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Pig farmers are being urged to look at all aspects of disease prevention to meet new antibiotic reduction targets. Disease prevention remains priority for pig producers

Pig farmers are being urged to look at all aspects of disease prevention to meet new antibiotic reduction targets.

The targets have been set by the industry-backed Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance. Good progress has been made so far but further actrion is needed to meet revised targets for 2024.

A 5% reduction in antibiotic use has already been seen according to the latest figures for the first half of 2020, says Gemma Thwaites, a clinical director at Garth Pig Practice. But there is still room for improvement, she adds.

“Producers need to look at all aspects of disease prevention, to identify where further improvements can be made in order to reach the further 30% reduction from the 2020 baseline RUMA has set out.”

Disease risks

Biosecurity on pig farms is fundamental to preventing disease outbreaks and needs to be prioritised at all times. But it can be a challenge where weekly batches of pigs coming on to the unit rather than all-in all-out systems because new disease pressures are constantly knocking at the door.

“Generally, external biosecurity has greatly improved across farms,” says Ms Thwaites. “It is internal biosecurity where producers still tend to fall down, especially on farrow to finish farms where it’s often the same people managing and vaccinating all the pigs.

“It can be easy to forget to change or disinfect your boots between sheds, change needles when vaccinating, or to pop into a different shed and not follow the farrow to finish order. But it’s important sites do all they can to limit these actions, as this is how disease spreads.”

Diagnostics

Producers are also being urged to consider diagnostics more widely to take a more targeted approach to disease control and reduce antibiotic use. Diagnostics are often an underused resource within the sector despite the benefits they bring.

“The industry can be guilty of looking into a problem once the mortality hits 10% or daily liveweight gains have dropped significantly, by which time it is often too late. Ideally action needs to be taken as soon as a slight change in performance is seen.

“As an industry, we need to work closer together on diagnostics. Pharmaceutical companies, such as MSD Animal Health, are also keen to support vets and farmers with on-farm diagnostics to help identify potentially significant diseases and prevent them taking hold of pig herds.

“Often different viruses present very similar symptoms such as PRRS and flu and without diagnostics it’s hard to be sure of the exact problem on-farm.”

Vaccination

Another key part of disease prevention is having a thorough vaccination protocol in place. This should include vaccination technique as well as the type of vaccines being used. An IDAL device allows for needle free vaccination to take place, says Ms Thwaites.

“While there are a number of benefits to this, such as operator safety, the biggest thing for me, as a vet, is the reduced risk of spreading disease. If you vaccinate one pig that is PRRS positive with a needle and then go and vaccinate another 20 pigs, this will potentially spread the disease.”

Huge steps have been made in the pig industry to reduce the need to use antibiotics and implement proactive disease prevention techniques, but there’s more work to be done, adds Ms Thwaites.

“I’m confident the target RUMA has set can be achieved if producers work with their vet to review their whole disease prevention protocol in detail, and identify areas where incremental improvements can be made.”