Keeping Antibiotics in the Arsenal: Pigs Can Still Get Sick

By Ann Hess, editor at National Hog Farmer

When the new FDA antibiotic guidance rules went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, it was a good reminder to all pig farmers that antibiotic stewardship is very important and to strive for reduction in use when possible.

Brad and Peggy Greenway at their pig farm on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in Mitchell, S.D. Greenway is the National Pork Board’s Pig Farmer of the Year. (Jay Pickthorn/AP Images for National Pork Board)Brad Greenway says his farm’s use of antibiotics has decreased, but it’s not something he plans to take out of the toolbox anytime soon.

“The thing we have found on our farm is we need to have antibiotics as a tool,” the Mitchell, S.D. pork producer says. “I think every producer does their very best to use all the preventative measures to keep pigs healthy but sometimes they still get sick.”

The 2016 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year is just one of the 150 Pipestone independent producers that signed up to take part in the Pipestone Antibiotic Resistance Tracker program.

Participating in PART

In addition to the comprehensive antibiotic monitoring system, the Greenways have built a solid working relationship with their veterinarian through their participation in PART. The veterinarian not only oversees the pig health program at their farm, but also at the 13 other Davison County farms that cooperatively own Bluestem Family Farms. Managed by Pipestone Veterinary Services, the sow farm supplies pigs for the owners’ respective pig farms in the area.

“We know exactly what the health status is at the sow barn, our source of the baby pigs, and what to look for,” Greenway says. “I think that has really been a plus the last couple years, really paying attention to that and being prepared, knowing the health status of the pigs coming on to our farm and then having that relationship with our veterinarian to continue that protocol.”

When a new batch of pigs arrive at either of their two 2,400 wean-to-finish barns, they are accompanied with a current health status report and veterinarian treatment and care recommendations. Each week the Greenways also report back any mortalities and challenges they are seeing. That way the whole group that gets pigs from the sow barn can be prepared.

“It’s that communication amongst the whole group that I think has really been a strong point and helped us learn from each other,” Greenway says.

Biosecurity and nutrition

Beside the increased communication with their veterinarian and the other farms, Greenway also credits their heightened biosecurity efforts for their decreased antibiotic use. Also, having their own feed mill on site reduces outside traffic coming to the farm.

The Greenways also ensure the barns are comfortable when pigs come in to keep stress down and work closely with their swine nutritionist, making sure the diets are balanced and adjusted as the pigs grow.

“From biosecurity, to having the barns prepared, ready and comfortable, to having the right feed, that goes a long way in preventing disease,” Greenway says.

Pigs can still get sick

There’s a lot of different ways to raise pigs – whether that be outdoor, niche or conventional, and there is room for everybody. With the increased consumer demand for antibiotic-free production, Greenway says some farmers are able to provide that.

“I think the message to consumers is if we do use antibiotics, it’s done responsibly, under the advisement of our veterinarians, we document use, make sure we always follow the labels, and we follow antibiotic withdrawal times before delivering the pigs to market,” Greenway says. “We need to make sure the health and welfare of the animal is our top concern.”

It’s a commitment the Greenways have never faltered from, even with all the extra efforts they have made over the last two years to try to lower their antibiotic use on farm.

“As a trend over the last two years, we have seen a decrease, but as producers, we need to recognize each group is different, each stress challenge is different, and things can happen,” Greenway says. “Be prepared for that and make sure that we continue to have antibiotics as a tool when needed because walking into a barn and seeing pigs challenged is disheartening to any pig farmer.”