Sustained profitability in the pig business is something we have not experienced for quite some time.

When margins are tight, the tendency is to cut costs wherever and whenever you can. Money spent on herd health and diagnostic protocols are traditionally reduced in a hog operation because they are direct expenses that can easily be identified and adjusted.

Current profitability doesn't mean producers can afford to spend money randomly. But it does provide the opportunity to fine-tune programs and prepare for narrow profit margins.

Intervention strategies, whether based on vaccination or medication, can pay big dividends if timed right.

Now is an excellent time to do some diagnostic evaluations to validate current health control protocols. Considering the huge financial impact that disease has on a swine enterprise, money spent on diagnostics may offer ample payback and be one of the best management decisions that can be made.

Case Study No. 1

One client's farrow-to-finish operation is serologically and clinically positive for swine influenza virus (SIV), Mycoplasmal pneumonia and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), and experiencing intermittent problems with ileitis in finishing.

He produces 1,200 pigs a week so the financial impact throughout the system can be quite large. Current regimen is two doses of a combination SIV/Mycoplasma vaccine and tylosin in the feed for clinical signs of ileitis.

We have proposed sampling each age group of pigs from weaning to market at four-week intervals. We are going to test for serological exposure to PRRS, SIV, Mycoplasma and Lawsonia intracellularis (the causative agent of ileitis) across these different age groups.

The cost of testing when spread out across all of his pigs, done on a quarterly basis, comes to approximately $.08/pig. It's difficult to know exactly the cost of these different diseases to a production system, but it can very easily approach $3-$4/head. He is spending $1.90/pig on SIV, Mycoplasma and ileitis control.

We're not sure if this exercise will prove beneficial, but it's a good idea to find out if money is being spent at the right time, and being able to use ileitis feed medication to prevent rather than treat disease.

Case Study No. 2

This client owns a 3,200-sow, farrow-to-wean operation. He sells weaned pigs weekly on a contract basis to several different producers. His sow herd is PRRS-positive and stable. However, about every 12-18 months the farm experiences increased problems with the PRRS virus.

Our recommendation for this client is a bimonthly serological profile across the different breeding groups to monitor for PRRS, influenza and Mycoplasma. We feel that this will benefit the producer in knowing when he may be having a PRRS or influenza flare-up. It also gives useful information to the producers who are purchasing the pigs so they can know ahead of time if there might be specific problems to watch for.

We work with a lot of producers who have this type of weaned pig contract arrangement. It is helpful when the sow farm is actively involved in trying to improve the health of the weaned pigs as well as supplying information to the producer to help him do a better job of managing the pigs once they arrive.

It's important for everyone to be able to survive and make money in these situations and knowing ahead of time what diseases are active is helpful. It also helps with the contract relationship by improving communication and creating a partnership type of relationship.

In the case of this farrow-to-wean producer, the testing program adds approximately $0.12/pig to the cost of production.

As stated, these dollars can be quickly recouped by improving communication between the people involved in the contract as well as potentially heading off clinical losses to a particular disease.

Summary

The implementation of specific protocols, the number and type of animals sampled, and the frequency of collections can be discussed with your herd veterinarian. There is no one set protocol for all farms. The important thing is to get a baseline to start monitoring and interpreting the data as it changes from one sampling period to another.

Your veterinarian is an excellent resource to interpret the data and help communicate that information to other people in purchasing or raising those pigs. Gathering and implementing good-quality information can save many dollars, as well as being a central component in helping make the proper decisions to producing pigs as efficiently as possible. Investing in diagnostic dollars now may well pay big dividends later.