Amber Stricker, DVM—Veterinarian, Suidae Health & Production
To me, maintaining pig health is critical and a big part of this is making sure pigs have a good environment to reduce stressors that make them more vulnerable to disease breaks. As fall approaches, it is important to have facilities in good repair to allow for optimum ventilation when the curtains go back up for the winter. The summertime is a good time to do a facility inspection and make notes of what items need to be replaced or repaired before heading into fall and winter. If these tasks are completed prior to the fall it makes winterizing barns a simpler process when the time comes. Along with this, biosecurity audits including on-farms, truck washes and feed mills should be done annually to identify areas where improvements can be made. Although biosecurity is important to focus on year-round, it is well known that the colder months of the year pose more of a risk to the health of the swine herd.
I believe this is a reminder to the industry that we cannot let our guard down, even during the summer months. This is why our recommendation for biosecurity and pathogen control protocols do not change throughout the year. If it is important for the winter, it is important for the summer. We must remain disciplined in our approach to biosecurity at all times.
The biggest change that food animal veterinarians have seen, in my opinion, is in regard to the continued pressure to reduce the use of medically important antibiotics. This has been a major test as the industry works to find the best practices to work around these new challenges. Today, we veterinarians need to be more diligent in our recommendations, making sure we are managing animal health in a manner that is best for the pigs and the people who consume our pork. I think we are doing this pretty well in the swine industry, however, I believe we can do even better. For example, I believe efforts to drive diet costs down have led to some health management challenges, especially as it relates to post-weaning diarrhea. Often times these challenges are addressed with the strategic use of antibiotics along with management strategies to reduce subsequent production losses, however, this is something we need to continually re-evaluate as we look at taking a more preventative approach.
As a veterinarian, I am passionate about the use of preventative medicine to reduce the need for antibiotic usage. Each health challenge presents a mystery to be solved and too often the case is closed without really finding the guilty party. Swine farmers who see the value in spending extra time to get to the root cause is where the true value of working with a good veterinarian lies. This is the part of medicine that I really enjoy and where I encourage us to spend more time.
In my personal opinion, I don't know that we will ever get to No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) in swine production. I just don't think it is realistic. In human medicine, many children would not make it past infancy without the aid of antibiotics, even when being cared for in the best environments. In addition, if you look at the increases in the cost of production for producers who go ABF, it is significant; much more than what the poultry industry reports. As the supply of ABF/NAE increases, the premiums at the meat counter, as compared to conventionally produced pork, are narrowing. I do believe there will be continued demand for ABF/NAE pork by consumers, but unless we find a way to reduce the cost of production to ensure a profitable margin, the industry will have a difficult time making this work. If the consumer is willing to pay, the market will grow and has the potential to be profitable, but the consumer must be willing to pay.
With enhanced focus on preventative medicine, access to safe and effective vaccines is key. However, even with the best vaccines on the market, the reality of the situation is that we do not raise pigs in a bubble. Caretakers must do their best to provide a low stress environment with good ventilation and access to proper feed and clean water in order to maintain a high-health pig. Exposure to pathogens must be avoided through good biosecurity measures and management practices that allow for pigs to thrive.
Times are changing and the days of using antibiotics as the sole health management strategy are over. Now more than ever, a team approach is needed for the best animal health management. Many producers are underutilizing their veterinarians and not fully capturing the value they can provide. Routinely working with your veterinarian to identify root causes of reoccurring health challenges and develop disease prevention strategies will pay dividends. Together we can do even better.