Slaughter checks pinpoint subclinical disease like atrophic rhinitis

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Slaughter checks performed at a packing plant are an underutilized tool for diagnosing subclinical disease, says Brad Schmitt, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service, Rushville, Indiana.

“We as swine veterinarians do a really good job of recognizing and treating clinical diseases that may be causing an obvious morbidity and mortality in the population,” Schmitt said. “I think we’ve got room to grow in recognizing subclinical issues that may not jump out at us, but they’re still there and affecting finishing performance.”

Atrophic rhinitis shows up

One disease Schmitt sees frequently on slaughter checks is atrophic rhinitis, a disease that was easily spotted by twisted snouts in the past.

“Now it’s become more of a subclinical issue where you might not see it in your live pigs, but essentially, it’s a damage to the filter that’s removing particulate going into the lungs,” he explained. “It’s predisposing those pigs to more pneumonia and respiratory issues.”

During a slaughter check, Schmitt tries to observe at least a couple of loads of hogs. Standing on the processing line, he is able to scan the viscera, cut snouts and determine the types of lesions in pigs. Other pathogens and disease processes that might be detected during a slaughter check include Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, Mycoplasma hyorhinis and roundworm infestation. These often go undetected while still affecting growth and efficiency.

“It gives us a good idea of what’s going on with the overall population rather than just a few sick pigs that you might normally do a post-mortem on,” he said.

Setting up slaughter checks

Slaughter checks must be scheduled ahead of time with the processor. Schmitt said some packers are more willing to work with veterinarians than others, and Covid-19 fears will certainly play into this as well.

“You are right there on the line interacting with the USDA veterinarian and other inspectors,” he explained. “Sometimes it is difficult to get in there without disrupting a production line.”

The extra effort to organize and perform slaughter checks is well worth it, according to Schmitt.

“I think it’s a very underutilized tool,” he said. “[Because] we’ve had ractopamine removed from our toolbox to help promote performance, I think we need to focus on other ways to do so. And this is one of those ways to fine-tune the health of our animals. Without knowing what kind of subclinical issues the pigs may have, they’re difficult to improve upon.

“We need to do a better job of promoting [slaughter checks] and making them a routine occurrence,” Schmitt concluded.