While Irish pig farming is already very efficient, these regulations have resulted in new ways of working on Irish pig farms.

Here we look at how vaccines and monitoring can help pig farmers continue to improve production efficiency and raise healthy, sustainable and profitable pigs.

Production efficiency starts with healthy animals that can reach their genetic potential with fewer inputs and interventions.

Modern genetics seek to constantly develop robust breeding animals that produce increased numbers of healthy, viable piglets with better feed conversion and improved disease resistance.

Improving standards of stockmanship, housing, ventilation, feeding and hygiene will reduce stress and disease. Teagasc research shows that implementing better biosecurity practices was associated with lower mortality in growing pigs.

Prevention of disease through vaccination remains an important part of ensuring a healthy, productive pig herd. Vaccination against common piglet pathogens, such as PRRS, PCV, M hyo and Lawsonia intracellularis have been shown to reduce the need for veterinary intervention and the use of antibiotics.

Studies have demonstrated that PRRS caused a reduction of 15% in annual output, through reduced fertility, reduced growth rates and increased mortality.

Measuring growth and feed conversion

The bulk of emissions from the pig industry come from feed production and manure storage. Studies have shown that reducing feed inputs has the greatest potential for cutting GHG emissions associated with pig farming.

Ireland’s pig industry has been shown to be one of the most efficient in Europe. An early benchmark study calculated that Ireland produced the lowest CO2 equivalent per kg of pork in the EU.

However, the impact of transport on imported ingredients in Irish pig feed remains. Studies in Ireland have shown that replacement of imported soya protein and greater use of by-products could reduce the carbon footprint of pork production even further.

With 40% to 60% of pork’s carbon footprint coming from feed, it’s possible to improve sustainability as well as productivity by maximising efficiency. Improved average daily weight gain can result in fewer days to slaughter and significantly reduces the amount of feed required in the finishing stage.

Monitoring feed consumption and benchmarking feed conversion ratio (FCR) is a good way to monitor productivity and costs. Teagasc estimates that the top 10% of farms achieve a weaning-to-sale FCR of 2.25 compared with an average of 2.45 and this equates to 33.4kg less feed required.

The importance of gut health

Good gut health plays an essential part in the absorption of nutrients and resulting feed efficiency. Infection with Lawsonia Intracellularis, the bacterial cause of ileitis, has been shown to significantly reduce feed efficiency and growth rates in pigs.

It does this by initiating permanent thickening of the last part of the small intestine, the ileum, which is an essential area for protein absorption, particularly the amino acid Lysine.

Infected animals react very differently depending on their age at the time of infection, but reduced growth resulting in uneven pigs, with or without diarrhoea, is most common.

Vaccination against Lawsonia has been shown in a German study, involving nine large pig farms, to improve FCR and reduce the use of antibiotics, resulting in a reduction in the overall carbon footprint across the farms of 2.5%

Managing post-weaning diarrhoea without zinc oxide

“Stress at weaning can result in changes to gut structure and function of the intestinal barrier causing slow growth and post-weaning diarrhoea,” explained Aidan Byrne, MSD Animal Health.

“With zinc oxide no longer being allowed for the treatment of post-weaning diarrhoea in pigs because of environmental and public health concerns, many farms are looking at alternative management strategies. Adopting a proactive approach to weaning and gut health on the advice of your vet and nutritionist is a good way to start.”

  • Sufficient colostrum at birth.
  • Nutritional changes to improve gut health.
  • Increasing piglet age at weaning to 30 days if possible.
  • Ensuring adequate feed intake before and after weaning.
  • Adequate intake of clean water before and after weaning.
  • Use of probiotics, prebiotics and acids.
  • Improved hygiene and animal management practices.
  • Effective vaccination to reduce disease.
  • Farmers should always discuss the need for vaccination with their vet who can also advise on infection control and on-farm biosecurity.