At the start of each new year, pork producers and their veterinarians should conduct an annual review of the status of herd health, says James McKean, DVM, professor and Extension veterinarian at Iowa State University.

Make sure management is providing the correct environment for growing pigs, that vaccines are used in a correct and timely fashion and that the use of antibiotics is reviewed to ensure they are still appropriate.

That review of antibiotics becomes especially critical in 2014 since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently imposed voluntary guidelines restricting the routine use of antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) for antimicrobials that are also used in human medicine.

That edict gives pharmaceutical companies three years to revise their product labels, which will mean phasing out of antibiotics used for growth promotion and feed efficiency, McKean points out.

Treatment and prevention uses under the supervision of a swine veterinarian will still be permitted by FDA. Those drugs are generally used in feed, but also in water and as injectable products in grow-finish.

“The truth of the matter is, once you get past 75-100 lb., the subtherapeutic growth-promotant regimes, as they are currently constituted, may not pay for themselves,” McKean says.

That is until corn reaches $6-$7 a bushel. “Then it becomes an easy calculation to figure out that the value of that increased rate of gain or feed efficiency is worth the cost of including the antibiotic.

“Cheaper corn is not a bad thing, but it changes the economics and is an important point for producers. They need to talk to their veterinarian as to why they are using antibiotics, and how they are still needed,” he says.

“Remember that for many years, more than 50% of producers did not use growth-promoting antibiotics after 75 to 100 lb. as a general rule because they couldn’t pencil it out,” says McKean, who also serves as associate director for the Iowa Pork Industry Center in Ames.

Rethinking Health

Because of the coming restrictions in availability of antibiotics, it behooves producers to begin to think about what they can do to reduce the impact of disease on their herds, McKean urges.

One disease of concern is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), due to its impact on the immune system, particularly in young pigs, because the virus allows secondary bacteria to grow.

Producers in hog-dense regions face a stiff challenge cleaning up PRRS. But for those living in less-dense areas, cleaning up PRRS as fewer antibiotics become available to fight secondary bacteria makes some sense.

“As these growth promotants disappear, then producers have the opportunity to have more robust pigs that are not clinically or subclinically affected with PRRS. This also gives those producers a competitive advantage,” McKean says.

Porcine circovirus type 2 is a second major swine disease affecting the immune system that producers need to make sure their vaccination programs are finely tuned to deal with.

Disease Management, Eradication

Before the hammer drops on AGPs, it would be advisable to get your animal health program in order, McKean suggests.

Work on management issues. Just like the old management saw, keeping pigs warm, dry and draft-free can keep underlying scours and respiratory bugs in check.

Reductions in use of AGPs will create different disease pressures that may require some management adjustments. The goal is to keep bacteria in check in an environment in which the pig and the disease organism can live in balance, he says. As always, each operation is different and requires individual herd-health guidelines.

Later weaning is a management tool that can remove some disease pressures. Moving to 20-25 days of age — while not a set number for every farm — as a general rule can mean bigger, stronger and more robust pigs, McKean says.

Determine if there are some diseases, such as swine dysentery or Actinobacillus pleuropnemonia, that could be targeted for eradication in 5-6 months.

“Sunshine and drying are great disinfectants,” he says.

Biosecurity

This is also a critical juncture for biosecurity programs, McKean states. “Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) forced some reevaluation of transport biosecurity when it was discovered that protocols that looked good on paper probably weren’t working to control PRRS virus.” Too often aerosol transmission is blamed for disease caused by trucks and people.

“The internal biosecurity in many hog units is proving to be non-existent,” he charges. There are pressures to take shortcuts to get weekend chores and other work done in a hurry. Service personnel and vendors skip biosecurity protocols and move from farm to farm unfettered to deal with emergencies.

European Experience

McKean and a team of Extension specialists toured the Netherlands last fall and met with some veterinarians to talk about antimicrobial use.

The Dutch have instituted a program to reduce antimicrobial use in all animal species over a five-year period by 50% that is being regulated and monitored, McKean says. Germany has introduced a similar program.

Denmark uses a report-card program that allows inspectors to make changes in production practices on farms if drug usage violations persist.

Those policies should serve to encourage U.S. pork producers to modify their production systems to reduce animal drug use over time, McKean emphasizes.

There are swine diseases that can be individually managed to achieve those goals. Management of diseases such as PRRS and PEDV will require more of a regional and national approach to be successful. Now is the time to establish a plan, he says.