Suzanne Millman (left) and Anna Johnson lead Iowa State University animal-welfare efforts. Their research often includes recording animal behavior on video and analyzing the footage.
Suzanne Millman (left) and Anna Johnson lead Iowa State University animal-welfare efforts. Their research often includes recording animal behavior on video and analyzing the footage.

Understanding and solving lameness challenges in pigs could save U.S. pork producers $23 million a year. To assist in that effort, USDA’s Agriculture Food Research Initiative has committed a four-year $700,000 grant to a team of researchers headed by Anna Johnson, an Iowa State University animal scientist.

As Johnson points out, the project’s goal is to find tools that producers can use to measure pain mitigation and lameness, as well as make practical recommendations that can be applied to manage the problem.

“Lameness is the second highest reason that sows leave the breeding herd early,” Johnson notes. “Problems during reproduction are rated as the No. 1 problem in sow herds, but we think that lameness may be contributing to the reproduction problems.”

There are no approved drug treatments for pigs dealing with pain associated with lameness. Producing science-based answers will help pork producers identify housing, management and treatment options to address lameness and pain in breeding herds. “We want to be proactive,” Johnson says. “We see this as an upcoming issue and want to provide science that can be used to address lameness pain.”

Project collaborators involve other Iowa State researchers, including Ken Stalder, swine specialist; and Suzanne Millman and Locke Karriker, both associate professors of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine. Hans Coetzee, an associate professor of clinical pharmacology at Kansas State University, will also be part of the team.

Researchers will use tools within Iowa State’s Swine Intensive Studies Laboratory to measure the pressure and weight animals place on each hoof and how the animal’s gait affects weight distribution. The state-of-the-art research facility is a joint collaboration between Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. For more, go to http://tinyurl.com/4xw9t7c.