Colibacillosis or Escherichia coli is a common baby pig diarrhea problem seen in most production systems. E. coli is an acute, sometimes fatal, enteritis of suckling and weaner pigs.

This article will concentrate on the disease as it occurs in suckling pigs on single-site farms.

The disease can spread rapidly within a litter and is easily spread within the farrowing area by equipment, hands and boots.

The syndrome has three clinical parts: septicemia, diarrhea, and edema disease. The first two symptoms are most commonly seen preweaning while edema is seen postweaning.

E. coli organisms are widespread in the environment. The young pig acquires the bacteria orally from contaminated surfaces: a sow's udder and teats, fecal material, flooring and walls of the pen. Primary septicemia and diarrhea develops if the pig swallows an infective dose prior to receiving colostrum or if the colostrum contains low antibody levels.

The organisms multiply in the small intestine, producing toxin that triggers diarrhea. Death is due to dehydration, weight loss and inability to absorb electrolytes and nutrients.

Diagnosis is by culturing the small intestine and recovering E. coli organisms.

Case Study No. 1

A 350-sow, farrow-to-finish, single-site farm suddenly broke out with E. coli in farrowing. Diarrhea was also occurring in newly weaned pigs. Laboratory tests verified the cause as pure E. coli.

In reviewing farm procedures, several changes were discovered. For starters, the power washer had not been working — and therefore not used in the farrowing and nursery rooms — for some time. A new farrowing manager was hired, and the pre-farrow exposure program had been dropped.

To remedy the situation, the power washer was repaired. Affected pigs in farrowing were given injectable antibiotics. Water medications were used in the nursery.

There was good response to treatment. The farm was weaning weekly and farrowing a new room of sows each week. Preventive medications were used for two weeks.

The internal biosecurity procedures were reviewed and reinstated. The unit had not done a very good job of training the new staff person, so that was made a high priority. Written procedures were posted for each department.

With the power washer repaired, farrowing rooms were thoroughly washed between groups. The nursery rooms were also washed and disinfected. Unit staff washed hands and boots frequently and watched the traffic patterns within the unit hallways. The hallways and feed carts (used for transport of pigs) were also cleaned to reduce tracking of contaminated material.

An intense effort was also initiated to scrape fecal material out of all farrowing crates every day. This material was used to feed back to sows 3-6 weeks pre-farrowing to expose them to E. coli.

Within a month of the first clinical signs, scouring in newborn and weaned pigs stopped.

Case Study No. 2

A 180-sow farm houses sows in outdoor groups. Farrowing, nursery and finisher buildings are all separate, on the same site. The producer reported seeing increased levels of scours in gilt litters. In some cases, the entire litter was affected. In others, only a few pigs were involved. The lab confirmed hemolytic E. coli.

Affected litters were treated with antibiotics. Response was variable and the producer didn't want the hassle of treating pigs.

Further investigation revealed why gilt litters were more affected by diarrhea. Gilts were farrowing fewer liveborn pigs and “extra” pigs were transferred to them for nursing. In these mixed litters, pigs from other gilts would show diarrhea, but pigs from sows would remain clinically normal. It was confirmed that only pigs born to gilts were showing diarrhea.

We reviewed the exposure processes on the farm. Manure re-feeding was provided to sows before farrowing but not gilts. Re-feeding was impractical because gilts were housed in a partially slotted floor building and were on self-feeders.

It was decided to protect the gilts with a multivalent E. coli vaccine. The first litters from vaccinated gilts showed no diarrhea and that continues today.


E. coli organisms can be introduced into a herd by pigs, breeding stock, visitors, contaminated feed, rodents and birds. Control of these risk factors can reduce the incidence. To keep E. coli at bay, institute a closed herd system and use sanitation to keep the organisms at a low level.

Work with your veterinarian to develop prevention and control techniques. They are usually far less costly than clinical disease.