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Diarrhoea in the farrowing house is a problem familiar to every pig
breeder. But one farm in Wolfsbehringen (Thuringia) has succeeded in nipping neonatal scours in the bud with the aid of a special dietetic drink.
Neonatal diarrhoea is a recurrent problem in suckling piglets, especially in the first few days after farrowing. It is usually triggered by E. coli, but also
by clostridial infections. Not even farms whose health status is otherwise very high - like this particular sow unit in Wolfsbehringen - are spared.
Housed in its pens, which have undergone extensive modernisation in recent years, are around 1,100 sows with their first or subsequent litters, which produce some 25,000 piglets every year (i.e. around 23 piglets per
sow). The majority of these - about 20,000 piglets in all - are sent, via fixed
supply contracts and a single dealer, to fattening units in Westphalia. Batches of around 400 piglets are supplied every week. The remaining
animals are then either fattened in-house or else they are used as replacements in the farm's own sow herd. Except for semen, no
extraneous animal material has entered the unit for the past 10 years. As far as health status is concerned, the herd is PRRS-free and there are no problems with circoviruses. "We vaccinate the piglets against
mycoplasma. They are given a one-shot vaccine on introduction to the flat deck at around day 28 post-farrowing - simply because that is what the
fatteners want", explains farm manager Karin Schnabel.
Dietetic drink instead of an injection
What does occasionally cause problems, however, is piglet diarrhoea -especially during the first week after farrowing. All sows receive preventive
immunisation against E. coli prior to farrowing. As a specific safeguard against clostridia (types A and C have both been detected in the herd), it
has for many years been the practice to give the piglets a penicillin preparation immediately after farrowing and then again 12 hours later. "In spite of this, there is always the odd litter where piglets are affected by
diarrhoea", says Karin Schnabel. "In the past, the only remedy was an injection of antibiotic plus an additional electrolyte solution to prevent their
tiny, weakened bodies from rapidly dehydrating." It was found, however, that absorption of the conventional electrolyte solutions was usually
unsatisfactory. The situation has changed over the past 18 months or so. "Now, with Suiferm plus we have access to a highly effective remedy for
diarrhoea in the form of a dietetic drink, which in the large majority of cases dispenses with the need for additional antibiotic therapy", reports Karin Schnabel. And yet she was initially sceptical when her vet gave her
several trial packs of the new, not exactly cheap preparation, which in addition to electrolytes and glucose also contains probiotic lactic-acid
bacteria. "After all," she comments, "how often nowadays do you see miracle drugs advertised that don't deliver anywhere near what they
promise. But it really was amazing how quickly the new product took effect".
According to Ms Schnabel, this aromatic dietetic drink, which has the
colour of cocoa and the consistency of coffee cream, was very palatable to the piglets and its effect is visible after just one day of treatment, even in animals with fairly severe diarrhoea. In Wolfsbehringen this dietetic drink
is now given as a matter of course over a three-day period to all litters that are observed to be displaying initial signs of neonatal diarrhoea. On
average, 10-15% of all litters fall into this category. "The piglets now recover far more quickly; they are livelier, plumper and reach good
weights at weaning. And the usual dip in performance is largely offset", she emphasises. The weaning weights after the 4-week suckling period are
consistently between 8.9 and 9.3 kg per piglet. According to Ms Schnabel, the health of the weaning groups is very stable and homogeneous - which
also has a positive effect in the flat deck. Here the daily weight gains recorded during the 6-week rearing period average 485 g, with a mortality rate of under one per cent.
Karin Schnabel proceeds to point out further benefits of this method of treating diarrhoea. For example, it avoids the stress (for man and animal)
of treating individual animals by injection. In addition, the product is said to be easy to handle and there is no question of promoting resistance.
"Also Suiferm plus is not subject to documentation requirements, which on a fairly large farm like ours saves both the vet and the farm manager a lot
Position bowls correctly
It has been found worthwhile to administer the dietetic drink in bowls that have a relatively low rim, which makes them easier for the smaller piglets, in particular, to reach. "With this in mind, the manufacturer, Chevita, has
developed a special bowl, which is supplied free of charge, via the vet, with every pack of the dietetic drink", says Ms Schnabel. Affected litters are
each given around a quarter of a litre of this special drink twice a day, morning and evening. "The important thing is to position the bowls close to
the piglet nest", she stresses. Over 500 litters in Wolfsbehringen have now been treated with the new diarrhoea product since October 2002. "In view
of its excellent efficacy, we are happy to recommend this new treatment concept", says Ms Schnabel. In farms with more severe diarrhoea problems, it might even make sense to use the dietetic drink
prophylactically in every litter. Indeed, last summer - when an above-average number of litters were struck by diarrhoea - they themselves
treated two entire farrowing groups in this manner, she reports. And what about the cost of using the dietetic drink? Karin Schnabel
estimates this at between EUR 1.50 and 2.00 per litter treated. When extrapolated to the total number of piglets reared on the farm, this gives a
cost of around six to seven cents per piglet. "If you consider the effect obtained, this is money well spent", she concludes.
N° 1: Karin Schnabel has plenty to laugh about: problems with piglet diarrhoea have now practically been eliminated.
N° 2: The nursing sows in Wolfsbehringen are intensively managed with the piglets. The reward is low mortality.
N° 3: The modernised unit houses around 1,100 sows with a high health
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