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Danish management scheme aims to limit piglet deaths linked to blood poisoning

Danish pig producers are being encouraged to reassess their herd health management after it emerged that blood poisoning from routine operations was a significant cause of piglet mortality.

SEGES, the country’s agricultural advisory group, has created a range of tools to help producers identify where they can make management improvements and spot issues that could be putting their herd health at risk.

The initiative, which includes advisory services, online producer groups and even a computer game, was devised after researchers found that almost a third of piglet deaths were caused by blood poisoning.

Blood infections are linked to problems with routine health management practices such as giving injections and tail docking.

SEGES hopes that by encouraging farmers to think more carefully about their routines, they will succeed in helping drive Denmark’s piglet mortality down from almost 22% in 2014 to below 20% (see table).

Wrong causes of death

Currently 30 farms are involved in the project, which is looking at different ways of providing training, advice and guidance to farmers and farm staff on how best to care for their youngstock.

“When we looked at the reasons for piglet deaths, 50% were crushed, 20% died from hunger and the rest were due to blood poisoning,” says SEGES’ Dorthe Poulsgård Fransen, who works on the project.

“Farmers assumed the deaths were from crushing, but blood poisoning was significant and we realized we needed to make farmers aware the issue.”

In addition to traditional methods — such having farm advisors and veterinarians work with units to identify problem areas — the project utilizes alternative techniques including a computer game that allows workers to practice carrying out routine operations without having to touch animals.

The project also has a Facebook page, where farmers share knowledge and ideas.

Competition motivates farmers

“We have also ranked each farm’s performance on the Facebook page, and give awards to the top-performing unit,” says Poulsgård Fransen. “We’ve found that competition motivates them to work harder.

“It’s difficult to get people to change their routines: They know how they should do things, but getting them done the right way can be difficult,” she adds. “Giving farmers and their staff an opportunity to learn routines in a different way helps.”

Pig farmer Hans Christian, who runs a 700-sow unit at Nørregaard in Northern Jutland, says the project has made a significant impact to his herd’s health and mortality, and his business’ long-term sustainability.

Changing diets

“We had a lot of diarrhea and problems with a lack of milk from sows,” he says. “Our mortality was at 25% and we thought the main cause was crushing, but it turned out we had problems with constipation and blood poisoning. Some of our piglets were very small and it was hard to help them survive.”

To tackle the issues, Christian has worked with an advisor to make a number of changes, including introducing more sugar beet and reducing protein in sow diets — a move that has been good for digestion and increased milk production.

“We also use a lot of straw around the sow and the piglets,” he says. “A lot of other farmers think I’m crazy, but it’s been good for the sows because they make a nest and the piglets haven’t been getting cold.

“We still tail dock, but we change the blade for every litter and make sure we disinfect everything,” he adds. “We’ve also bought a tail cutter which is always totally warm and makes a cleaner job.”

Mortality on the unit is now down to 18%, with still-born piglets down to just 0.9%, both considerably below the project’s average (see table).

Natural system

“We’ve found that going back to a more natural system has been very good for us,” Christian says. “The sows take care of the piglets and we take care of the sows.

“Every time you have to do something to a pig it increases the risk, so the more natural the better,” he adds. “Eventually I would like to give medicines orally rather than with a needle to limit the risk further.”

Prior to taking part in the project, Christian admits his pig unit was not performing sustainably, but within two years he has seen production increase by 4.5 piglets/sow per year, while his bottom line has improved by DKK631,000 ($92,033) — a saving he will make annually.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on an advisor who has gone through every stage of production with me and the farm’s team of four staff, but it’s definitely been worth it,” he says.

“We couldn’t have done it alone. We needed to learn how to focus our efforts in a way which worked for us and our pigs.”

 

2014

Piglet Life first six months of 2016

Difference

Average live born

15.6

16.6

0.7

Still-born

1.7

1.7

Weaned per litter

13.5

14.4

0.7

Weaned/sow/year

30.6

33

2

Total mortality

21.9 20.7

-1.3

 

 

 

 

 

Danish management scheme aims to limit piglet deaths linked to blood poisoning
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