Scours can be a difficult and chronic issue within a farrowing barn. Not only does it affect the health and growth of the pig, but it also can be detrimental to people who work in the farms daily. For this article, I will not be talking about treatments for scours, but rather potential areas of your operation that you could prevent or control scours in the farrowing barn.
First, we need to understand which pathogens are of concern within a farrowing barn. A pathogen is described as a bacterium, virus, or other microorganisms that can cause disease and the following are the main pathogens of concerns:
- Escherichia coli (E. coli)
- Clostridium perfringens
- Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE)
- Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv)
Each of these pathogens act differently and cause scours at different ages in the pigs. For example, E. coli, Rotavirus, and Clostridium perfringens tend to be more of an early lactation scours whereas Coccidia causes scours later in lactation. As for TGE and PEDv, I will talk more about these pathogens later in the article.
Overall, scours tend to be a complex multi-factorial issue. I like to break the causes into the following five categories: lack of immunity, improper movements, unfavorable environment, high pathogen load, and biosecurity. Let’s review each category and potential opportunities in your operation.
1. Lack of Immunity:
The biggest component to the immunity category is colostrum. Colostrum is high in energy, protein, and antibodies. Piglets absorb colostrum through the gut for up to 24 hours and are the main immune defense the piglet may have until it is able to develop its own immunity. Creating high-quality colostrum via feedback or vaccines weeks prior to farrowing will help create the antibodies specific to scours in the piglets. With certain pathogens such as coccidia, it is important to note that feedback can amplify your scours situation if not done properly. Make sure you work with your veterinarian to identify and develop a protocol for your operation.
Now that the high-quality colostrum has been created the next step is to ensure the piglets are ingesting the colostrum. By drying off piglets, you are allowing them to change from a wet and cold status to a warm and dry status. Once warm and dry the piglets are more likely to search for the sow’s teat and start to suckle therefore ingesting the colostrum.
Another strategy for the improvement of colostrum intake includes split suckling. The concept of split suckling is to separate littermates for a certain time period, usually less than an hour, to allow all littermates the opportunity for colostrum intake. This process can be repeated within a litter multiple times to ensure the colostrum intake by all littermates.
2. Improper Movements:
There are two main classifications of improper movements: piglets and people. For piglets, I look at how often piglets are being moved between litters during the fostering process. There are two main strategies at the time of fostering and they include unlimited movements (“peas in a pod”) and restricted movement protocols. Each strategy has their own benefit but if controlling or preventing scours is your main goal then restricted movements using a form of block sizing would be suggested. Additionally, the restricted use of foster or processing carts will help reduce the transfer of the pathogens to other piglets.
As for the improper movements for people, I look at what ways people are directly transferring scours between litters. This includes foot traffic and order of events. For foot traffic, I am mainly focusing when people step into the farrowing stalls. I recommend using equipment such as a fish net or piglet grabber to avoid stepping into the stall and if possible work in pairs to allow a person to be on each side of the stall for ease collection of the piglets.
In the case of improper movements of people, you need to look at the order of events that is taking place during the treatment or processing of piglets. For the people who are executing these events, handle the health piglets before the scouring piglets when at all possible. This includes treatment and processing.
3. Unfavorable Environment:
Management of the environment in a farrowing room can be difficult because the sows and piglets have different requirements. Sows like a cooler environment for comfortability and piglets need a warmer environment to conserve body heat. If the piglet’s environment is unfavorable through either drafting or chilling the pigs, then this can cause scours to the piglets from the stress of the environment.
Heat lamps, mats, or heat pads are tools used to create the ideal microenvironment for the piglets. It is important to look at the pigs to ensure they are set or working properly. For example, a heat lamp may be set too low if the piglets are laying all around the lamp but not directly under the lamp. This is a daily chore and will need to be adjusted as the piglets get older.
Ventilation is another important aspect of the environment in the farrowing rooms. Fans, controllers, heaters, and inlets work together to help create this environment. General maintenance is needed to ensure the rooms are ventilated properly, but also daily observations of the humidity, ammonia levels, and air speed
4. High Pathogen Load:
Another way of describing this category is to say how much “bug” there is in your environment. Although exposure to certain “bugs” may help for the development of the gut, for this category I am referring to a disease challenge. The main goal is to reduce the pathogen load, therefore, reducing the chance of passing it on to the next generation of piglets. This is executed by cleaning and disinfecting.
Washing the farrowing stalls, hallways, and load outs after each wean is important. The use of detergents and hot water will help make the cleaning process easier and the higher likelihood the organic material has been removed. Once washed, the next critical step is to disinfect the rooms and allow enough time for the rooms to completely dry. This allows the disinfectant to work properly and creates a more unfavorable environment for most of the pathogens of concerns.
Not only is it important to wash and disinfect the facility, but it is also important to wash the equipment used for the pigs daily if possible. This includes carts being used for processing, fostering, and mortality removal. Also, do not forget about the instruments and totes used during the processing and treatment events.
PEDv and TGE can be devastating in your farrowing barn and I truly hope they are not a long-term issue for you. Biosecurity is the most important aspect in trying to prevent these pathogens from entering your operation. If you have the unfortunate opportunity of being exposed, then you could use extreme measures previously mentioned to help control and even eliminate these pathogens from your farm.
Again, scours can be a complex multi-factorial issue that can affect the piglets and people working with the pigs. I hope this article has identified opportunities on your operation to improve in areas of immunity, movements, environment, and pathogen load. I encourage you to work with your veterinarian to develop a plan for controlling, preventing, and in certain cases eliminating scours within your operation.
Scott VanderPoel, DVM
Pipestone Veterinary Services