Pigs 2022 – Health and handling: a compromised union

Outdoor breeding herds face real challenges when implementing routine vaccination programmes at weaning.

With piglets now receiving up to four vaccines, many businesses are finding vaccination routines increasingly difficult and feel they are not getting full value from their investment into health controls.

Feedback from outdoor producers reveals that techniques employed when vaccinating large numbers of weaners are stressful, physically demanding and often inefficient.

When compared to methods used by other intensive livestock sectors, such as salmon farming and poultry production, the pig sector has not kept pace with the advances seen in vaccine technology and innovation.

Ricardo Neto

Ricardo Neto

“For a unit weaning 1,300 pigs per batch, staff could be handling the equivalent of 10 tonnes of liveweight in a single day. We need to develop methods that take some of the stress and physical strain out of handling hundreds, often thousands, of piglets at this critical time,” Andrew Palmer, AHDB’s KE manager for the east, told a breakout session on outdoor handling systems.

Outdoor producers in the south of England are working with AHDB on a weaner handling module designed to improve vaccination accuracy, aid sorting and cut stress on people and pigs. Developed in conjunction with Fawley Farms, initial results are favourable and a prototype is being rolled out.

“Outdoor units will need facilities that help to improve vaccination accuracy, save time and safeguard operator safety. We want to take this idea to progress and eventually create a handling system that will make handling easier, aid production efficiency and cut costs,” said Kate Mellor, KE manager for the south.

AHDB experience shows that vaccines are generally not managed or handled as well on outdoor units as AI, for example.

Vet Ricardo Neto, technical manager with MSD Animal Health’s pig team, said ineffective vaccination techniques compromised herd health later on. Vaccine efficacy was often reduced by inadequate refrigeration/storage facilities, minimal temperature control and unhygienic practice on farm. Furthermore, a lack of operator competence, erroneousness vaccination techniques and lax biosecurity during the injection procedure all-too-often resulted in a poor immune response and, occasionally, vaccine failure, he added.

Improving piglet handling/vaccination
A handling system must:

* Be mobile, sectional and easy to construct, clean and move
* Have a raised platform (waist height) with ‘boxed’ sections to securely contain a maximum of 50 piglets per section
* Have drop-down sides for easy access to piglets
* Be able to sort pigs into sex/size and release them into separate paddocks or holding pens
* Be a functional, mechanical system, with no electronics
* Include a race that aids ‘herding’ and promotes calm movement by ‘funnelling’ piglets into the module
* Use low gradients to encourage steady, easy pig flow and have sloping exit ramps
* Have secure sharps disposal and a dedicated equipment store and workstation where vet equipment can be set out without risk of being disturbed by animals
* Have temperature-controlled vaccine storage (battery/USB/vehicle powered)
* Cost between £4,000 and £8,000 (most sheep handling systems retail at £5,000 to £10,000).

Kate Mellor

Kate Mellor

Vaccination viewpoints
* An average 800-sow unit with typical commercial health status is likely to invest £77,000 a year in vaccines
* For a herd weaning 400 pigs a week, there is likely to be £1,480 worth of vaccines in the fridge at any given time
* If 20% of piglets are not vaccinated properly/unvaccinated against enzootic pneumonia (EP), growth potential can fall by 400g per pig, a loss equal to £0.5/pig (1.58p/kg). Annually, that would amount to a potential loss of £10,000
* The additional treatment of tetracycline medication needed to counter a disease outbreak at 65kg liveweight will add 140mg/kg of antimicrobials to the production system.

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