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.”


Little-known sapovirus causes diarrhea in baby pigs

A couple of puzzling cases of diarrhea in baby pigs that didn’t test positive for the usual culprits were recently identified through genome sequencing as a porcine sapovirus, reported Daniel Hendrickson, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Farmland, Indiana.

The diarrhea started in baby pigs at 6 to 7 days of age with symptoms similar to coccidiosis, but testing was negative. That’s when Hendrickson had the samples tested by polymerase chain reaction, and the sapovirus was discovered.

“I hadn’t heard much about sapovirus,” he admitted. “It is now another virus veterinarians and producers need to check when they are trying to reduce scours in the farrowing house.”

Sapovirus symptoms

Since porcine sapovirus was discovered in US swine herds 40 years ago, little attention has been paid to the virus. But improved testing methods now commonly detect sapovirus as a co-infection in diarrhea outbreaks and the sole cause in a few other outbreaks.

Hendrickson first learned of the virus when working with a couple of farms to clear up scours in the farrowing barn.

“They thought scours was pretty much under control, but they kept seeing a scour at 6 to 7 days of age,” Hendrickson explained. “It would last a few days and was a pasty scour like coccidia, not watery like Escherichia coli, rotavirus and some other viral baby pig scours. We would only find some rotavirus in the first few days after birth, but then testing would go negative.

“It’s not high mortality, but pigs go backwards pretty hard for 2 to 3 days,” he added. “The pigs at weaning will recover but will be 1 to 2 pounds smaller because of those couple of days of scours.”

He also was working with another client that had battled diarrhea for a couple of years and decided to check for sapovirus. Tests came back positive for the virus and showed very high loads of it.

Care and treatment

During a sapovirus outbreak, Hendrickson suggested keeping the pigs dry and well hydrated. Also make sure the sow is milking well. Most outbreaks last 3 to 4 days but can reoccur.

“We’d have a few weeks where it was pretty bad, and then it would get better for a month,” Hendrickson said. “Then it would creep back, and I knew the immunity was waning.”

Initially, he tried a feedback program but had little success. Then he moved to vaccinating the sows at 4 weeks and 1 week pre-farrowing, which provided consistent immunity.

“I think sapovirus is endemic in the sows and their environment,” Hendrickson said. “Cleaning and disinfection are critical to lower the virus level in the environment.”

More information

In 2015, the Swine Health Information Center produced an information sheet on sapovirus, available online at Porcine Sapovirus.

More information is also available at: Porcine sapoviruses: Pathogenesis, epidemiology, genetic diversity, and diagnosis.





Cold stress poses threat to calf health even at mild temps

Cold stress can become a drag on growth rates if calves aren’t kept warm and dry even at temperatures as high as 60° F.

“For every 2 degrees below the critical temperature, which is 60° F for calves up to 21 days old, they need 1% more energy just to stay warm,” reported Trey Gellert, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service. For calves over 21 days, the critical temperature is 42° F.

“I think many producers don’t realize calves can be experiencing cold stress over half the year and probably two-thirds of the year in Ohio and Wisconsin,” he said.

Other factors such as wind chill, drafts, moisture and humidity increase cold stress, and calves will expend even more energy to stay warm.

Gellert offered some strategies to reduce stress on calves.

Increase energy for winter

“The biggest issue I see is not changing the milk-replacer feedings for winter and keeping them the same as summer,” Gellert said. “The amount of energy given to calves from the summer to the winter should increase.”

He recommended increasing the amount of milk replacer and extra feedings during winter.

“We know those calves are experiencing cold stress, and they have to use energy to stay warm,” he added. “The biggest opportunity for feeders is to keep those calves warm with more feed.”

Prior to winter, Gellert suggested gradually increasing feed to help calves improve body condition and build a natural layer of insulation to help them handle cold temperatures.

Maintain good bedding

Calves need clean, dry bedding to stay warm and healthy. Gellert prefers straw bedding over sand or sawdust because calves can huddle into it and keep warm.

“Having good-quality bedding during the winter is an economic benefit because the animal is able to properly regulate body temperature,” he said.

“Generally, the health of the animal will improve if it is not using energy just to stay warm,” he added. “Average daily gain and feed-to-gain ratio will improve.  And the more bedding used, the better it is.”

Wet bedding that’s either muddy or contaminated by scours or other disease should be changed to prevent cold stress and illness.

“If they don’t have good bedding and are sitting in mud, that’s a double whammy,” Gellert said. “It pulls all the heat out of those calves.”

Wind, rain protection

The worst conditions for calves are outside in rain and wind. Cold stress quickly sets in, and the energy requirements to stay warm increase.

Gellert suggested using some type of wind break to help the animals stay out of the wind, as well as a shelter to stay dry. The best option is a barn to house the animals.

Calf jackets for newborns and, in some cases, calves up 16 weeks of age can also help them stay warm and dry. Jackets may also be needed for calves housed inside during the winter.

“When it’s 0° F outside, calves are still experiencing cold stress even when in a barn,” he said. “Those low critical temperatures really [adversely] affect them.”

Producers need to pay attention to cold stress in their young animals and take steps to help them stay warm.

“The health of the animal will improve if they are not using energy to stay warm. They will use energy to stay healthy and grow,” he said.

Managing Strep suis in commercial pig production

Featured Video Play Icon

Most, if not all, pigs harbor some strains of Streptococcus suis (Strep suis). Lately, challenges by the bacteria appear to be on the rise, but that could be interpreted as a positive.

“It’s up for debate whether Strep suis is on the rise. It could be we’re doing things to make Strep worse or we have better diagnostics, because it’s always been around,” reported Daniel Gascho, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Mexico, Indiana.

If producers have an outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, then Strep suis often takes a back burner, he said.

“I view producers wanting to tackle minor Strep suis as a good thing because it means they’ve fixed the really big problems,” he continued.

Common in post-weaning

Most Strep suis outbreaks occur in post-wean pigs when drastic changes are made to their living situation and new stressors are added.

“We can see primarily pathogenic Strep in the farrowing house, but without a doubt, post-weaning is where I see the most flare-ups of what I’ll call normal StrepStrep that’s typically not a primary pathogen and is a commensal organism that just flared up because the pig’s immune system was weakened.”

In these cases, Gascho recommends focusing on husbandry like room temperature, humidity levels, stocking density and proper nutrition. In addition, more pigs may need to be moved to hospital pens for individual treatment. If the outbreak is serious enough, water medications or other treatments may be warranted.

“But the big thing is if you can head off Strep before it starts, you’ll be miles ahead,” he said. “Just focus on all the normal husbandry items to the best of your ability.”

Serious flare-ups

There are times when Strep suis requires immediate intervention. These occur with more pathogenic strains that can lead to meningitis and death.

“If it’s one of those types of Strep, we need to treat now because the pig won’t last very long,” Gascho said. “This is the Strep we get the most calls about because it kills pigs.”

Most farms assume Strep suis is causing the meningitis and will treat accordingly. However, if treatment seems to be failing, a lab diagnosis should be conducted from a brain sample because there are other causes of meningitis requiring different treatments.

“The bigger picture is where did that pathogenic Strep suis come from?” Gascho said. “How do we keep that from happening again?”

Common solutions

“Strep is not typically a hardy bacterium; many drugs or antimicrobials licensed for use in swine have a label for Strep suis,” Gascho said. A few of these include ceftiofur and enrofloxacin products.

“If you have a late-stage Strep suis, some dexamethasone to decrease intracranial pressure will buy that pig a few more hours of life to allow your antimicrobials to work,” he added.

In the end, reducing Strep suis challenges will require keeping the pathogen under control through good husbandry practices.

Strep has been around as long as pigs have been domesticated; we haven’t knocked it out yet, and we won’t,” Gascho said. “Just keep doing your basic husbandry to keep it from starting, which is easier said than done, but that’s the key.”

Check with your Four Star veterinarian to develop a husbandry plan or a treatment plan for Strep suis on your farm.



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.



Heat stress can set cattle up for respiratory issues


Cattle suffering from heat stress will go off feed and, in some cases, become more susceptible to respiratory disease. Using just a few tactics to reduce the effects of hot weather will help keep cattle healthy and productive.

“We are seeing a lot of heat stress in cattle late this summer,” reported Taylor Engle, DVM, with Four Star Veterinary Service in Chickasaw, Ohio.

“Cattle will really back off feed and drink more water when heat stressed. You also may see them standing around in a wet spot in a dry lot, or with a frothy mouth and panting. At that point, you are in a tough spot.

“The biggest things cattle need are good air quality, clean water, dry bedding and plenty of shade in dry lots for good husbandry…and more water availability,” he added.

Add shade to dry lots

Most of the cattle Engle works with are either in dry lots or in smaller feedyards with a retrofitted dairy barn or lean-to facility. Cattle can become stressed in both situations if not managed correctly.

For dry-lot cattle, Engle recommends putting up inexpensive shade cloths to provide some protection from the sun.

“Shade cloths are designed to allow cattle feeling the heat to get under some shade,” he explained. “Then they can bounce back and forth between the feed, shade and water. It’s also a good way to increase feed intake during these hot, stressful times.”

Air, quality bedding in barns

A renovated barn can pose other problems especially if the cattle are kept confined with no access to an outside yard.

“A lot of these barns lack good ventilation so that exacerbates heat stress,” Engle said. “It gets hot; the bedding quality is poor, and humidity increases. Cattle will tend to congregate together which makes the situation worst because they will continue to produce more manure in a single spot which exacerbates the ammonia and humidity in the barn.”

Engle calls this mixture a recipe for disaster. “The ammonia from the urine and manure damages the cilia in the respiratory tract and reduces the animal’s ability to breathe out pathogens. We see a huge increase in respiratory disease when cattle are kept in these types of facilities.”

The best solution is to use a dry lot or yard with these barns. Engle suggested keeping the cattle in the barn during the hot daytime and pushing them outside at night where they breathe fresh air. This practice also will reduce the amount of manure ending up in the barn, which is another advantage.

Electrolytes, water, feed

“The other thing I focus on with heat stress is preventing dehydration,” Engle said. “When cattle get dehydrated, their mucus thins out, and they need fluid to cough up pathogens. It also allows things like leaky gut syndrome to occur because the normal immune functions of the calf are gone. It becomes a wildfire and is hard to get ahead of it.”

His advice to prevent issues with dehydration is to run electrolytes in the water whenever it gets hot, especially over 90° F.

“If it’s already hot, you should be running electrolytes to help calves increase water intake,” he said. “It’s cheap insurance.”

In addition, always provide plenty of water for the cattle. “I’ve never been to a farm where I said there’s too much water, or we had to provide less water availability,” he said.

“It’s also best to increase feed intake during these stressful times,” he added. Calves tend to eat more when shade and plenty of water are also provided in a hot dry-lot environment.

Reduce sow mortality with documentation and intervention

The cause of high sow-mortality rates may be tough to determine, but producers can take steps to address the problems and lower rates, according to Randy Jones, DVM, with Four Star Veterinary Service, Kinston, North Carolina.

Sow mortality didn’t used to be a major problem, but in the last decade mortality levels have risen to 10% and higher, sounding alarms in the industry.

“When you look at the cost structure of a farm, you want those sows to survive as long as possible,” Jones said. “It can be costly if you are losing parity 1 and parity 2 animals too early and not getting a full return on investment, [especially if you] couple that with the loss of production the animal would have given you.

“Invariably, the animals get bred and get pregnant but don’t make it to farrowing, which affects farrowing rate and the group’s efficiency in production.”

Determining causes

One of the toughest issues with sow mortality is determining the cause, because there are multiple factors involved, Jones said.

“On high-mortality farms, causes typically are lameness, skeletal issues, pelvic organ prolapse (POP), deaths from chronic infection and even twisted intestinal tracts,” he explained. “But to really understand the problem, you need to document sow deaths and all the particulars around it, such as when, where, why, and if euthanized.”

Jones has led necropsy studies by posting as many sows as possible on a client’s farm to find the root cause of mortalities.

In one study, a summer intern conducted an epidemiological work-up of five farms with high mortality rates. The intern used mostly gross pathology and a few necropsies to make a mortality diagnosis of issues such as lameness, prolapse and acute deaths with no cause.

“(The client) was amazed because they were convinced it was a prolapse problem,” Jones said.

“In actuality, they had a pretty bad lameness problem that was more easily corrected than a prolapse problem. Once we intervened and got them to do more early detection and treatment, they were able to reduce their sow mortality.

“It helps to quantify those things and look at them,” he added. “Sometimes it is surprising to find out what is causing all your losses.”

Prolapse interventions

The cause of POP is the most difficult of sow-mortality issues to solve.

“We’ve always had prolapses but not to the extent we’ve seen in the last 5 years,” Jones said. “It’s hard to put your finger on any one cause. We try to reduce all the things identified as prolapse risk factors, and invariably it goes away. But a lot of times it comes back at certain times of the year.”

Jones hopes a major industry project in the US pork industry called Improving Pig Survivability will be able to answer some of the questions about sow mortality. Iowa State University, Kansas State University and Purdue University, along with producers and allied industry, are involved with the project to solve and reduce both sow and pig mortality.

Early research results regarding POP have indicated that farms not using water treatment had higher POP mortalities than farms using either a hydrogen peroxide or chlorine-based treatment system. View the fact sheet.

Meanwhile the research has also found that farms using bump feeding (5 lbs. feed/day) in late gestation on thin sows based on body-condition scores had fewer POPs. View the fact sheet.

Other possible risk factors are facility type, nutrition, tail length, antibiotic use and blood biomarkers in sows. View the full report on POP in sows and refer to page 32 for risk factors.

Focus on lameness

“Lameness is a fairly multifactorial problem, too,” Jones said. “It goes back to identifying if it’s a systemic lameness, a structural lameness. Is it a foot issue that becomes infected and then lame? Is it flooring or nutrition? Or is it the [lack of] daily care and identifying problems early enough to treat before they become problems that can’t be fixed?”

The solutions, Jones said, come with training employees how to identify symptoms and signs of lameness early, so sows can be successfully treated.

“We need to get people to focus attention on these animals on a daily basis,” he continued. “It helps with a lot of issues.”

When solving sow-mortality problems like lameness and POP, Jones suggested using a whole-team approach with on-farm and service people, veterinarians and anyone else closely involved to quantify and identify the problems to bring them under control.

“People have to be careful because sometimes the most obvious may not work out to be the most important thing when looking at an overall sow-mortality problem,” he added. “It goes back to you doing the documentation and details of what’s happening on your farm.”