CASE STUDY: Targeted treatment slashes long term use of antibiotics

One pig vet from Wiltshire has implemented a targeted programme to eliminate enzootic pneumonia across a number of herds, resulting in a dramatic reduction in long term use of antibiotics.

dscn5655Richard Pearson, a specialist pig vet from The George Veterinary Group based in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, admits the pig industry has felt on the back foot in recent years with antibiotic sales data suggesting it could be the highest-use sector.

“There’s a moral and a commercial reason why we have to review and refine how we use antibiotics,” he explains. “Pressure from retailers is growing but they are simply reflecting wider public concern. The challenge is how we maintain or improve pig health while changing the way we use antibiotics to meet this wider agenda.”

Recording data

Richard says The George Veterinary Group started recording antibiotic use in earnest back in 2014 – a move that proved prescient in light of the requirement Red Tractor introduced later that year to monitor antibiotic use. With data for around 500,000 pigs collected, average use across the Group’s client base was estimated at 120mg/kg liveweight.

From this point, as well as strategies to look at more accurate administration of antibiotics, Richard said they considered how they could improve the underlying health of the animals they work with.

He explains: “Depopulation and repopulation with high health stock may be needed to eliminate some pathogens such as Swine Dysentery or Strep meningitis, but it is possible to reliably eliminate Enzootic Pneumonia (EP) from a herd of pigs using a targeted medication technique. The great advantage of this technique is that if it’s successful, all weaners produced henceforth are of a higher health status and shouldn’t need treating.’’

Novel elimination strategy

Richard devised a novel elimination strategy for 4,000 outdoor sows across five batch-producing herds in the South of England which were EP positive. The farms all operate three-week batch farrowing with pigs weaned into straw-based finishing systems taking them to sale weight at around 115kg.

“The strategy we devised was relatively simple but important aspects included strict rules on biosecurity, minimum age at start of treatment and pig movements. It wasn’t easy but then nothing worthwhile ever is!’’ says Richard.

“During the eliminations, starting August 2015, each sow was prescribed a total of 31g of active antibiotic which was administered under veterinary prescription in the feed over a six-week period. The results were great – EP elimination was successful in all five herds and they all remain test negative well over a year later,” says Richard.

“In effect, this targeted treatment of 4,000 sows removed the need to treat for EP the 100,000 pigs they produce annually; 31g sounds a lot but spread across this number of pigs, it really isn’t.”

New approach to health management

The EP elimination was just one strand of the new approach to health management within the pyramid. Control of ileitis, a very common condition in finisher pigs kept on solid floored or straw-based systems, was also reviewed. Causing looseness and potentially reducing daily liveweight gain by around 35g/day/pig, ileitis was previously controlled through two pulsed antibiotic treatments when the pigs were 45-50kg and 70-80kg. A sizeable investment in new ‘nudge-bar’ type drinkers allowed a water-based vaccine to be used instead.

“Overall, the new approach reduced average antibiotic use in all progeny from the five herds from 120mg/kg before the programme started to 20mg/kg by November 2016, and has allowed removal of all in-feed medication,” reports Richard.

“The impact is significant – these herds form around one per cent of the national herd and have a net effect on two to three percent of national output in the pyramid as a whole.”

The costs

While the EP programme itself cost around £12 per sow (or 50p per pig weaned in the last year), there were other costs associated with new drinkers, disruption to gilt supply and biosecurity.

However, Richard estimates that the significant accrued savings on in-feed medications and healthier pigs means the investment was paid off in less than a year, with benefits now cumulative over time as more and more EP-free pigs are weaned off these sites.

“The success of this programme shows just what  can achieved by forward-thinking farmers who are prepared to try new approaches and work closely with their vets,” points out Richard.

“A critical message is that these EP eliminations probably wouldn’t have been possible without the ability to in-feed medicate. Injectable or water medication strategies just wouldn’t have worked in these outdoor herds for practical, animal welfare or efficacy reasons. This demonstrates the importance of retaining access to effective antibiotics and application techniques for long term strategic reductions.”

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