When it comes to tackling a porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus infection in the barn, Brigitte Mason says producers often focus first on what vaccine or antibiotic to use, but at the end of the day it's their herd veterinarian, production staff and team members who are taking care of those sick pigs and are the best tools in the toolbox.
During the recent PRRSV Management Workshop in Iowa, the health assurance veterinarian with Country View Family Farms shared her "tools in the toolbox" to deal with pigs during an outbreak.
"We really need to remember to focus on our people and making sure that they remember all the processes that they're supposed to be doing because very often, and we see it in our system all the time, the pigs get really sick, they die and then the pigs get healthier … the mortality gets better and then we go 'oh our people are doing such a good job, they're really executing all these processes really well' and it's usually not the case," Mason says. "Normally healthy pigs will live in spite of what we do to them. It's most important to spend time looking at all the processes and ensuring that we are executing them with sick pigs, as healthy pigs are often more forgiving of missed processes."
Mason says its also important in pork production systems to know the sow farm status. What is their PRRS status as well as their status of other diseases on site?
"You're going to manage those pigs differently if you have positive sows who are birthing viremic piglets versus exposed sows with MLV or LVI whatever your strategy might be with negative piglets at weaning," Mason says.
That's been an important factor in Country View Family Farms' system because it sets the expectations on pig performance, Mason says.
While it can be easy to lose morale during a PRRS outbreak, the veterinarian says its important to keep processes in place. It is critical to focus on things that are within the team's control: environment, ventilation, feed and water. One such important example is to keep the environment clean when the pigs arrive and after to help with biocontainment and biomanagement. It is also important to remember the little things such as ventilation.
"It's easy, especially in the summer if we're placing pigs where you know what I need more ventilation so I'm going to drop the curtain and then we've chilled the pigs so chilling pigs and not managing that environment is really a hard sell to get a PRRS pig to do well on," Mason says.
A well-managed environment also means having feed available and supplying the right nutrition at the right time. Country View Family Farms makes it a priority to understand the type of pig leaving their sow unit so they can get a good grasp on the wean weight and age of those pigs, to set limits within the system of what they will or won't accept and particularly when pigs are sick.
"We set limits on obviously bottom-end weight limits and bottom and age limits and that's really so that we can focus on feeding the appropriate diet to that pig right off the bat," Mason says. "If your normal pig is 16 pounds and that's what your nursery one is averaging for but now you're sending a sick PRRS pig that's 10- 11pounds, really your first diet isn't going to be appropriate for that pig. So being able to acknowledge that but then also being able to be swift enough and nimble enough in the system to change that."
Mason says that means sometimes bringing in bagged feed or updating the current nutrition program.
"If we can keep a good pulse on what their nutrition is doing, we really have seen good improvement in the performance of our pigs overall," Mason says.
Finally, understanding what medications to use, when to use them and the timing of use is important when dealing with a PRRS outbreak.
"We spend a lot of time focusing on the sow unit sending out a well medicated piglet to those nursery growers so that they can spend the first few days really more or less focused on that environment, the nutrition and getting those pigs started on feed and water and then typically after 10 days we'll come in with an appropriate medication program depending on what they see downstream," Mason says.
If negative pigs are going into a positive environment, it is important to know when to vaccinate and what they are most likely encountering.
"If you have that opportunity to be able to get them vaccinated before they are exposed, in an appropriate amount of time it can really aid them, getting that set up and planned and executed well is really important," Mason says. "The biggest issue we've seen with most of our tools in our system is really the execution piece of it. You can come up with a really good plan and you can have that plan all laid out and you can write it really nicely and you can send it to everyone, and they can read it but we often find that the ability for them to execute it is where we really struggle."
Mason encourages producers to get out in the barns and observe their staff.
"It seems simple but it's definitely something that we lose along the way, especially as we get bigger or have more responsibilities … but my big message is really focus on your people and make sure that the processes that you have in place … make sure that they're getting done the right way and at the right time," Mason says.