Investing In Every Pig

Kerkaert_BarryIt is no secret to anyone in the pork industry that the combination of high domestic and international demand, a shortage of pig inventory due to the PED virus outbreak, and lower feed costs are presenting strong profit opportunities for pork producers.    These opportunities are driving many producers to also take their management practices to a new level.

Dr. Barry Kerkaert, Vice President of Pipestone Veterinary Services, says that producers are recognizing the value of each pig in their barn and looking for ways to ensure that each pig is healthier at every phase of their life.

“In my career, I’ve never seen this level of economic potential for pork producers,” said Dr. Kerkaert.  “Because each pig represents such potential, I’ve also never seen this level of focus on individual pig health and care.”

Dr. Kerkaert notes that this focus on caring for every pig is resulting in some of the best performance results he’s ever seen, with the exception of farrowing facilities with acute PEDv outbreaks.

Saving every pig starts at sow farms and farrowing barns, said Dr. Kerkaert. Many sow farms are adding employees to provide 24 hour monitoring and additional care to sows during farrowing to reduce stillbirth, and increase piglet survival.

“With these extra measures, we’ve seen as much as a 50 percent reduction in stillbirth and 20 to 30 percent less piglet death while on the sow,” he said.

As pigs transition from farrowing barns to growing facilities, so does the focus on individual care.  This includes taking a close look at vaccination protocols to ensure that growing pigs are protected with proper vaccinations at the proper dosage at the proper timing.

The return on investment is significant on vaccinations, said Dr. Kerkaert, and many producers are adding more vaccines to their protocol to provide extra protection, including vaccines for ileitis, salmonella and PRRS.

“These vaccines are no-brainers. When you look at the potential margin per pig nearing $200 in some cases, the investment of 50 cents or so on a vaccine is a good one,” he said.

Producers are also stepping up efforts to monitor growing pigs to watch for early signs of health issues.

“It means walking every pen every day, and making a concentrated effort to look at every pig in the pen,” he said.  “If a potential issue is noticed, it requires individualized treatment.”

The key to success in treating and saving pigs is early identification and early treatment.  Producers who are walking pens daily and treating sick animals with the right dosage of the right antibiotic can improve the success rate of the treatment.  Early diagnosis and treatment  can also decrease the risk of a sick pig shedding the disease and spreading among the rest of the group.

“If there was ever a time when a health incentive or treatment would pay for itself, this is it.  The return on investment has never been greater,”  he said.

Pigs who are treated early can remain in their pen as long as they are clearly marked to make sure they can be monitored and so that producers can follow all guidelines for slaughter.   If pigs are treated too late, or they don’t respond quickly to early treatment, they will need to be moved to the hospital pen.

Dr. Kerkaert is hopeful that the improved practices will become standard operating procedures for producers and will continue even after the current economic cycle returns to more normal conditions.

“Ultimately, anything that improves the health and care for pigs will benefit producers and the entire industry,” he said.