When you give a pig a shot, you concentrate on an individual pig rather than an entire group. But, two University of Minnesota researchers are working on a model to present the bigger picture.

“Treating pigs is easily understood and measured,” explains John Deen, DVM. “However, disease prevention takes more time to define and justify.”

Deen and Robert Morrison, DVM, are working on a model that compares antibiotic use and the projected related outcome, based on how the product is used. For instance, if you’re comparing injectable antibiotics versus those used in water, the model will calculate the expected effectiveness of the two regimes for the problem at hand.

The motive behind their model stems from the ongoing debate about antibiotic use in food-
producing animals. They contend that the benefits are undeniable, but also understand there are concerns about overuse.

The researchers say the only way to address the subject of antibiotic use in food animals is to define and illustrate how antibiotics are used, as well as the needs of both animals and humans.

Deen and Morrison are starting the process by using three different nursery strategies to measure the impact of antibiotics on Strep. suis. They’re measuring on-farm daily doses of three types of antibiotic treatments in this trial: water, feed and injectable products.

With this model, they will try to determine what happens with Strep. suis cases, with and without antibiotics.

The model is intended to help them estimate the number of days that a pig is sick, the level of mortality, the amount of antibiotics used and the economic effects of using antibiotics.

Although this particular trial is being conducted in the nursery, the model can be used on all pork production stages.

The model will evaluate:

1. How to minimize the potential effects of swine disease on the pigs’ welfare. This means measuring animal mortality and morbidity. They will track signs such as coughing, diarrhea, reduced feed intake and growth performance.

2. The financial effects of disease and costs of intervention, including antibiotic use.

3. Antibiotic (via feed and water) consumption by the pig, especially with concerns about antibiotic resistance.

4. The likelihood of the disease causing pigs to die, especially when it’s time to make a decision about antibiotic use.

5. The disease severity, involving the pig and the herd.

6. Likelihood of the disease spreading to other unaffected animals.

7. Early detection of the disease to evaluate the need for injectable therapy.

8. An antibiotic’s efficacy to reduce disease severity and the likelihood of it spreading.

“We’re looking for better data, while creating a balance between economics and the health and welfare of pigs,” says Deen.

A major concern within the pork industry is that all antibiotic availability is being threatened. In many cases, Deen says, the U.S. pork industry is playing defense rather than offense in regards to antibiotics. Many critics are pointing to Europe where a number of antibiotics are being banned in many countries.

Producers and veterinarians will benefit from this model in terms of how, when and what antibiotics to use – or whether to use antibiotics at all – on a case-by-case basis. However, Morrison says the model’s goal is to educate the public about antibiotic use and help them understand the decisions that veterinarians and producers struggle with everyday. “Antibiotic therapy is poorly understood by the public,” notes Morrison.

He adds that the model, which is still in the early stages, will more accurately portray antibiotic use on the farm. It will help veterinarians and producers understand where changes can be made, especially in terms of costs.

Once the model is refined, researchers hope to describe a variety of farm-level challenges to help adjust antibiotic use at all production levels.

So far, Deen says their research shows a need for further study and recordkeeping. It also points out that the industry must be able to justify antibiotic use in more detail.