The extreme profitability we saw in 2014 is by now a fond and distant memory to most of us.  2016 is experiencing a moderate start, but by most forecasts, it will likely be a year of tightening belts.  Easy to spend money on pigs carrying $30 profit per head…. Harder to spend that money when it will consume the $1 left lying on the table.

I will defer to others with regards to contracts, hedging, questions on sow genetics and boar-line, and regarding the topic of tight-trimming grower arrangements.  There’s likely money there, but I’m going to stick to my knitting on this one.  Here’s some answers related directly to health, from a health guy.

What’s the best way to jump into this question?  At the risk of being called a nerd, I will start with some math. 

1) Be Methodical When Evaluating Risk vs. Reward  

Take Erysipelas for example.  A disease we don’t see often, but is dramatic when it shows up.  The disease is sporadic and hard to predict, but the vaccine is not (it’s reliable).

On average, the disease might affect one out of 20 unvaccinated groups (5%) during high risk season.  When it hits, it might cause 3% mortality or condemns.  That is roughly a $6/pig mortality cost.

Vaccine cost = $0.40/dose with 100% effectiveness (humor me here)

5% risk of a $6 penalty = $0.30/pig over time.

The vaccine is ~$0.30/pig… even to the long-term cost of disease

Answer: Vaccinate (at least for high risk season… March/April for late summer markets). 

The staple vaccinations all have the math squarely on their side.  For example…Circovirus is extremely expensive when it hits.  Late term losses of around 10% mortality affect maybe 25% of unvaccinated groups.  Ouch!  Over $5/pig using the same math as above.  Well worth the vaccine. Other products may not be clearly warranted….some math can show this.

2) Judicious/Intelligent Use of Antibiotics

As antibiotic use is called more and more into question by the public, the government, and various concerned parties, we are beginning to take a closer look at just how much we use these drugs.  There is vast variation between producers use patterns.  Whether we’re looking at milligrams or dollars per pig, it is clear that some get away with using less.

Get your pencils sharp.  Consider the following situation:

  • You’ve been running 40g Tylosin in the feed, for the first 12 weeks finishing.  Do you know the cost?  Cumulatively, it’s about $1.14 per pig.
  • What are you getting for this money?   If it’s for Ileitis control, the vaccine will reliably control disease at a much lower price point.   If you’ve got other bacterial problems and maybe a Mycoplasma issue, then you could argue that this has value.  Maybe.  But it is rare to see finishing health problems that have found clear solutions with feed antibiotics. 

The table below shows the relative costs of a few commonly used feed medications.   You can see the cost impact increasing age. Younger pigs are cheaper to treat than older ones.   Costs will go up and down relative to inclusion rate, too.  These things are obvious, but often overlooked. 

The recommendation here is to constantly question your feed medication program and know why you’re feeding it.  It can easily slip out of site and out of mind.








3) Watch closely for early signs of health problems.  Early interventions are more effective.

Consider this setup:

  • A double 1,200 finisher, at around 200# gets the flu.
  • Pigs are looking a little run-down, and are losing 5/hd or more per day for the past few days.
  • It started on the West side; now a cough is starting on the East.
  • You immediately start the whole barn on Aspirin and Oxytetracycline .
  •  When it’s all said and done, the East side did much better.  Only had a couple pigs die, coughed less, stayed more active, and recovered better.

I have seen this exact situation play out over and over, and likely so have you.  Why did the East side fare better?  Luck?  Midwest work ethic and regular church attendance…maybe?  To me… it’s pretty apparent that early intervention can make a huge difference.  The East side got the advantage of West side’s earlier misfortune.

Further investigation almost always reveals that water consumption had been down for 3 days prior to any mortality and prior to anyone calling attention to the problem.  The water was just beginning to drop on the East side when the drugs started.  They never got behind the 8-ball.

One percent mortality in 200 pound pigs costs around $2 perpig.  Running a course of Aspirin + Oxytetracycline for 5 days would cost ~$0.40/pig.   Early intervention would need to save 0.2% mortality…or two or three pigs.  Well worth the money and effort.   Moral of the story: While a watched pot never boils, a watched pig will always perform better. 

Summary: Sometimes antibiotics or vaccines are needed and sometimes they are not.   Don’t be afraid to do these cost:benefit exercises, especially with tight margins ahead.  As always, feel free to contact myself, your herd vet, or Pipestone Veterinary Services at 507.825.4211 with questions.