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All news / Biosecurity, ASF and large litters: ESPHM review

  • 25 May 2018, 11:33

Large litters, African Swine Fever, the importance of biosecurity…the 10th edition of the European Symposium of Porcine Health Management, held 9-11 May in Barcelona, Spain, touched on a wide variety of topical swine health issues.

Almost 2,000 delegates from 55 countries made their way to Barcelona, for the 10thedition of this annual pig veterinary event. It has grown in size considerably over the years and quite notably was the presence of large numbers of overseas delegates – they had come from e.g. Latin America, Asia and Oceania as well to listen to the 9 keynote lectures and in total 440 oral and poster presentations.

Pig production in Spain

The series of keynote presentations was kicked off by Higuera Pascual, director of Anprogapor, the Spanish pig producers’ organisation. He gave a good analysis as to why Spain’s pig production has grown to be the most important in the EU – in some respects.

Having touched on the environmental regulations for Spain, Mr Pascual stated that with regard to business models, “Spain is radically different from other countries of the European Union”, looking at the integration model which was introduced in the country in the 1970s.

Another feature, he stated, is that within Spain, different kinds of production systems can be found apart from large-scale producers, there are also niche producers, focusing on iberico de bellota (outdoor pigs grown on acorns for the famous iberico hams).

The costs of swine diseases

The following 2 speakers focused on the economic aspects of swine diseases. Josep Font Puig, from SIP Consultors in Barcelona, Spain. His company helps swine farmers to improve their level of efficiency and competitiveness, he said.

Mr Font added, “During our professional experience, we have observed that producers who maintain a good control of diseases are able to keep better levels of efficiency in a sustained manner.”

Swine diseases with the greatest economic impact, Mr Font named Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), dysentery, App and colibacillary enteric processes. With regard to PRRS, he said that in acute cases, economic losses can range between € 75 to € 150 per sow per year, depending on the farm.

Interventions on swine farms

So would it be possible to calculate what the difference would be if diseases can be prevented? That question was answered by Prof Derald Holtkamp, a well-known expert from Iowa State University in the United States. He presented the results of a cost-benefit analysis that was done on a 3,600 sow farm in Spain, in cooperation with Merck/MSD Animal Health.

The farms were stabilised for PRRSv to produce pigs that were negative for the virus at weaning, and to uniformly vaccinate all gilts and pigs for Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae (M. hyo), so that all piglets could be co-mingled into one nursery.

Prof Holtkamp said: “Although antimicrobial use in finishing was not measured directly, medication costs in finishing, declined by € 0.68 to € 0.74 per pig started during the ‘intervention’ period and by € 0.85 to € 1.16 per pig started in the ‘after intervention’ period.”

African Swine Fever creeping towards Western Europe

Unmistakenly, African Swine Fever (ASF) was also on the menu, as the lethal viral disease is slowly making its way west in Europe in wild boar herds, occasionally hitting backyard production facilities as well. Dr Klaus Depner of the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Germany, gave a clear introduction to the viral disease – what disease it is and how it spreads.

Dr Depner’s main message for swine producers was the following: “Biosecurity shortcomings were the overall common finding and the most serious factor responsible for virus introduction in domestic pig holdings. Therefore, farm biosecurity has to be addressed more rigorously, particularly all aspects related to human activities. Information campaigns with all stakeholders (farmers, veterinarians and staff) are a vital issue.”

Positive news on ASF vaccine development

Next on stage was Dr Fernando Rodríguez, on behalf of the Spanish research institute CReSA-IRTA. He has been spending a long time trying to develop a vaccine for ASF and he spent some time to explain that that in itself is not an easy task. The virus encodes more than 150 proteins, he said, which makes it rather difficult to develop a vaccine.

There is reason to be optimistic, he said: “On one hand, several live attenuated vaccine prototypes have been successfully tested in experimental conditions and on the other hand, new expectations have been opened regarding the potential use of safe and efficient subunit vaccines in the near future.”

Biosecurity: A great tool to enhance farm health status

Another pig health celebrity mounted on stage with Prof Dominiek Maes, Ghent University, Belgium. The university has been working on biosecurity issues for a long time and developed an anonymous web-based survey for swine producers (in English) where they can test their level of internal and external biosecurity.

Want to know more about the biosecurity tool? Here is the link

The tool will provide producers with a score between 0 and 100, ranging from a complete absence of biosecurity measures to a full presence of biosecurity measures. Prof Maes described that already about 5,000 farms in 40 countries worldwide have used the tool to help them increase biosecurity.

Prof Maes said that an evaluation of the online biosecurity tool showed that it can serve as an instrument to evaluate improvement strategies.

Smallholders: A biosecurity risk in Australia

Biosecurity, but then from a different angle, was the key topic of the keynote by Marta Hernández-Jover, from Charles Sturt University in Australia. She introduced the term ‘smallholders’, in Australia the word for ‘backyard farms’ and explained that they form in fact a threat to biosecurity for professional swine farms, due to e.g. a lack of prior agricultural knowledge, limited veterinary contact and a diverse cultural background, to name a few.

She identified key social and institutional factors to consider for improving engagement of producers with biosecurity.

Large litters and how to manage them

The last day of the ESPHM the stage was for keynote presentations on sow health. Dr Emma Baxter of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) looked at the theme of large litters and how to manage them properly. She spoke about optimising management, paying attention to colostrum intake and fostering, for split suckling and cross-fostering, nurse sows and artificial rearing.

With regard to optimising nutrition, she zoomed in on the sows and how to feed them for farrowing fitness, for piglet robustness and for enhanced colostrum yield.

Large pig litters and disease

Last but not least, Dr Enric Marco of Marco Vetgrup in Barcelona, Spain also talked about large litters – and how to deal with disease. He emphasised the importance of a high colostrum intake, the essence of hygiene, the advantages of batch management and also the keeping of litter integrity.

As such, he proved not to be the biggest fan of bringing in foster sows. Having touched on the effects of limited cross-fostering to decrease mortality during PRRS outbreaks, he said, “Little research has been done on the effect of cross fostering on other diseases and their effect in later stages but some recent work done at Wageningen University shows that disease spread can be reduced on farm by avoiding mixing from birth to slaughter.”



Vincent ter Beek

Editor of Pig Progress / Topic: Pigs around the world

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