Managing coccidiosis improves the bottom line

Coccidiosis is a significant disease challenge impacting a high percentage of the UK pig population, and it’s known to severely impact performance. Many producers are experienced at dealing with this common disease on a routine basis, but it’s increasingly important not to take management of this problem for granted

Caused by Isospora suis, coccidiosis is one of the most common causes of scours in piglets up to three weeks of age, causing significant long-term performance implications on affected units.

Rod Wood, from Shropshire Farm Vets, says his mixed practice sees coccidiosis on many livestock farms.

“Despite having only a small number of pig units on our patch, it’s a common disease, causing scour and ill thrift,” he adds.

Coccidiosis is usually managed as part of a routine herd health plan, where a disease challenge has been established. It’s important to consider that this disease is extremely tenacious, with the infectious oocysts persisting in the environment for a long period of time, carrying over from previous litters. Farmers need to maintain a long-term strategy to ensure production is not affected.

“A coccidiosis challenge increases the time from birth to slaughter and this leads to economic impacts,” Mr Wood says.

The lifecycle of coccidiosis is important to understand as this influences how to effectively manage the disease. Once ingested, oocysts hatch into sporozoites and these invade the gut wall. They then go through several stages of multiplication, bursting millions of gut cells at each stage, until they reach maturity and begin to produce new oocysts.

The time between the piglet ingesting infectious oocysts and starting to shed new oocysts into the environment is referred to as the pre-patent period and takes five to seven days. This continues the spread of coccidiosis as it ensures there’s a sustained disease challenge for future litters.

Tell-tale clinical signs in individual piglets range from yellow pasty diarrhoea in the second or third week of life, commonly referred to as a 10-day scour, through stunted growth and dehydration to, in the worst cases, death. These symptoms are all as a result of the gut damage that coccidiosis causes.

However, when assessing litters as a whole, there will be other visible factors that hint at the disease challenge. These include higher mortality rates and wider variations in litter weights, while feed efficiency will also be reduced.

Irrespective of whether pigs are seen to have overt symptoms, when a litter is challenged by coccidiosis, there will undoubtedly be subclinical damage that will affect performance even where there are no obvious signs of the disease. Subclinical damage can often predispose the piglets to secondary bacterial infections such as Clostridium perfringens, and the two diseases together can cause significant pre-weaning mortality.

Mr Wood advises farmers that, if they are unsure if their unit is challenged by coccidiosis, they should get their vet to undertake some testing.

“Especially when a neonatal scour problem is seen, speciation testing will allow farmers to be confident that the scours are being caused by coccidiosis,” he says.

“Biosecurity and good hygiene practices are also an essential part of the routine management of coccidiosis.”

Once coccidiosis is diagnosed, a treatment that is timed to prevent clinical signs and significant gut damage can be incorporated into the routine herd health treatment plan. This can take the form of a single dose of Baycox at a rate of 20mg/kg/pig (0.4ml/kg) between three- and five-days old.

Exceptional improvements from treatment

Farming in west Shropshire, not an area renowned for pig farming, Peter Woodhall has run his 140-sow commercial unit for more than 20 years. Since diagnosing and treating coccidiosis, he has seen exceptional improvements in pre- and post-weaning performance in his rearing herd, across the board.

“After regularly seeing one or two piglets suffering from what I perceived to be a 10-day milk scour, and not growing on as expected, I consulted Rod Wood,” he says. “It wasn’t in every litter, but it was becoming noticeable that I was getting the odd piglet going backwards, which I’d either lose or they’d survive, but would remain stunted and behind the rest of the batch.

“As we practice three-week batch farrowing, the piglets that were ‘not doing’ had to be held back to form a second batch that never caught up, and were still poor at weaning. This was accounting for nearly 10% of the pigs born at one point.

“Once coccidiosis was diagnosed, we started regularly treating with Baycox as part of our routine procedure. It’s administered at three days of age when we’re already giving the pigs their iron injection. It’s convenient as it really suits our batch farrowing system.”

Since starting the treatment in April this year, Mr Woodhall says he’s seen performance in the farrowing sheds improve no end, and now he rarely sees any scours. The improvements are also being reflected in lower piglet mortality (see Table 1, below).

In the four months prior to using Baycox, the farm was seeing pre-weaning mortality of 16.13%; this has now reduced to 13.57%. Post-weaning mortality has also dramatically improved, with a drop from 7.35% to 3.22%.

The improvements seen since treating coccidiosis will account for an extra 197 pigs sold annually.

“We’ve seen substantial gains in both performance and the bottom line since managing coccidiosis and regularly treating with Baycox,” Mr Woodhall adds. “I must admit, I was sceptical as to how much difference I would see, but it’s made a real difference. It’s definitely worth the time and investment.”

“Mr Woodhall’s unit is a good example of how much impact coccidiosis can have to the rearing herd, it often goes under the radar,” Rod Wood adds. “Effectively managing coccidiosis has made a real difference to performance.”

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