Vaccination and good biosecurity is helping pig farmers in Wales reduce antibiotics by preventing disease instead of treating it.

During a recent Farming Connect Knowledge Transfer event in Cwmbran, Alex Thomsett of The George Veterinary Group Pig Practice insisted there was much more to biosecurity than foot dipping.

She said: “Biosecurity can be a turnoff for people but it is incredibly important because it prevents disease getting into a farm and prevents it from spreading throughout a farm.’’

And this is more important than ever with pressure on the industry to reduce its use of antibiotics, said Jodie Roberts, Pigs and Poultry Technical Officer at Farming Connect: "Every pig producer should aim to have a high herd health status, it not only makes economic sense but has never been more important in the face of antibiotic resistance."

Advice that was offered at the event included:

1. Protocols to consider for keeping herds disease-free

Know the disease status of your own herd and purchased stock by establishing which underlying diseases you have in your herd and you will know what newly introduced pigs may be vulnerable to. This can be achieved through blood testing and faecal sampling.

2. Purchased stock can be the biggest disease threat

Provide isolation facilities to allow any problems to become evident before introducing new animals to your herd. If there is a disease breakdown on the supplier farm it also allows a time lag before introduction to protect your herd. Gently acclimatising new pigs to your herds’ health status is beneficial to their overall health. Ms Thomsett recommends a quarantine period of a minimum of four weeks during which either culls sows or finishing pigs can be introduced as a method of acclimatisation.

3. Keep the pigs’ environment clean

Good hygiene is vital for limiting the spread and effect of disease. Make sure faecal matter and soiled bedding is regularly removed from accommodation. Moving pigs to and from shows is a known risk as when multiple animals from different sources are brought together disease transfer may occur.

“You don’t know what your pigs may have come into contact with but as long as you acknowledge the risk and mitigate against introducing these diseases to your herd, such as isolation on return, this can offer some protection,’’ Ms Thomsett suggested.

4. Buy pig semen from a dependable source

Pig semen can be source of disease transmission so check the health status of the source herd to make an informed purchasing decision. The best strategy is to use boars that are free of specific pathogens. Boars that are shared, hired or leased are also a disease risk.

5. Foot dips are only effective if clean and at the correct dilution level

Positioning foot dips next to a hose allows footwear to be cleaned before being dipped. Rainwater will cause over-dilution and sunlight can cause deterioration so keep a lid on the container when not in use.

6. Visitors can be potential disease carriers

“Ask all visitors when they last visited a pig farm and provide them clean clothing and footwear,’’ advised Ms Thomsett. “A bug doesn’t have to be particularly nasty, just something that your herd hasn’t been exposed to and that alone can be problematic.’’

7. Keep a visitors’ book

Every producer who is farm assured must have a visitors’ book that includes a signed declaration that the visitor is not suffering with specific health issues that could be transferred to the pigs. The book can be checked as part of the investigation into the possible source of the infection and to warn others who have visited.

8. Keep equipment clean

Bugs love organic matter so if equipment is not cleaned and disinfected this will allow them to survive and infect stock.

9. Vaccinate to protect against disease

If you are purchasing pigs you may want to request that they are vaccinated against basic diseases to add an extra layer of protection before arrival. Most pig vaccinations don’t act as a magic barrier to a disease but they can mitigate against its severity.

Most pigs only require vaccinations in the face of a known challenge but Ms Thomsett recommended vaccinating against Erysipelas as routine and for breeding animals for Porcine Parvovirus.

10. Automatic dosing guns make administration easier.

Don’t stop vaccinating when a disease appears to have gone away, warned Ms Thomsett. “Do that and within six months you might find that it comes back. Vaccination manages disease but it doesn’t necessarily eradicate it from the herd. Seek veterinary advice before making changes to a vaccination programme.’’

Proper diagnostics are recommended before embarking on a vaccine programme.

A number of breakdowns in vaccination programmes can be associated with poor handling and storage rather than a problem with the vaccine itself. Once opened, vaccines often don’t have a shelf life over and above a few hours so they should be used in a timely way and kept at the correct temperature.