Is it worth a pound of cure? It should be when it comes to working with your herd veterinarian.
Les Carberry, manager of Lone Tree Farms, Harrisonville, Mo., is a good example. He continually prepares for his veterinarian's visits instead of scrambling a day ahead of time. For instance, Carberry is a strong advocate of records. He always has current production records available to discuss with his veterinarian, R.C. Ebert of Pleasant Hill, Mo. This also forces Carberry to remain updated on such things as farrowing numbers, death loss, birth weights and weaning weights for the 1,850-sow, farrow-to-wean operation.
He relies heavily on Ebert for herd health and nutrition advice. "I'm not the owner, but I am responsible for the pigs," says Carberry. "My veterinarian is an indispensable resource. He has a broad view of the industry and can give me an unbiased opinion."
Ebert prefers conducting a routine visit with his clients every four to six weeks. In Lone Tree's case, he's there more often because the owners are bringing gilts in to build up the breeding herd. This means Ebert is drawing blood for a pseudorabies test within 30 days after pigs arrive. He also runs a porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome test at that time.
Because Ebert is at Lone Tree so often, Carberry says he doesn't tend to encounter too many herd-health surprises. Adds Ebert, "If I'm doing my job right, there shouldn't be many emergencies."
On average, Ebert says a veterinarian should spend 60 to 90 minutes per sow unit and one hour each for the nursery and finisher. Overall, he spends about 2.5 hours per visit. This includes the actual farm visit, office time, lab reports and any other post-visit procedures.
Whether you are an owner, manager or employee, you have a great deal of expertise to offer your herd veterinarian. The key is thorough communication.
Here are a few tips from Ebert and Tom Fangman, University of Missouri extension veterinarian, to help you prepare for your veterinarian's next visit.
Outline your management goals – be specific.
Keep a small notebook handy so you can write down questions as they occur. Also note any problem areas or other issues that you want to discuss with your veterinarian. Write down all of your immediate concerns.
Review your records to highlight concerns, questions or help you illustrate a point.
Look for production "bottlenecks". For instance, is it taking too long for the baby pigs to reach weaning weight?
Review pig movement and flow (breeding goals, farrowing rate, regular fluctuations).
Analyze employee issues and prepare to discuss any labor challenges. This might include conflicts between management and employees, language barriers, employees showing up late and not having enough help.
Once your veterinarian arrives at the operation, the visit should include, but not be limited to the following:
1. Have a current copy of your production records handy. Make a copy for you and your veterinarian. Also, have the appropriate managers or staff review and highlight any problem areas, as well as participate in the on-farm discussion.
2. Have a copy of your vaccination and medication records.
Ebert instructs his clients on proper vaccination procedures and drug withdrawal times. Plus, he provides other guidance. For instance, Carberry says they had a problem with ruptures while castrating pigs. During one of his routine visits Ebert discussed the situation, then showed the employees alternative castration techniques to better suit the current line of genetics. He also taught them procedures for repairing ruptured pigs.
Review your vaccine and medication inventory in case you need to order a new supply.
3. Conduct a farm tour with your veterinarian to deepen his familiarity and strengthen your relationship. Use the tour to:
Familiarize your veterinarian with the farm layout and pig flow. This may only be necessary for the first few visits until the veterinarian becomes familiar with your operation and procedures.
Introduce the employees and have the veterinarian discuss any concerns they may have. Ebert likes to visit one-on-one with employees. "It's often easier to get questions answered without a manager present," he notes.
Discuss protocols for posting pigs for diagnostic analysis. Start by assisting your veterinarian in identifying pigs for tissue submission. Discuss techniques and limitations for posting pigs.
Have the veterinarian teach appropriate post-mortem methods to the staff, including how to take helpful notes.
The on-farm visit is the time for you and your staff to walk through each production stage with your veterinarian. Resist the urge to "spruce up" the place. Honesty will provide the best insight and solutions.
In each stage, you should review pig diets, feeding and watering systems, ventilation and the room's overall environmental condition. And, of course actually look at the animals.
- In the breeding herd, monitor breeding techniques, including sow handling and estrus detection. If warranted, your veterinarian should obtain serum samples and swab sows that are having problems with vaginal discharge.
-Review boar semen collection and preparation techniques if they are done on the farm; as well as artificial insemination protocols. If you purchase semen, discuss any issues or concerns.
- In gestation, discuss and observe pregnancy-checking techniques.
- In the farrowing rooms, check the temperature and placement of the heat lamps and mats. Also check the sow's environment; you're really dealing with two micro-environments here.
- In the nurseries take pig inventory and ensure that the pigs have enough room.
- In the finishing area, review feed disappearance and weight gain to determine feed efficiency – then compare to recent trends.
4. Discuss biosecurity issues. This area also includes breeding herd acclimatization, as well as trucking and other vehicle traffic coming on to the farm. If you have a biosecurity plan in place, the veterinarian should review it with you in detail – and occasionally observe practices in action. If you do not have a plan in place, then this is a priority place to begin.
5. Focus time and attention. If you are having problems in one area of production, you may want your veterinarian to focus an entire visit on that area.
Keep in mind, the feedback you get from your veterinarian is only as good as the information you provide. So plan ahead to efficiently utilize your veterinarian's time and expertise.