How to reduce wean-to-finish mortality: Part 2 — Implement your plans

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In Part 2 of this two-part series, Ryan Strobel, DVM, and Chris Sievers, DVM, with the Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota, share implementation strategies to lower wean-to-finish mortality rates.

The two veterinarians offered planning and implementation strategies to reduce wean-to-finish mortality during an Iowa Swine Day webinar, organized by Iowa State University. The presentation can be accessed here.

Implementation Strategy #1: Feeding weaned pigs for success

Weaning is an “extremely high-stress event, from one mom and a small farrowing crate to pens of 20,” Sievers said. “[They go] from an all-milk diet and a little bit of feed to a corn/soy diet; a truck ride,…vaccinations, new barn environment and water access.”

Creep feeding before weaning helps pigs acclimate to feed. In the wean-to-finish facility, Sievers wants pigs fed four times a day at first with mats and gruel bowls. He suggests doing it during chores. “Walk all the way through the buildings with mat feed and gruel bowls, and back through with treatments and…to get them up again so they know feed is always there,” he explained.

The goal for mat feeding is to give all pigs a taste of feed to help get them started eating. Feed them enough to last 20 to 30 minutes. A general rule for grueling is to start with 70% water and 30% feed and slowly work to 70% feed and 30% water in 5 days. If a pig isn’t eating and looks gaunt, pull it immediately and move the pig to a sick pen, he added.

Newly weaned pigs also need adequate water access. Sievers recommends one cup for up to 20 pigs. Set the dripper to run slowly into the cup so the pigs learn where to find water.

Implementation Strategy #2: Avoid training pitfalls

A big challenge for a supervisor is finding a balance between showing employees how to do work and what to do versus expecting them to do everything and walking out, Strobel said.

“Another thing I find often is blame versus education,” he added. “It’s easy to blame the grower or employee for a bad turn. But it’s important to educate them on why that happened and what we could have done better…rather than blame them for it.”

He also advocates leading by example. “I think every company should set up a show barn that can serve as a good example — clean and set up properly so if we have an issue, we can bring a grower or employee [to visit].”

Strobel recommends reviewing flows and performance measures quarterly. Follow up on any issues immediately. He also suggests positive feedback to reassure people they are doing good things for the pigs. But strategically push people to always get better.

One way to improve communications is to set trigger points. “Create a trigger point where that caretaker knows ‘I need to call my supervisor,’” Strobel explained. “Like in a 1,000-head barn, if I have five dead, I need to immediately notify my supervisor.”

Strobel also advocates for caretakers to have access to the veterinarian and nutritionist. “I make my number available at every site,” he said. “They need to have access to veterinarians and nutritionists in a timely manner.”

Implementation Strategy #3: Set up criteria for pulling sick pigs

Sievers recommends using an individual pig-care program to help find sick pigs and identify the treatment needed. One example is an ABC pig program where the “A” pig with a droopy head and watery eyes is acute and needs individual treatment within the main population.

The “B” pig takes it a step further, showing its backbone and ribs. Treat the pig immediately and put it in the pull pen. The “C” pig should already be in the pull pen because it’s on a negative energy platform and needs extreme care and attention.

Treatment success is reliant on not only the right antibiotic but also the timing of treatment, with early absolutely being better, Sievers said. He also recommends using injections for treatment.

A correctly set up pull pen also helps ensure success with sick pigs. Locate the pull pens away from a curtain and inlets where air will flow on the pigs. It should be a clean environment. Provide extra heat, water and feed.

Implementation Strategy #4: Take grow-finish biosecurity seriously

“Is it a myth or achievable?” Strobel asked. He offers several tips to prevent disease spread to the farm and within a farm.

Control high-risk areas where there’s contact to the outside. Make clear clean/dirty lines; in a shower/locker room, leave all clothes on the dirty side of the shower in lockers and all towels on the clean side; keep all maintenance tools and items on site and not around other pigs; keep all doors locked at all times.

A check of feed bins is one of the most obvious breaks. “Everyone wants to jump outside as soon as they see a feed outage to hammer on the bin and jump back in,” he said. Put on clean boots and coveralls to work on the bin and leave on the dirty side when done.

“Dead removal is the most important biosecurity risk on grow-finish sites,” he said. Keep a dead removal box away from the barn and out of public sight. Wear specific boots and coveralls for going to the box.

When moving animals in and out of the site, make sure the market trailer and chute are cleaned.

Implementation Strategy #5: Fix ventilation issues

The best way to check a building’s ventilation is to look at the pigs.

“Let the pigs tell you their comfort level,” Sievers said. “They like to lie touching each other but should not be piling. Watch where they are dunging, lying and eating. If those areas are spreading into each other, either we have a disease or the ventilation is off.”

The goal of ventilation is to control excess humidity, which Sievers wants at less than 70%. He also wants proper air exchange by bringing in fresh oxygen and removing carbon monoxide.

Pitfalls to proper ventilation include dirty fans, fans with broken blades, improper location of temperature probes in barns, blocked or insufficient inlets, and leaks caused by sagging or torn curtains and around doors.

“The end goal is to understand your barn and controller because every barn is different,” Sievers said. “Make daily adjustments based off pig comfort and using your pigs as your gauge, not just the numbers on the controller.”

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