Pork production: Approach disease prevention holistically

pneumonia; fever; pigs; mange; pig; disease, breed

It’s more than just vaccination and administering antibiotics. Farmers need to adopt a holistic approach to keep pigs disease-free.

‘It’s not enough to simply administer antibiotics or use vaccines when a pig herd gets a disease, because it will not address the underlying causes,” says Dr. Peter Evans, a veterinarian and animal production consultant to the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation.


Disease management relies on 3 main principles: the host (the pig), the environment and the pathogen (disease-causing organisms).

  • If farmers do not attend to all 3 factors, outbreaks are more likely to occur.
  • Diseases in piggeries often come about when farmers disregard the importance of a comfortable environment, well-maintained housing and balanced feeding.
  • Quality nutrition will ensure that pigs have a strong immune system and natural resistance to disease.
  • And if they do get ill, well-nourished pigs will recover more quickly.


Good housing reduces the incidence of social stress.

Various factors could cause stress in pigs:
An overcrowded pen which can result in pigs fighting with each other.
Newly-weaned pigs experience stress when they’re removed from their mother and placed with other pigs.

“Any of these factors can make pigs more susceptible to disease.”

  • Always make sure that pigs of the same age are housed together.
  • Farmers should vaccinate for passive and active immunity.
  • One of the most crucial passive immunity vaccinations is for E.coli, a bacterial disease that often affects suckling piglets.
  • Vaccinated sows transfer immunity to piglets through the colostrum in the first milk, which will protect them until they’re old enough to develop their own immunity.
  • Farmers should administer this vaccine about 10 to 14 days before farrowing.
  • Farmers can achieve active immunity in pigs by injecting healthy animals with vaccines.
  • The vaccine used depends on the type of problem experienced.
  • Evans points out that strategic, preventive antibiotic therapy is also important.
  • Although piglets receive passive immunity to bacteria such as E.coli from their mothers, they can become susceptible to the bacteria later.
  • They’re most at risk when weaned.
  • Farmers administering strategic antibiotics have to anticipate possible disease outbreaks, based on past experience.
  • It’s crucial that veterinary advice is sought to ensure the most effective products are used and that the withdrawal periods are adhered to.
  • It is the pig farmer’s responsibility to ensure that pork is free of residues and hormones.

“Diseases are dynamic and different problems will affect your piggery at different times of the year. Carry out regular post-mortems on all deaths to establish the exact cause of death. This is the best way to design a preventive control programme.” 

  • If it is necessary to administer therapeutic antibiotics to sick pigs, make sure the correct antibiotic is used.
  • Farmers should make sure they use the right dosage, for the recommended period.
  • Failure to do so could cause animals to build up resistance to the antibiotic.
  • Evans suggests that farmers schedule regular appointments with veterinarians.
  • Farm visits should take place at least 4 times a year, but a good farmer will make budgetary provision to see a consultant at least once a month.

“They will advise you on a vaccination strategy and evaluate disease patterns on the farm,” he says.


  • This is an important way to control disease.
  • Farmers should wash, disinfect and dry each house after every batch of pigs.
  • “Factor in at least 3 days to complete this process between production cycles,” Evans says.
  • Cold water and a high-pressure hose are adequate, but hot water will improve the effectiveness.
  • Use a broad-spectrum cleaning product accredited by your country’s accreditation system. Use it at the right concentration to ensure that the spread rate over surfaces is adequate.
  • The contact time of the product is also important.
  • If washed off too quickly, it may not remove potential disease-causing agents.
  • Consider using a foam nozzle that can be attached to a pressure hose to spread the disinfectant thoroughly.
  • More progressive pig farms use “contact plates”, a microbiological product that can test the efficiency of cleaning.
  • The contact plate is applied to surfaces to pick up any bacteria present in the environment. This is then analysed by a laboratory to find out where the cleaning routine is not effective.

“It’s an additional quality control step in disease prevention and hygiene that is important for farmers.”

It is also important to make sure that diseases are not brought onto the farm from an external source. “Find one supplier of genetic material and only use that one,” Evans says.

The health status of a farm will be compromised as pigs will not have immunity against foreign diseases.

  • This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.

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