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What are the greatest factors that influence pig health? Most will say the health of the sow farm, pig density and area disease pressure. While these are all true, there’s one factor that often gets overlooked: the overall design of the operation.

This can be broken down into the macro and micro features of the operation or the barn. The big picture of the operation such as pig flow and site design is the macro level. This is important for disease spread between pigs you own and the ability to control or eliminate disease in future groups. The micro level is the individual barn design and environment. Both viewpoints are important in preventing and controlling disease, and therefore, limiting the need for antibiotics.

Consumers have become more critical of antibiotic use and resistance in livestock production. Ensuring your operation is designed to prevent and/or mitigate disease will allow you to minimize antibiotic use, which respects the consumer’s desire and lowers your direct cost in the pig.

Your operation’s design matters. This includes your pig source and where and how the pigs are placed. Here are seven fundamental goals to strive for to prevent and/or minimize disease challenges:

1.    Practice all in/all out by site.

  •  Helps stop disease between groups and can prevent a snowball effect of passing disease to other pigs on the site.
  • Allows success for cleaning up diseases on a site if disease is introduced.

2.    Obtain pigs from a single source.

  • All pigs on the site carry the same bugs/diseases.
  • This helps by not spreading disease present in one source to another source that is naïve.

3.    Run pigs through the barn in single age groups.

  • This prevents the spread of disease from older pigs to younger pigs.

4.    Minimize age spread within groups.

  • This limits the compounding effect of disease from older pigs to younger pigs.
  • It’s generally easier to start pigs.
  • The impact of long fill times can equal $0.25+/pig for each added day of fill time due to mortality and production drag.
  •  Close distance to other pigs increases chances of spread between groups.

6.    Secure a consistent, healthy pig source.

  • Healthy pigs perform better than sick pigs.
  • A consistent source allows you to know the health status and be familiar with what to expect.

7.    Practice and enforce biosecurity.

  • Biosecurity prevent disease spread to other groups.
  • It needs to be thorough, but practical.
  • Fundamentals such as clean/dirty line and shower in/shower out work.

Think Outside of the Box

Most operations I see today were built over time, meaning that barns built 20 years ago were designed for the size of the operation 20 years ago. Many operations have also expanded over the years, so barns built 20 years ago do not fit the size of today’s pig flow. This has caused the pig flow to accommodate old barn size with new barn size, potential different sources, multiple age groups and others. This does not fit some of the principles listed above.

Although the current operation has worked, think outside of the box to continue to find ways to improve your operation. Big decisions like changing the flow of your barns or expanding your pig source/sow farm may sound unrealistic but try to view it as structuring your operation for the future. Current industry trends such as larger sow farms, all in/all out and antibiotic stewardship are not likely to go away. The economics support these trends. Structure your pig operation to allow further improvement and allow you to be relevant in the future so you never have to say, “I wish I would have done that differently 20 years ago.”

Focus on Pig-Level Design

Everyone could debate at length about designing the perfect barn. While opinions vary greatly, the goal is the same: raise healthy, efficient pigs. Giving pigs the best environment possible allows them to perform to their highest ability. Keeping up on barn maintenance, making sure the ventilation is set right, and ensuring fans and waters are cleaned and working properly are just a few ways to make the environment the best it can be. When attention is given to the details and environmental stress is minimized to the pig, it could prevent a disease outbreak and the need to use medication.

Farm design plays an important role in the health of your operation. As the industry strives to improve pig health and reduce antibiotic use, take a step back and critically evaluate your operation to find areas for improvement. Consult with your veterinarian on ways to improve on pig health, reduce the need to use antibiotics, and ultimately improve your bottom line.


Farm Journal’s Pork | Evan Koep, DVM, Pipestone | February 18, 

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