Herd health is just one of many management considerations for sow-herd managers trying to keep an even flow of pigs moving through their farms. What’s more, each point along the production chain has an impact on the next area, says Tom Fangman, University of Missouri Extension swine veterinarian.

Fangman describes a system of building natural immunity to the “viral cloud” that hangs over disease-
affected herds. Incoming breeding stock, whether from the same farm or purchased from an outside source, are kept in isolation for 60 days or more. During that time, the animals are mingled, allowing nose-to-nose contact, with hogs from the on-farm herd.

Culled sows or nursery pigs that fail to thrive can be useful in terms of introducing the new stock to pathogens existing on the farm. This contact can allow new animals to develop immunity.

“It’s important that all groups of hogs on a farm have the same level of antibodies,” says Fangman.

Biofeedback programs used to introduce existing pathogens to new seedstock arrivals, can sometimes be better than vaccination, says Fangman. But, he adds that it depends on the health issues that the farm is dealing with as well as the herd itself. Also, the herd veterinarian must oversee the biofeedback program.

With a well-managed biofeedback prior to farrowing, sows can pass antibodies for existing diseases, says Fangman, thereby introducing the immunity, to their piglets. Colostrum, the first milk from the sow’s udder, is essential to protecting baby pigs, which is why workers need to ensure that each piglet gets its dose.

Biosecurity on pork production operations has taken on new meaning with the threat of terrorist-introduced diseases, says Fangman. “Farm workers can unknowingly carry many diseases on their hands and especially their boots as they go from pen to pen.”

Sanitation and people flow becomes especially critical if your workers have to go back and forth from breeding sows to nursery or farrowing pens. Recently weaned pigs are at greatest risk to existing pathogens.

Fangman emphasizes the need for farrowing managers to work with their veterinarian to develop critical-control points to keep their sow herd and the resulting piglets healthy. As a whole, it sounds like a daunting task, but breaking areas down into critical-control points can keep managers focused and provide a clear perspective for workers.