How to improve a young calf’s future performance

The first few weeks of a calf’s life are the most important for developing a healthy animal. “Everything we do for calves in the first 6 weeks will dictate how they perform for the rest of their life,” stated Taylor Engle, DVM, with Four Star Veterinary Service in Chickasaw, Ohio.

“And in the first 10 to 14 days, if a calf has a really bad experience and can’t get through it, it will struggle for the rest of its life,” he added. “The chance of that calf hitting its true potential is limited whether as a beef animal or as a heifer replacement.”

Engle suggests several steps to take for providing the best care possible to help young calves grow into healthy, productive animals.

Good plane of nutrition

The first step in a calf’s life is making sure it starts off with adequate colostrum from a cow that has been vaccinated.

“Not all colostrum is created equal,” Engle said. “It’s what we put into the cow before she creates her colostrum that is important. Vaccinating a cow before she calves will allow her to increase the amount of antibodies she puts into her colostrum and dramatically benefit the calf.”

He also wants colostrum intake measured and the colostrum quality determined with a refractometer. “So really focus on good colostrum management, and make sure those calves have good colostrum intake,” he said.

After colostrum, follow up with a good milk replacer that mixes well and is easily absorbed by the calf. As the calf grows, it also develops an active immune system, which takes a lot of energy. And if the calf is stressed, it will need more energy. “If we stress a calf, it’s going to need a good plane of nutrition,” Engle said.

In addition, provide only good, clean, fresh water for calves so they will drink plenty of it. “If a farmer won’t drink out of the bucket, we shouldn’t ask the calf to drink out of it either,” he said.

Super-clean environment

The next step is to ensure calves have a “super-clean environment,” Engle said. “But a lot of dairy beef producers struggle with disinfection. If we put a calf in a hutch or pen that hasn’t been disinfected, that calf will have a problem if there was a calf before it that had scours. The animal will get the disease and continue to pass it along to the barn. Make sure to disinfect the entire calf area.”

In addition, bottles used for feeding should be completely disinfected between calves to reduce disease pressure.

Good bedding maintenance

Quality bedding is important for good calf health. Engle prefers straw bedding over other types including sawdust, which can lead to respiratory problems. Straw bedding allows the calves to nest and keep warm in cold weather.

Good bedding, and not just straw bedding, will help decrease naval infections. “If a calf’s naval gets infected, it will translocate to the liver, and the animal will be systemically ill which causes lots of challenges,” he added.

Calf bedding must be kept clean and changed on a regular basis to help reduce stress, which increases a calf’s need for more feed.

“Always keep good clean bedding because in the winter it’s a warmth provider,” he continued. “In summer if the bedding is not changed, it will get moist and will have flies and bacteria growing on it, which are detrimental to calf health.

“It takes time to do a good job with bedding,” he added. “Some things we have to do with these calves are not convenient.”

Disease prevention

Baby calves are at risk of developing scours or respiratory disease, which threatens to upend their health for a lifetime. In the first few weeks, Engle focuses on enteric pathogens including the parasite cryptosporidium, bovine coronavirus and rotavirus, and bacteria including E. coli, clostridium and Salmonella.

“Definitely disinfection will help reduce the environmental disease pressure,” he said. “Water is important too, because as these calves have an enteric challenge, they will scour and become dehydrated. We have to have calves hydrated to prevent certain diseases and stay healthy.”

Taking steps to ensure newborn calves stay clean, warm, hydrated and fed will go a long way to producing healthy animals for future markets, according to Engle.

‘Doc, what should I vaccinate my pigs for?’

One of the most common questions Daniel Brown, DVM, hears from swine clients is what vaccinations are needed and when should they be given. “That topic seems to come up on almost every farm visit,” he said. Brown works from the Four Star Veterinary Service clinic in Holland, Michigan.

Ultimately, the goal of any vaccination strategy is to help lessen the risk of a disease challenge that will adversely affect pig production.

“The hope with any vaccine is, by exposing the pigs to a bug or even a piece of a bug, that their bodies learn how to deal with the pathogen if they come across it in the barn,” Brown explained. “Sometimes, we are trying to protect the pigs from a bug we know they will see, and other times, we are trying to give them protection from a bug they might see.”

Type of hog operation

Several factors can influence the vaccine strategy a veterinarian develops for a hog farm. The first and most important one is the type and objective of the hog operation.

“In the Four Star group, we work with a range of clients from large commercial producers focused on producing pounds of quality pork to families focused on raising a handful of good-looking pigs for the show ring,” Brown said.

The different objectives of each client’s hog operation are kept in mind when developing and implementing vaccine strategies.

Health history, pig density, logistics

Veterinarians also consider other health challenges the farm has battled and pig density when building a vaccine program. Clients located in pig-dense areas generally have faced more disease challenges than clients in locations such as the upper peninsula of Michigan.

And then there is the issue of logistics on the farm. “Vaccine protocols developed by veterinarians consider how the pigs are going to be vaccinated so it will be followed,” Brown said. “It is imperative that everyone understands and agrees on the strategy to be implemented.”

Common vaccines

One of the most common pathogens requiring a vaccination is porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2). Brown includes a vaccine strategy for PCV2 on virtually all farms “because it is so widespread and can have a wide range of effects from increased mortality in nurseries to reproductive failure in sows.”

Another set of bugs that are frequently vaccinated for in combination are parvovirus, erysipelas and several types of Leptospira. Often times, this will be seen in breeding animals to help prevent reproductive failures.

Other bugs that are vaccinated against will often be farm specific and may vary on what coverage can be achieved with a single product. For instance, PCV2 vaccines are often combined to include coverage against Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae.

If other vaccines such as erysipelas or influenza are added into breeding and/or market-hog protocols depends on factors such as pig density in the area and how previous groups performed.

“I’ve seen mild flare-ups of erysipelas in finishing stages and have had to add in a dose after weaning,” Brown said. “It’s definitely something that’s still out there and can be seen in groups that come from sows vaccinated against it.”

Many vaccination programs will include protection against influenza. “Flu travels around very easily, and we can often see a new strain develop like we see in humans,” Brown said. “When we vaccinate for the flu, it helps to reduce signs and symptoms. I will often lean heavily on using a flu vaccine in pig-dense areas.”

Show-pig vaccinations

Brown’s vaccination strategy for most show pigs tends to be more proactive than in commercial settings where biosecurity is typically stronger.

“In the show world, it’s a larger challenge to have a robust biosecurity plan, as well as a successful breeding and show operation,” he said. “Quite often, clients will use gilts and boars that were successful on a show circuit to replace their breeding stock.

“At a show, they may go to a barn with 750 pigs that came from 500 different farms,” he added. “In these cases, I start talking about a robust vaccine program that includes all of the vaccines mentioned above (PCV2, Mycoplasma, influenza, erysipelas, parvovirus and Leptospira) plus more, depending on those other factors such as previous herd health.”

Vaccine follow-up

Brown’s goal when setting up a vaccine protocol for any client is to decide what diseases the pigs need to be protected against and what’s the best way to do it. Equally important is following up with the client to see how the strategy worked and if it needs changing.

“Vaccinology” is a huge topic of discussion and for good reason. Vaccines allow for sows to continue producing litters of healthy pigs, for market hogs to continue producing quality pork, and for youth to show their healthy animals in competitions.

“As veterinarians, providing vaccine protocols is just one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “We must also strive to make sure clients understand the importance of following those protocols and why we developed them. If clients know the ‘why’ of protocols, then they will often be more successful in the implementation of the strategies,” he concluded.

“We need to have a conversation on why each vaccine is important and why the timing is important. If you take the time to explain the ‘why’ to clients, then we will often be more successful in the implementation of our strategies,” he concluded.

Develop replacement heifers like a cow but with exceptions

Cow-calf herds can add a nice profit to the bottom line of hog production systems that use manure on their own pastures. These profits can increase long term if herds keep and develop their own replacement heifers, suggests Harrison Dudley, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Kinston, North Carolina.

“When we make a decision to keep a heifer, we are taking $750 to $1,000 off the income list in the short term,” Dudley said. “But the benefits in the long term outweigh the costs upfront. And it is a very long-term benefit.”

Selecting heifers

One big benefit of selecting replacement heifers from your own herd is you know the genetics, and they work in your system, he explained. Plus, you can continue to make herd improvement through your bull selections.

When developing heifer replacements, Dudley recommends a heifer “stress test.” The stress test involves moving heifers to a pasture to see how they perform but keeping them separate from the cow herd.

“The stress test is to treat a heifer like a cow,” he said. “A lot of folks baby the heifers to get them pregnant and deliver their first calf as quickly as possible, which is important. But I think that artificially selects animals that can’t handle the stress as a cow, where they are put into a pasture with 100 other cows and have to compete for resources.”

Keep heifers separate

Ideally, Dudley still wants replacement heifers separated from cows but kept in pastures dedicated to heifer development. Here the heifers are provided supplemental nutrition to help them continue growing.

“I don’t think a heifer can do it on grass alone,” he said. “They need to be on a good, chelated mineral that is balanced for our part of the world, and not the generic feed-company blend.

“I like them to get some protein and energy supplementation at 0.5% bodyweight up to 1% of bodyweight to keep them growing so they can have a calf by the time they are 2 years old.”

Dudley recommends trying to get heifers bred by the time they are 15 months old. Anything earlier is too young, he adds, because the heifers are still growing.

Heifer development not easy

“A heifer is a different animal than a cow,” Dudley said. “Most cow-calf producers are really good cow managers but not good at heifer management.”

“I have one client with a herd of 80 cows that are 15 years old. They keep their own heifers. It’s nothing fancy, but it is efficient. They’ve made mistakes, but it’s designed well and it performs.”

Producers looking for help with selecting and developing replacement heifers should contact their local veterinarian or Dudley at hdudley@livestockvet.com.

 

Early identification critical in preventing sow lameness

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Sow lameness continues to trouble hog operations in the US, causing high numbers of involuntary removals from herds. These expensive sow removals can be reduced by identifying lameness issues early and addressing equipment hazards that lead to sow injuries, reported Michael Pierdon, VMD, Four Star Veterinary Service, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

“When a sow develops lameness that is severe enough that she is no longer able to get to the feeder…she will need to be removed regardless of her age or production history or stage of gestation,” Pierdon added. “Those involuntary removals are really damaging financially to sow herds.”

Identify gait issues early

Injury to the hoof and foot cause most lameness that eventually leads to removals. Pierdon said these injuries can go unnoticed by farm staff because pigs are good at hiding them.

“Those injuries can become infected, and the infection festers and becomes more severe over time, eventually causing significant damage within the joint, bones or foot,” he said.

“Once the damage progresses to that point, the animals aren’t recoverable. Medically we’re just not able to manage them back to health.”

The key to preventing this scenario is training farm workers to identify animals much earlier in the course of the disease.

“We need to identify animals when they have a gait abnormality or are not walking smoothly,” Pierdon explained.

“Aggressive antibiotic treatment strategies can have some success in resolving these issues before they develop into a [high] level of severity.”

If farm workers wait to treat an animal until it is unwilling to put weight on a leg, it is too late. Clinically resolving lameness at this point is very unlikely.

Pen-gestation hazards

“Lameness has really risen in importance as we’ve begun to house sows more often in group-housing situations,” Pierdon added. “An animal needs to be able to move and move effectively without pain to compete and thrive in a group environment.”

The move to group housing offers more opportunities for sows to move around, interact with other sows and become injured, which begins the lameness process, he explained.

In addition, many sow barns are equipped with slatted flooring designed for stall gestation. When converted to pens, the slats are too wide for sows to walk on, and injuries occur when feet get stuck in the slat gaps.

Pierdon said he also has seen injuries due to hardware issues, like sharp edges sticking out of the floor or feeders facing the wrong direction.

In barns where the facility issues were fixed, the number of lameness issues improved, he added.

Genetic improvements

Compounding the lameness issue are sow genetics that haven’t focused on traits needed for pen gestation.

“Animals with heavier bones, with bigger feet, will likely do better as far as lameness goes,” he said. “We really need help from our genetic partners on that, on selecting for traits that ensure soundness and survivability in these housing systems.”

While lameness will never be fully solved, Pierdon believes the industry will learn to manage it better.

“The biggest drivers will be facility design and genetic improvement, refocusing on structure and durability on the genetic side,” he said. “But also continuing to experiment and study facility design to find options that reduce the risk of injury to the animals.”

In the meantime, attention to the first signs of lameness will help farms better handle sow injuries and lower involuntary removals from the herd.

 

 

Why it pays to conduct regular water-quality checkups

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Water is as important for the growth and health of pigs as feed. As such, it makes sense to test a hog unit’s water just as frequently as the feed, according to Jim Kober, DVM, water quality-consultant, Holland, Michigan.

But water testing often doesn’t occur until a problem like reduced pig performance develops. An investment in regular water tests to spot problems early can save time and money for the farm. Kober offers recommendations for the water tests.

Signs of poor water quality

“One thing we see is simply low water flow,” Kober said. “Over time, water flow or pressure may get less. It might be [due to] a coating of rust, or a slimy coat of biofilm. If that stuff is growing in the waterline or rust is accumulating, it’s going to affect water flow and livestock performance. Remember that milk is primarily water, so adequate flow during lactation is critical.”

Another sign of a water problem is scours in weaned pigs. Coliforms growing in water lines can include Escherichia coli and Salmonella bacteria, which infect susceptible neonates and newly weaned pigs.

“I’ve seen nurseries with E. coli scours after weaning, and we find there are actually coliforms in the water,” Kober said.

Other times, the problem isn’t obvious. “If a hog farm is having a problem that doesn’t make sense and they’ve done a lot of diagnostics but can’t get to the bottom of it, water is a good place to look,” he added. “Sometimes the water will taste bad to the animals, or the flow is so bad that it will actually affect animal performance.”

Testing panels

“The water test panel I like to do has 10 or 11 different things, starting with the pH of the water and then micronutrients like calcium, sodium, manganese, magnesium, chloride, fluoride,” Kober explained. “In west Michigan, many of the water samples are quite high in pH, and many samples have high iron levels. That iron will build up in the pipes over time, and the pH will actually negatively affect intake.”

He recommends targeting a water pH level for pigs between 6.5 and 7. Keeping pH below 7 will help reduce bacteria loads while offering the best taste for pigs.

The water test also should be thorough enough to include testing for coliforms.

Kober suggests when collecting water samples to start as close to the well as possible to make sure the water coming into the facility is good quality. Then take another test at the farthest point away from the well to see what happens in between. For a single-site finishing barn, take the sample at the end of the barn. On farrow-to-finish sites, take samples at the end of each stage of production.

Cleaning water lines

If a water test indicates the water flow issue is a biofilm, many products are available to cleanse waterlines, according to Kober. Some products are used when the building or room is empty, while others can be used with animals in the building.

“The first thing is to clean the waterlines,” he said. “If we find out through water tests that there’s an ongoing problem, like iron or sulfates, then we may need to install a system to treat continuously so the water stays good.”

If the water test indicates a problem at the well, the well can be shocked to clean it. But if a well is really bad, Kober said a different long-term solution may be needed.

In the end, the key to handling any water issue is to first do regular tests and know the problems before they become big enough to affect pig production, he added.

 

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.