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Recognising Disease on the Farm

(70) Early recognition is the first priority for managing disease. It is carried out by the stockperson using the senses of sight, sound, touch and smell to detect the abnormal animal and to differentiate it from the normal animals. Every day, a clinical examination of all pigs should be carried out. On a 100 sow farm, this could take up to half an hour per day and on a large farm, it becomes a major daily task but can be split between department levels. How many managers in organising their farms allow such a time period for this function?

The Use of Sight

  • Inappetance is obvious where an animal is housed and fed as an individual, such as a sow in confinement, but in group housed animals this is not easy to detect. The failure to eat, or a drop in feed intake in a pen of apparently normal pigs, must immediately arouse suspicions and the initial check should be for lack of water which is usually the most important sudden cause of inappetance involving all pigs in a group. If the water supply is normal look for signs of disease.
  • Listlessness or a dull appearance of the pig will be quickly detected by the good stockperson as early signs of illness.
  • Shivering and raising of hair over the body is an important feature of disease and is one of the very early sign of streptococcal meningitis or joint infections in the sucking pig. Look for this sign next time you examine each individual in the litter. A pig laid on its belly and shivering with its hair on end compared to the rest of the group, is either scoured or lame from a generalised septicaemia (bacteria in the blood stream).
  • Loss of body weight is a first indication of inappetance or dehydration due to diarrhoea or pneumonia.
  • Discharges from the nose or eyes indicate an upper respiratory infection. Excess salivation from the mouth indicates an exotic disease such as vesicular disease. In sows, a discharge from the vulva could indicate vaginitis, cystitis, pyelonephritis or endometritis.
  • Faecal changes can indicate a wide range of diseases but sloppy faeces can also be quite normal. Look for signs of mucous or blood indicative of swine dysentery, salmonella infections gastric ulceration or proliferative haemorrhagic enteropathy. Constipation may be important in the development of udder oedema and agalactia at farrowing.
  • Vomiting can be a sign of diseases such as transmissible gastro-enteritis, or in individual pigs it may indicate gastric ulceration. In the sucking pig, gastro-enteritis associated with E. coli infections is often seen. Injections with long-acting penicillin may also cause pigs to vomit.
  • Skin changes help in identifying diseases, typified by acute or chronic lesions of mange and lice although the latter are now uncommon. Erysipelas may not be evident by sight but running the flat of the hand over the skin will indicate tell-tale lesions of raised areas. A blueing of the extremities could indicate acute viral infections, acute bacterial septicaemia or a toxic state, as seen in flu, PRRS infections or acute mastitis and metritis. Acute pneumonia or pneumonia associated with heart sac infection can give a similar picture.
  • Respiration rates. If any of the above changes have been identified cast your eye across the pen of pigs and compare the respiratory rates of both the normal and the suspect animals. Assess, whether the breathing is a deep chest movement, due to consolidation of the lungs and a shortage of oxygen, or very shallow abdominal breathing indicative of pleurisy and pain. Finally the circumstances surrounding the death of a pig is an important observation, especially when backed up by post-mortem examination. The timing and place where pigs die in a herd relative to clinical observations can often help in identifying and understanding a problem
Observation of the Group

Daily, regular time should be set aside for the examination of all pigs. Allow at least 5-10 seconds to observe each pen of pigs. The environment of the house must also be assessed by noting the following:

  • Temperature.
  • Humidity.
  • Ventilation.
  • Smell.
  • Pig behaviour.
  • Appetite.
  • Human reaction.
  • Ammonia levels as experienced through breathing and the effect on eyes.
  • Abnormal changes in slurry and bedding.
Changes in Behaviour

The pig is a social animal and in a healthy condition remains part of a group, In disease however it tends to rest on its own or often be rejected by the other pigs even to the extent of being attacked. Altered lying patterns in a pen must always be regarded with suspicion. Conversely where a number of pigs are ill or the environment is inadequate huddling is common. The reluctance of pigs to rise or show an interest in the observer must always warrant a more detailed examination.

The Use of Smell

The odour of a dead pig is one that we have all experienced from time to time. However, odours also occur with scour, bad feed or infected tissues. The smell of piglet scour on outdoor sows can help detect affected litters. The quality of the air through the sense of smell will highlight poor ventilation rates, high levels of gases, or high or low humidity. What is uncomfortable for ourselves is also likely to be the same to the pig.

The Use of Touch

It is essential to handle a sick pig, to detect changes in skin temperatures, the significance of abnormal fluids or lumps on the skin. The limbs should always be palpated in cases of lameness, for possible fractures or swellings in the joints. In the newly farrowed sow, always palpate the udder to detect any early changes of agalactia or mastitis.

The Use of Sound

Be extremely wary if there are no pig noises when you enter a building. A disaster could have occurred due to electrocution, suffocation, or high levels of toxic gases such as carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulphide.

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