Managing Strep suis in commercial pig production

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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.”


Biosecurity needs regular maintenance to keep out disease

Hog production today involves detailed biosecurity plans to prevent disease outbreaks. But keeping up biosecurity protocols can become tedious. To prevent biosecurity lapses, producers should pay regular attention to biosecurity and not ignore it.

“Biosecurity is a maintenance area that continually needs to be given attention,” stated Duane Long, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service, Mexico, Indiana. “As with any other part of the operation, if biosecurity is not addressed, something will potentially break.

“There is such a big difference between farms that are disease prone and farms that are more disease free,” he continued. “If you can be a farm in the low-disease-pressure category, it is so much more enjoyable to raise pigs when they are not sick. Managing health and biosecurity is a huge part of that — keeping the diseases out that we don’t want.”

Long offers several suggestions for making biosecurity a priority and keeping disease outbreaks to a minimum.

Periodic biosecurity reviews

At least once or twice a year, hog farms need to go through a formal biosecurity review or audit where workers are interviewed and barns inspected.

“It’s the process of finding a weak link and uncovering an area of concern or an area that is potentially problematic,” Long said.

He suggests using a checklist for the review. Checklists are available online, including this one on the Pork Quality Assurance website. Producers also may want to hire an independent advisor to conduct the review.

Formal biosecurity protocol

“Formalized means writing it down like ‘Here’s how we do it on the farm,’” Long explained. “These are the procedures you follow for biosecurity.”

The biosecurity protocol should be based off the audit and updates made when areas of weakness are discovered. One common weakness is with incoming animals.

“I think a critical area is understanding the health of your incoming animals like gilts and new boars,” Long said. “Not understanding the health status of those animals, and then not properly isolating and testing them prior to entry, are real, common problems.

“Another huge problem is transport vehicles,” he added. “Not knowing the history of the transport vehicle that just pulled up to your farm and backed up to your facility to load animals out is a significant disease risk to your animals. It’s an example of a biosecurity loophole that can become the weak link.”

Planned biosecurity meetings

Long encourages farms to hold periodic biosecurity meetings with the whole team, including anyone who physically comes to the farm with a vehicle or enters the farm. These meetings help everyone understand the biosecurity protocols for the farm.

“Setting aside some time for group discussions raises awareness and highlights the importance of the issue,” he explained. “Along with that, it’s also important to communicate expectations so people know what their behavior should be. Then there should be accountability if someone doesn’t follow the protocol.

“A lot of times we communicate by words, but equally or more important, we also communicate by example,” he added. “If I’m the manager of a farm and I’m not following the biosecurity protocols we have in place, then that’s also communicating something to the employees. But if they consistently see the upper management following protocols, that communicates a positive message that this is how we do it and we value our protocols.”

Help with biosecurity

Producers looking for help with biosecurity can contact a veterinarian.

“Veterinarians play a crucial role in being a resource for biosecurity concerns, all the way from developing the audit checklist to being the third-party auditor, which may involve visiting the farm and reviewing your processes,” Long said.

“They should be consulted to help develop the farm’s biosecurity protocol and conduct meetings to educate employees. Sometimes it’s more effective if employees hear it from an outside person like a veterinarian,” he added.

“Now that we are in the time of year when disease transmission is seasonably low, it’s a good opportunity to review our biosecurity practices before the higher-risk times come.”





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


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.