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.

Inadequate iron supplements lead to subclinical anemia in young pigs

A field trial evaluating iron supplementation for baby pigs found the typical 200 mg iron shot at birth is not enough. The trial was prompted by a client who wanted to compare different iron supplementation methods, reported Brittney Scales, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Mexico, Indiana.

Using a handheld device called a HemoCue, Scales was able to easily test pig hemoglobin levels during the trial. The device identified subclinical anemia in pigs that were not exhibiting signs of anemia.

“A lot of farmers think if they don’t have pale pigs, then they don’t have a problem with anemia,” Scales said. “We just take an ear prick [with HemoCue] and get a blood sample really quick…and actually have a concrete number to show [the producers] that their pigs are subclinically anemic.”

Field trial results

The three iron-supplement treatment groups used in the field trial include:

  • One 200 mg iron shot at day 1
  • One 100 mg iron shot at day 1 and a second 100 mg shot at day 10
  • One 200 mg iron shot at day 1 and oral iron 7 days pre-weaning

The best outcome came from the 200 mg iron shot followed by oral iron, a protocol her client requested. However, Scales prefers to use a second 200 mg shot at 10 days of age.

“We’re finding in a lot of research that two 200 mg injections are best…with over 70% of the pigs in the optimal range of hemoglobin,” she explained.

The protocol producing the worst outcome was the one 200 mg shot with no iron follow-up. The protocol with two 100 mg shots spaced apart did better, with higher levels of iron.

“When you break up that iron, you get better results,” Scales said. “We found if you do two shots of iron, whether that’s 100 mg or at best 200 mg shots twice, that is where we find the best results in pigs.”

Two-shot iron extra labor

“The first shot is typically within the first day or so of age,” she explained. “Depending on how labor is on the farm, we’d like for the follow-up shot to be over a week past the first shot. I think there are producers who still do just one shot because of labor costs and not having enough labor to pick up those pigs the next time.”

The cost of not following up with the later, second shot may be more expensive than previously thought.

“When the piglet’s blood is low in iron, the red blood cells do not do as well carrying oxygen throughout the body,” Scales said. Adequate levels of iron are required to optimize growth and support a healthy immune system. This means downstream, these subclinically anemic pigs will have lower weights and lower average daily gain than pigs that are not anemic.

“It’s a very costly, well-hidden problem that we don’t even recognize,” she added.