As we continue to search for profitability in pig production, we seek ways to lower costs and improve productivity. Now more than ever, our herds need to be producing at the most efficient levels possible.

Many of the lessons learned battling economic challenges help get us through the tough times, but they will also pay dividends when profit returns.

We are doing everything possible to improve litter size, reduce breeding herd nonproductive sow days, improve feed efficiency and growth rate, increase weaning weights, lower input costs and whatever else can improve throughput, efficiency and save money.

Even though we know the value of a healthy pig, our tendency is to cut expenses in the use of antibiotics and vaccines during these economic challenges. This is a good idea as long as herd health isn't jeopardized. But realize it doesn't take long for an increased health challenge to quickly add back expense through lost opportunity and lowered performance.

Case Study No. 1

Our first case is a 2,500-sow, farrow-to-finish herd that weans 1,000 head/week into an off-site, wean-to-finish barn that is doubled-stocked to maximize use of facilities. In an effort to reduce cost, the farm eliminated an antibiotic injection at weaning and an autogenous Streptococcus suis/Haemophilus parasuis combination vaccine. There was virtually no difference in mortality and treatments for the first three months following the changes.

But problems slowly began to reappear; death loss increased 3-5 weeks after weaning. The pigs showed lameness problems at 100 lb.

The pigs responded to injectable antibiotics, but the incidence of treatments rose to more than 15% and death loss went from 5% to almost 8%. Daily gain was reduced and the number of culls increased.

Postmortems of the dead pigs showed inflammation on all surfaces of the organs and Haemophilus parasuis was isolated from the tissues and joints.

Our recommendation was to vaccinate pigs at weaning and booster two weeks later with an autogenous Haemophilus parasuis vaccine. Problems started to resolve, and we're evaluating if we can remove the antibiotic injection in hopes that the vaccine will be enough to solve the problem.

Case Study No. 2

An 800-sow, farrow-to-finish operation weans into a nursery; pigs are grouped and then flow into feeder pig barns. This producer started vaccinating nursery pigs with an oral ileitis vaccine three years ago and didn't see any clinical signs of ileitis in two years.

In a cost-saving measure, the farm elected to discontinue the ileitis vaccine one year ago. Soon after, the pigs began to show signs of ileitis, with an increase in death loss after the first market load was shipped.

Postmortems indicated acute ileitis. The farm has elected to resume ileitis vaccination again, as the potential savings on death loss alone will more than pay for the cost of the vaccine.

Case Study No. 3

The third case involved a group of high-health feeder pigs that were purchased on the open market. This 1,000-head group was placed into a double-curtain-sided barn. The pigs did well and less than 2% died when they were first marketed.

However, approximately two weeks into marketing, the death loss started to increase dramatically. Pigs were also showing signs of skin lesions at the processing plant and the owners experienced significant financial loss.

We were called on to evaluate the situation and diagnosed swine erysipelas. The producer had decided to skip vaccinating the pigs for anything because they were represented as high health status, and he wanted to save the cost of the erysipelas vaccine.

The cost of the vaccine would be covered by reducing death loss by four head in this group. In all, 18 head died that we attributed to erysipelas, and many dollars were lost due to the deductions at the processing plant.

The producer decided to institute a program of vaccination for erysipelas and the problem was resolved.

Summary

One consistent theme continues to be true through good times and especially during bad times — health is king.

Be diligent in lowering costs. However, protect herd health. Diseases can strike quickly or cause slow, nagging problems that increase production costs.

Herd health decisions are very difficult and should not be made without an accurate picture of the disease risks on your farm. Work with your local veterinarian to identify which diseases are risks to your herd and which can be effectively controlled with vaccines or other control measures.