Using the pig vet – the future

Future use of the specialist pig vet is going to involve some changes and a fair degree of trust by the farmer in investing in a regular contracted attendance from a pig specialist vet on-farm to monitor the progress of the unit’s “disease threshold”.

This may be high or low and will change anyway as nature never stands still. An experienced vet who’s familiar with the pigs, their current disease level (apparent or sub-clinical), the staff and the business’ marketing aims, is all information providing a major weapon in the farm’s armoury against disease. He needs to visit the unit on a regular basis to keep tabs on the disease situation (disease profiling) as often as he considers necessary – doing this by a succession of tests on pigs and their surroundings – which is part of the trust I’ve mentioned above. And there are other things too – training and motivation, and on a few units even doing the recording.

The Americans have been doing this for some years and Table 1 below, admittedly a bit long in the tooth now from my own involvement several years back, reveals how effective this has been.

One feature of this contracting regular-visit strategy is the use of the local GP vet should a disease flare up. Not every pig specialist practice is happy with this arrangement, but I’ve seen it working well, especially where personalities are not a concern.

The Future
Whe the switch to this sort of system started, the Americans soon ran into distance problems, naturally enough, which at first held up the smooth running of the contracted service. This, I’m told, has been markedly improved by the use of computer links, where situations and problems can be videoed by the section heads and contact made with the veterinary practice. Fewer on-farm visits are then needed, and selected staff can even be trained in doing some of the tests to be relayed on to the vet.

Another observation I get is that “there aren’t enough specialist pig vets around.” Maybe so, but in future the internet will allow producers to link up (for a fee, of course) with top experts across the world, should the occasion arise.

Table 1: Before and after results from using a pig specialist veterinarian.
Before After
Farm A B C A B C
Estimated cost of disease/year (US$/sow) 284 186 300 80 60 109
Cost of veterinarian (US$/sow) 8 3 12 30 27 31
Cost of vaccines and medication* (US$/sow) 26 18 30 18 20 21
Cost of remodelling (over 7 years)** (US$/sow) - - - 27 45 33
Estimated total disease costs ($/sow) 318 207 342 155 188 194
Difference (improvement %) - - - 51 9 43

NB: Disease costs estimated from items like the effect of post-weaning scour, check to growth on subsequent performance, respiratory disorders, ileitis, abortions, infectious infertility and so on.
* Note that the cost of planned preventive medication was lower than for reactive curative medication.
** Involves gilt pool adoption, easier-cleaned surfaces and improved nurseries.

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)