An important part of a herd health program is having a complete health monitoring plan. This requires a coordinated effort involving all production°areas.

To begin, you must have a clear understanding of the herd’s present health status. The program must be
dynamic enough to be able to detect when a change in the health status has occurred or is about to.

If your system isn’t capable of this, then you need to revise it to be more proactive. This becomes the basis for your production decisions.

Here are the areas of your herd health program that you need to review:

1. Year-round vaccination protocols.

2. All medication programs. This includes injectable medication for treating individual animals, water medications when needed, and feed-grade medications when and where appropriate.

3. Animal flow. Do you need to change pig flow or the source farms in commingled production systems?

4. Do you have, or do you need to implement, a partial depopulation in the farrowing unit, nursery or grower/finisher?

Once you collect this information, you can begin implementing your health-monitoring plan. For a plan to be effective, you need to understand that it’s a constantly changing process. You will need to adjust it as your herd’s health status changes.

This is not an all-inclusive list. Every farm will have its own programs, but these are some of the areas that should be included. Periodically
review your farm’s program with your veterinarian.

Clinical observations within a herd are important to ensure that the data collected is consistent with what you actually see in the herd. You should schedule your veterinarian for regular farm visits. Your herd’s specific needs will determine the frequency.

During a clinical observation, the veterinarian’s
objective is to review your management procedures and evaluate their performance. Here’s what he or she will look at:

- General health and activity of the animals.

- Animal flow throughout the system.

- Management of the environment and equipment.

- How routine management procedures are performed.

This is an excellent time to identify whether new or different problems are entering the herd.

In purchasing replacement seedstock, the animals’ health status must be understood and a dialogue established between your source herd’s veterinarian and your own. Ongoing communication must take place to monitor any change in health status.

Conducting post-mortem exams on any unexplained death loss is critical to identifying whether a new problem has entered the herd or if present control programs are failing. Using follow-up diagnostic laboratory support is critical to confirm the post-mortem’s early diagnosis. Some of the additional tests that your veterinarian can run include:

- Bacterial isolation and sensitivity.

- Viral isolation and identification.

- Fluorescent antibody tests.

- Electron microscopy.

Serologic testing is important because it’s a tool that can be used on live animals to aid in health diagnosis. This tool can be used to:

- Monitor problem production areas.

- Test multiple age groups at the same time.

- Follow specific animals through the production

system to identify when problems are occurring.

- Serologic banking (saving previous serum samples for possible future testing).

Slaughter surveillance can be used to help identify and monitor some specific disease conditions and control programs. How often you conduct slaughter checks depends on your herd’s health status and changes in any control programs. It’s a good idea to do slaughter checks on market hog carcasses at least every six months. This allows for seasonal variations. Do them at least quarterly in breeding herds.

Areas that you can monitor via slaughter checks are:

- Pneumonia (percentage of lung involvement), both acute and chronic forms.

- Pleuritis.

- Peritonitis.

- Dermatitis.

- Liver scars from ascarid migration.

- Ileitis.

- Snout scores.

Quality control of your feeding programs by conducting nutrient analysis is important to ensure that you’re following the program correctly. Ingredient quality can be a problem and must be monitored (for example, screen for mycotoxins). It also verifies whether the proper diet is fed at the proper time. And finally, it confirms that the nutrition programs are performing to your expectations.

Records are helpful in monitoring the health of a herd. Performance data can identify problem areas and evaluate the success or failure of disease-control programs. Records that you and your veterinarian should review include:

- Production records.

   - Breeding herd records (preweaning mortality, sow death loss, abortion, etc.).

   - Nursery records (average daily gain, feed conversion, death loss, percent lightweight pigs).

   - Grow/finish records (same as for the nursery).

- Financial records.

Records are an excellent tool to tie the production and economic effects of a farm’s health, nutrition and disease-control programs.

Health monitoring programs are essential to identifying when the status of a herd changes. A program also must be dynamic enough to identify problems early to allow time to implement control programs before significant production losses occur. And it needs to be able to identify unanticipated problems. Given those factors, a monitoring program leads to a healthier herd.

Paul Yeske is a veterinarian at the Swine Veterinary Center in St. Peter, Minn.


Summing It All Up

Health monitoring is a dynamic process that you must continually redefine and update as the herd changes. Areas that you should include in a herd health monitoring program are:

- Clinical observation of the herd by your herd veterinarian and farm staff.

- An understanding of your replacement seedstock’s health status.

- Conducting routine post-mortem exams for all unexpected death losses.

- Using your veterinary clinic’s diagnostic laboratories as well as state and federal labs to confirm post-mortem findings.

- Serological profiling of the herd.

- Regular slaughter surveillance.

- Review of nutrition programs.

- Review of production and financial records.