Call it an unconventional management tool, but a blood plasma product may be the only effective treatment for gastric ulcers in pigs.

It only takes 12 to 24 hours for a pig to get an ulcer. Once they do, many either become chronic slow-doers or die. Ulcers are listed among the top 10 disease concerns for market hogs, according to the NAHMS (National Animal Health Monitoring System) survey released in 2002. Mortality can be 5% or higher in grow-finish pigs.

A water-soluble plasma product called Solutein contains bovine serum concentrate and other blood products. Its source of globulin proteins — alpha, beta and gamma — are derived from serum. The proteins are termed “functional” for their biological activity and are composed of diverse fractions consisting of immunoglobulins, albumin, lipids, enzymes and other growth factors.

Exactly how it works is a mystery. But Solutein stimulates appetite in any off-feed event, says Mike Eisenmenger, a veterinarian with the Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN. He adds that they not only use the plasma for treating ulcers, but it appears effective in saving bottom-end and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS)-sick nursery pigs.

Tackling Ulcers

“Ulcers are a significant problem,” Eisenmenger says. “It happens fast. The pig is a great acid producer. If there is no food in the front part of the stomach, acid immediately begins to eat that part — the pars-esophageal. And it's amazing how often pigs are out of feed. If we find pigs in an early ulceration stage or early off-feed stage, we can save them by feeding Solutein.”

Clinical signs of ulcers include lethargy, anemia and resulting pallor, anorexia, rapid tissue loss and melena, or black vomit or stool. Pigs often have respiratory disease symptoms prior to ulcer formation.

Pigs that aren't eating are moved to treatment pens and administered Solutein for four days. One pound of product per 5 gal. of water is mixed daily in a barrel fitted with two nipple waterers. The product adds about $5.28/pig to finishing cost, or $105.60 per pen of 20.

“Based on our experience, we'll save 8 to 13 pigs (in a pen of 20), which is $400 to $1,200 we would not have received based on the percentage that go to a primary market vs. a light market. That would be a 4:1 to 12:1 return on investment,” notes Eisenmenger. There is little benefit to feeding it longer than four days, he adds.

A study presented at this year's American Association of Swine Veterinarians annual meeting showed that adding the product to water reduced the extent and severity of symptoms associated with gastric ulcers in growing pigs. Within three days, rate of ulceration was reduced and new tissue growth was evident in pigs receiving Solutein in their drinking water. It also appeared to stimulate feed intake and growth rate compared to pigs not receiving the product.

Eisenmenger is starting to use the product on sows. “We think it has value in off-feed sows — if we can find an efficient and convenient way to get that done in a production setting.”

Bottom-End Pigs

Lightweight, young or PRRS-viremic pigs at weaning can also benefit from the blood product. Veterinarian Jeff Feder, also with the Swine Vet Center, has multiple nursery systems that use Solutein at weaning.

As an example, he used a production system with 4,000-head nurseries that sorts out the bottom 25% of pigs. Solutein was an easy fit in the system since younger, lightweight pigs are segregated into one room. The product is injected through water lines over an eight-day period. They receive .03 lb./day for the first four days, and half that amount, or .015 lb./day, for another four days. The cost is about 75-80¢/head, but mortality rate is cut in half, from 6% to 3%.

“We segregate the at-risk pigs to use the product more cost-effectively. It's important to get it started at weaning or as quickly after weaning as possible for best results.

“It also makes sense to use Solutein on starve-outs,” Feder says. Pigs that go off-feed later in the nursery are pulled out into a ‘sick pen’ and fed Solutein (either alone or with starter feed as a gruel) in a bowl for several days to get them eating again.

Pigs that come from sow farms showing clinical signs of PRRS are also targeted because they are a challenge to get started on feed. “We expect those piglets to struggle with PRRS early in the nursery phase,” notes Feder. “In that situation, all pigs are put on Solutein.”

The bottom line is there are fewer fallouts, he adds. “It helps make the transition easier from milk to solid feed. It's a plasma product and plasma is a key ingredient in starter feeds. But we have to give producers realistic expectations and target the pigs at risk for the best return.”

Not Just for Lightweights

Nebraska swine practitioner Tom Petznick uses the product to treat nursery pigs suffering from Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE). A trial conducted at a Progressive Swine Technologies unit in northeast Nebraska showed Solutein aided in diminishing clinical signs of F18 E. coli and the associated death loss.

Their current game plan calls for 14 days of administration to the smallest 30% of piglets via a separate medicator. That way, Petznick says, they're targeting the most challenged piglets at the most challenging time. The total cost is about 76¢/pig.

At a cost of 56¢/pig, he also uses Solutein for a seven-day period to combat TGE. The cost benefit after improving death loss is about $2.50/pig, notes the Nebraska veterinarian.

Web Site for More

Solutein is sold by APC, Inc. (American Protein Corp.), Ames, IA. See www.functionalproteins.com for more information on Solutein.