Pig farmers must ‘look at all aspects of disease prevention’

Pigs farmers are being actively encouraged to double down in their efforts with regards to disease prevention to meet new 2024 antibiotic reduction targets set by RUMA (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance).

The pig industry has made significant steps forward when it comes to tackling antibiotic use, according to Gemma Thwaites, a clinical director at Garth Pig Practice, who pointed out a 5% reduction in antibiotic use in the first half of 2020 compared to last year, but urges farmers that there is still room for improvement.

“Producers need to look at all aspects of disease prevention, to identify where further improvements can be made in order to reach the further 30% reduction from the 2020 baseline RUMA has set out,” said Ms Thwaites


Biosecurity on pig farms is fundamental to preventing disease outbreaks and Thwaites said this needs to be prioritised at all times, as despite external biosecurity having greatly improved across farms, it is with internal biosecurity where producers still tend to fall down, especially on farrow to finish farms where it is often the same people managing and vaccinating all the pigs.

“It can be easy to forget to change or disinfect your boots between sheds, change needles when vaccinating, or to pop into a different shed and not follow the farrow to finish order. But it’s important sites do all they can to limit these actions, as this is how disease spreads,” she explained, adding that it is also a challenge if you have weekly batches rather than an all-in all-out system, as you constantly have new pigs and new disease pressures ‘knocking at the door’.


According to Ms Thwaites, diagnostics are an underused resource that need to be considered more widely within the sector to help producers take a more targeted approach to disease control and therefore reduce antibiotic use adding that as an industry, pig producers need to work closer together on diagnostics

“The industry can be guilty of looking into a problem once the mortality hits 10% or daily liveweight gains have dropped significantly, by which time it is often too late,” she explained. “Ideally action needs to be taken as soon as a slight change in performance is seen.

Pharmaceutical companies, such as MSD Animal Health UK, are keen to support vets and farmers with on-farm diagnostics to help identify potentially significant diseases and prevent them taking hold of pig herds.

“Often different viruses present very similar symptoms such as PRRS and flu and without diagnostics it’s hard to be sure of the exact problem on-farm,” Thwaites added.


having a thorough vaccination protocol in place which includes vaccination technique as well as the type of vaccines being used is another key part to the disease prevention process,

“The IDAL device allows for needle free vaccination to take place,” said Thwaites. “While there are a number of benefits to this, such as operator safety, the biggest thing for me, as a vet, is the reduced risk of spreading disease. If you vaccinate one pig that is PRRS positive with a needle and then go and vaccinate another 20 pigs, this will potentially spread the disease.”

She added that whist huge steps have been made in the pig industry to reduce the need to use antibiotics and implement proactive disease prevention techniques, there is still more work to be done: “I’m confident the target RUMA has set can be achieved if producers work with their vet to review their whole disease prevention protocol in detail, and identify areas where incremental improvements can be made.”

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