The company reduces the use of antibiotics after weaning by 84 percent

A recent barometer from Sanitel-Med shows that 42 percent of Flemish pig farmers gave antibiotics (colistin) to piglets in 2021. Since the ban on adding zinc oxide to pig feed, that number has increased by 10 percent. How can pig farmers succeed in reducing the use of antibiotics in weaned piglets? At the company Goethals – De Zutter in Oosteeklo, this is done via vaccination against weaning diarrhoea E coli.

Martine De Zutter took over the company from her parents together with Koen Goethals in 1992. “Back then it was still a mixed business with cows and pigs. We maintained that ourselves for a number of years, but after a while we only kept the pigs in this place. In 2008 we grew from 500 lakes to 1,000 lakes in a four week system. Some of the slaughter pigs are fattened on site, some go to other places.”

Weaning diarrhea and streptococci

Since the zinc oxide ban, the company has struggled with a serious problem of weaning diarrhea and streptococcal infections. “It is definitely connected with the choice of a four-week system,” says Martine. “At another site we work with a five-week system and we see much less of the teat dip and diarrhoea.”

“We’ve tried different things at this site,” says veterinarian Mieke Boone of Medivet DAP. “Acidification of the drinking water with different types of acids, administration of autovaccines for the streptococci, adjustments to the feed; it didn’t help at all.”

The pig farmer and her veterinarian then decided to conduct a test with an E. coli vaccine on one-eighth of the total number of piglets. These piglets were then monitored throughout the piglet battery. “The result was very positive,” explains Martine. “Although the barn pressure was still high, after the first test we had very few weaned piglets with diarrhoea. As a result, we did not have to give antibiotics and the streptococcus problem also disappeared.” Mieke clarifies: “We resolutely chose not to draw final conclusions after just one test. It takes time to reduce the bacteria in the barn. This low barn pressure is particularly important to ensure that piglets who may have absorbed too little vaccine via the piglet bowls do not become ill. If you want to be absolutely sure that each piglet has received its vaccine, soak them by treating them one by one. We did that a few times in the beginning, but that way of working is very labour-intensive. Martine then chose administration via the piglet bowls in the farrowing barn. It is then important to calculate exactly how much water the piglets drink. It differs from company to company and from season to season. By adding a colored stabilizer, it’s easy to see if all piglets have passed the piglet bowl, so you can adjust manually if needed. It is important to always use clean piglet bowls. The water must be cold and must not be disinfected or acidified. With live vaccines, antibiotics should not be given in the period from 3 days before to 3 days after vaccination. After all, it kills the vaccine.”

Since it is a live vaccine that multiplies in the gut, it is also excreted. The piglets who have had too little to drink also come into contact with the vaccine because it circulates in the barn. This gradually reduces the pressure in the house because fewer harmful bacteria are secreted. It takes a week to build up the piglet’s immunity. The optimal time for administering the vaccine is therefore one week before problems arose in the barn after weaning.

Positive results

The company switched to vaccination against weaning diarrhea almost a year ago E coli. A comparison of the results before and after the transition shows a spectacular reduction in antibiotic consumption: by 84.1 percent, while the number of piglets delivered increased by 0.56 percent. The weight of the dead piglets has dropped sharply, which suggests that only the really weak animals still make it out. Feed turnover developed positively, from 1.67 to 1.62. The number of antibiotic treatment days per hundred days (BD100) fell sharply, although the effect is not yet fully visible in the figures because they do not yet take into account a full year. BD100 has been zero for nine months.

It’s no use denying it. Piglets that drank the vaccine have blue snouts.
Company reduces antibiotic use after weaning by 84%
It is important to use cold clean water for preparing the vaccine and the feed bowls must also be clean. At first it is a bit of a search for the right amount of water. It depends from company to company.
Company reduces antibiotic use after weaning by 84%
It is important to keep an eye on whether all the piglets have drunk. In addition, you can then soak the stragglers.

Text and image: Hilde de Wachter

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