liver condemnation and decreased carcass value at slaughter plants.”

Roundworm treatment

Carroll recommends routine monitoring for roundworm on all sow farms, both conventional and niche. Roundworm eggs can be detected either in fecal samples or oral fluids.

“In our niche production systems, we detect roundworm eggs in probably 75% of the samples,” she added.

“Depending on the severity of the infection and management goals, we may implement a mass herd deworming program or manage with a strategic control program at critical time points based on prepatent period of the worm and type of anthelmintic used.

“At the sow farm level, this could entail administering an anthelmintic to gilts just prior to introduction into the sow herd and deworming sows 2 to 3 weeks prior to farrowing,” Carroll explained. “Sows can transmit roundworms to their piglets…deworming sows a couple of weeks before farrowing prevents them from contaminating their pigs.”

Several anthelmintic products are available for roundworm treatment and control. Carroll recommends working with a veterinarian to determine which one is most appropriate for their herd.

“Anthelmintics can vary in their spectrum of activity,” she explained. “Some are effective at eliminating the mature (adult) worms but not effective against immature worms. Depending on what’s going on at your farm, one product may be preferred over another. If the appropriate product is used and it is administered at the correct timing interval, then generally we have a good response to treatment.”

In addition, increased sanitation and washing sows pre-farrow to remove feces will help reduce the number of roundworm eggs in the environment which may subsequently infect piglets.

Whipworm issues

Niche production systems also are more prone to whipworms than other hog systems, Carroll said. These parasites are more difficult to detect because females are sporadic egg layers. Infected pigs may not be passing eggs when a fecal sample is taken.

The clinical signs are more obvious than roundworms. Young pigs will have mucohemorrhagic diarrhea and exhibit signs of wasting and lethargy; there will also be increased mortality. Diagnosis on necropsy is the presence of worms in the large intestine and cecum.

“If whipworm eggs are found, we implement treatment with an anthelmintic that’s effective,” she said. “There are less products effective against whipworms than roundworms. So it’s important to discuss with your veterinarian what’s effective.

“We also work hard to clean up the facility as much as possible. Disinfect between groups, but it is still difficult to control because the eggs are very persistent in the environment.” The eggs can remain viable for several years in favorable conditions.

“Control can be challenging based on the facility design, solid floor, pastures,” she added. “We do pasture rotation to minimize how many worms are shed into the environment.”

In herds where whipworms are established, Carroll uses an anthelmintic as a preventative to keep whipworm levels lows. All new groups of pigs added to the herd are treated.

“Prevention is the key to parasite control,” she said. “This goes back to having a good relationship with your veterinarian and making sure you have good control programs in place to minimize the transmission and keep the burden level as low as possible.”