Controlling diarrhea in newborn piglets can be a frustrating experience.
Across the industry, the issue of neonatal diarrhea does not raise concerns to the level of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome or circovirus. But it is certainly a frustrating problem that farms deal with occasionally.
The severity of baby pig scours varies widely across farms in terms of age at onset, duration, mortality and morbidity. The pathogen or cause is responsible for most of the differences in the severity.
Whatever the cause, scours tend to reduce nutrient consumption and weight gain, resulting in reduced overall performance. Mortality is sometimes increased, which almost certainly boosts treatment costs.
To control neonatal diarrhea, managing and optimizing the immunity that the piglets receive from their mother through good colostrum management is essential. Piglets need “passive” immunity from the sow to protect them while their immune system matures and they can mount their own “active” immunity.
The quality of the colostrum can be improved with appropriate pre-farrow vaccines, or through carefully targeted feedback of farrowing materials to pre-farrowing gilts and sows for farm-specific immune stimulation.
Good hygiene and management of the piglet's micro-environment are also essential to successful prevention. The best vaccination or colostrum management protocol can be overridden when a litter farrows in a dirty or wet environment.
While prevention should be the ultimate goal, when prevention fails and diarrhea occurs, numerous therapeutic options are available. It's important to first determine the pathogen that caused the diarrhea, since we deal with bacterial, viral and protozoan (coccidial) diarrheas, which all require different approaches to treatment.
For instance, treating a viral diarrhea such as rotavirus with antibiotics alone will be unrewarding and frustrating, while antibiotics are very effective for a diarrhea caused by bacteria such as Escherichia coli or clostridium.
Early involvement of your veterinarian is essential so that the proper specimens can be collected for laboratory confirmation of the problem.
Case Study No. 1
A 2,000-sow, conventional health, commercial farm recently added farrowing space to provide for longer lactation and older weaning ages of their piglets. From the very first group farrowed through this new facility, several litters throughout the room experienced diarrhea soon after birth. While antibiotics appeared to help, the problem continued to surface turn after turn.
During my monthly herd health visit, the farrowing barn manager pointed out that the diarrhea seemed to always occur in only certain farrowing stalls scattered throughout the room. The scours occurred turn after turn in the same stalls.
This observation, along with a thorough history of age at onset, responses to treatment and previous lab submissions, led me to investigate the heating and ventilation arrangement in the room, particularly adjacent to the problem stalls.
As it turned out, the building contractor had incorrectly installed the fresh air inlets, which allowed air to blow directly onto the affected litters, creating a draft and chilling the piglets at birth.
Once the problem was corrected, the scour problem was soon resolved.
Case Study No. 2
A 2,500-sow weaner farm manager reported an increase in piglet scours that was unresponsive to therapy, equally affecting litters from both young and old sows. The diarrhea struck pigs at about a week old. Few piglets died, but many were stunted and the number of reject pigs almost doubled.
Regardless of treatment, the pigs had a gray-greenish-colored “greasy” consistency scour that persisted until weaning. I selected three piglets from different 7-day-old litters that had begun to scour. These piglets were sacrificed and appropriate samples were analyzed. My suspicions were confirmed when the lab reported it was an outbreak of coccidiosis.
I prescribed a special anti-coccidia medicine to be administered orally to each piglet within the first three days after birth. I also emphasized the importance of overall farrowing stall hygiene, including the importance of complete drying of all surfaces after cleaning and disinfecting the barn and prior to moving in the next group of sows to farrow.
I also reiterated the importance of daily removal of the sow manure from the stall prior to farrowing, until the litter had reached a week of age, to reduce the overall exposure to the coccidia cysts in the sow manure.
The scour problem was resolved with the very first treated group of piglets.