“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure …” The same advice that Benjamin Franklin gave to city leaders in Philadelphia about preventing fires in 1735 can be applied to raising livestock today.
Keeping animals healthy and preventing diseases benefits the animal’s well being, boosts performance and ultimately protects the producer’s bottom line.
“As a veterinarian and in a veterinary practice, our overall objective is promoting and protecting animal health, with just one facet of that being treating animals that are sick,” said Dr. Joel Nerem, Veterinarian, Pipestone Veterinary Services. “In fact, we spend a great deal more time protecting and promoting good health than we do treating sick animals.”
The focus on preventative medicine is even more important as antibiotic resistance issues are drawing attention to the use of antibiotics in livestock production.
According to Dr. Nerem, the first and most important step to preventing disease is proper animal care and maintaining a proper environment.
“Practicing good animal husbandry is the foundation of any program,” he said. “It starts with good nutrition, properly formulated diets, fresh water, as well as meeting the animal’s environmental needs with a comfortable place to live including the right temperature, ventilation, and manure management.”
We raise pigs inside today to protect them from exposure to new diseases, especially those that would require antibiotics or other treatments, said Dr. Nerem. But indoor housing requires a strict protocol to make sure that diseases aren’t being introduced inadvertently.
“Biosecurity is simply making sure we’re doing all right things at the farm level, which includes developing and following strict protocols,” he said.
At Pipestone sow barns, protocols include shower in/out procedures, disinfecting all incoming supplies, washing and disinfection of trucks, and more. All new replacement sows are tested at the source farm, then quarantined in the new barn to ensure she is healthy before joining the barn.
Dr. Nerem encourages all producers to work with their veterinarian to develop a comprehensive biosecurity and health plan specific to their farm and finishing barns.
“Everyone’s farm is a little different, so a plan has to be tailored to their geographic, facility, labor and other needs,” he said. “Each plan should cover biosecurity protocols, testing and health monitoring procedures, treatment processes, and recordkeeping.”
In finishing barns, producers should be constantly monitoring pigs for signs of disease and making sure that animal husbandry and health needs are met.
Another key piece in preventing disease is the use of vaccines.
“We have a number of vaccines available that are effective at various stages of a pig’s life to provide immunity,” said Dr. Nerem. Maximizing the immunity of individual pigs benefits the entire barn.
Vaccination schedules and protocols are an important part of each farm’s comprehensive health plan, especially as the options for vaccines and their delivery increase.
“Whether it is injections or vaccines we can deliver through the water in the nursery, to new intranasal vaccines for influenza, there are a number of options that can be tailored to fit each farm’s needs,” he said.
He notes that just as management, nutrition and other practices in pig production continue to evolve, so do preventive medicine and biosecurity practices.
The addition of filtration systems in pig barns to remove viruses that might move between farms is a good example. Pipestone installed the first filtration system in a commercial sow farm in the United States based on work that research director Dr. Scott Dee had done on understanding aerosol PRSS transmission.
“We’ve been leaders in developing the use of filtration technology in commercial settings and have seen tremendous health benefits as a result,” he said.
Pipestone is also actively involved in trials to demonstrate the efficacy of vaccines in a commercial setting. The goal is to make sure that vaccines are effective not just in small-scale research settings, but also in real world, commercial barns. Trials in wean-to-finish barns are designed to measure the health effects, as well as the overall growth and performance of pigs who receive the vaccines.
“We want to validate the effect of vaccines to make sure they are effective for the pig’s health and are efficient for the producers who finish them,” he said.
Another area that Pipestone is actively investigating is the use of autogenous vaccines that would provide immunity for certain diseases for which commercial vaccines are not available such as Strep suis bacteria.
Taking an active role in preventing disease through good management practices, biosecurity, and effective vaccination programs will deliver rewards for both pigs and producers, said Dr. Nerem.
“The economics are there. Healthy pigs grow and perform better, and producers avoid the time and expense of treatments.”