The diversity of the disease challenge calls for imaginative thinking

I’m not overly fond of the idiom ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’, (actually, I sincerely hope that there isn’t a definitive answer).

Pleasingly, I heard two alternatives this week: “You don’t always need a shovel to dig a hole.” And: “There’s more than one way to medicate a pig.”
The latter is pertinent at the minute. With the focus remaining firmly on antimicrobials, and the increasing pressure to reduce usage wherever possible, I wonder how many New Year’s resolutions have included a desire for solutions to some of these endemic health challenges: solutions that don’t require mass medication.

Every farm I go to is different. The buildings range from state-of-the-art to converted byres, sheds and the occasional polytunnel. The disease and management challenges are also diverse – sometimes even within the different sections on one farm. This means that a successful solution on one farm may not work on another, a perennial source of frustration.

You could argue this variation allows us to fuse experience and imagination to seek novel ways of addressing challenges.
As one of the biggest challenges will be controlling predictable disease outbreaks without preventative in-feed medication, this has become a focus at farm visits in recent times. There is certainly a strong will within our client base to find alternatives. Some of the obvious remedies are currently beyond our means; the atrocious start to last year put many building projects on hold.

Not all situations can be resolved without antibiotics and in some cases the only successful solution will be medication

Other ideas, previously shelved, are being re-examined. Vaccination against enteric disease, acidification of water, going to batch farrowing – all have been revisited and, in a few cases, implemented.

Sometimes, only bespoke will do, and we have to seek a tailor-made solution. Autogenous vaccines, created using cultures of pathogens specific to the farm, have become an increasingly attractive option – and a potential solution identified for three very different farms recently. Although the bug that causes the problem is the same on each farm, the clinical issue it causes on each is different.

Previously, autogenous vaccines have been perceived to be expensive to produce, but as we have sought to support our use of medication by isolating and identifying the offending pathogen, we now have cultures from each unit which can be used in the production of a vaccine, specific for them. Having crunched the numbers, it appears to be an economically viable option.

Not all situations can be resolved without antibiotics and in some cases the only successful solution will be medication.
A brief search on Google indicates there are two reliable methods of removing a feline’s outer layer. We can find more than two ways to successfully manage disease as long as we keep an open mind – and use a little imagination.

This is the first of what will be a monthly column from some of the country’s leading pig vets.

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