This article appears in the September issue of Pig International. View all of the articles in the digital edition of this magazine.

Teagasc researchers and advisers attended the European Symposium of Porcine Health Management that took place in Dublin, Ireland, June 7-10, 2016. The meeting was combined, for the first time, with the International Pig Veterinary Congress (IPVS). These are the main events on pig health management in the EU and in the world, respectively, and were organized by the Irish pig veterinarian Pat Kirwan. More than 3,500 delegates attended the meeting with more than 1,000 posters and presentations. Here is a brief summary of some of the main topics presented at the meeting:

1. Factors for high reproductive performance of sows

The proper collection and use of the data from farms makes a big difference in the efficiency and profits for pig farmers. Unfortunately, the use of data is very limited in many farms. Professor Koketsu has analysed data from millions of pigs and discussed his conclusions. He presented a future in 10 years’ time with 40 piglets weaned per sow per year, which would require 17.3 pigs weaned per sow and 2.3 litters per sow per year by assuming 28 days of lactation, 115 days of gestation and 36 days of non-productive sow days. However, professor Koketsu also concluded that pigs weaned per sow per year may not be a good objective for the future of pig production as concerns about the high numbers of small piglets and high mortality are increasing. At the moment, high-performing farms in this analysis were based on higher farrowing rates (4-7 percent), more pigs born alive (0.6-0.9), better management for reducing non-productive days and lower culling in parities (0 to 5, but higher at 6 than the rest of farms).

2. Importance of birth weight

In contrast with the above data, several trials carried out in different countries highlighted the importance of piglet birth weight over other factors in determining mortality and growth of pigs. As a general conclusion from these studies, piglets below 1 to 1.1 kg have a much higher risk of death before weaning, and there is a clear effect of birth weight on final slaughter weight. One study calculated that the probability of surviving before weaning for a pig below 1.13 kg is 58 percent, compared to 92 percent for pigs weighing more than 1.13 kg. Another study presented a difference in weight gain of 50 g per day between pigs less than 1k g and more than 1.5 kg of birth weight. The strategies to deal with these pigs are different depending on the country and farm structure. However, this data supports the conclusion of professor Koketsu that maximum pigs weaned per sow per year may not be the best target for pig farms if birth weight is severely affected.

3. Update on the reduction on the use of antibiotics

The reduction/removal of antibiotics, whether it is by legislation or education, is a reality all over the world, including China and the U.S. This change represents a big economic effort for farmers in an unfavorable economic situation. The way farmers in different countries are adapting to this change was presented. It is clear that there is no solution that fits everybody. However, clear reductions in the use of antibiotics have been achieved by improving biosecurity, vaccination programs and herd management in different countries. An interesting study was presented the relationship between vaccination and antibiotics in Denmark. In general, the use of more vaccines was related to a higher use of antibiotics. This observation is not what one would expect; the use of antibiotics was probably not due to the vaccination itself, but both were high in the herds with more problems. The effects of the vaccination programs should be looked at individually for each vaccine.

In all countries, improving biosecurity has been a good way to reduce the use of antibiotics and improve performance.

4. Biosecurity, biosecurity, biosecurity

Different countries including Canada, Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark presented their actions to improve biosecurity. In all countries, improving biosecurity has been a good way to reduce the use of antibiotics and improve performance (within a year) and with a minimum cost for the farmer. However, an improvement in biosecurity requires a good analysis of the current situation on the farm and a well-defined and realistic action plan. In different studies 10 to 15 percent of farmers were not able to follow the initial plan.

5. New technology coming

A number of new technologies were presented during the meeting, including automatic systems for detection of lesions in slaughter houses, farm environmental sensors for prediction of disease and different methods to breed pigs that are genetically resistant to diseases like porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). In general, all this technology is still in the very early stages of development, but results are very promising. A very interesting study presented a high success rate in predicting diarrhea outbreaks based on data that could be easily collected in farms: water consumption, temperature and feed intake.

6. Monitoring health status and vaccine effectiveness

Several presentations and workshops showed the importance of monitoring the health status of farms and the immunity created by vaccination. The importance of the number and type of samples collected to monitor a particular disease was highlighted several times, and the use of ropes to collect saliva samples was presented in many cases as a good alternative. A very interesting presentation by Nicolas Rose (Anses, France) explained the lack of information there is for the use of many vaccines in terms of interactions among vaccines, effects of stress and management on development of immunity and other factors that may make a vaccine useless in a farm. The effect of vaccines should be checked regularly if the method is available.

This article has been made available courtesy of the Teagasc Pig Newsletter editor, Amy Quinn.