The first few hours of life can define the lifetime performance of a pig. A weak pig will also struggle, especially as it is exposed to an array of antigens and environmental stresses as it grows. Lucina Galina, DVM, Zoetis Pork Technical Services, outlines three key areas that pig farmers need to focus on to build a strong immunity foundation for piglets.
“When the piglet is born, it is a very naïve animal. It does not have a very developed immune system. So most of the immunity that the pig will require for survival will come through passive immunity from the mother to the piglet,” Galina says.
She further explains there is no passage of antibodies while the piglet is in the womb. Therefore, the protection the piglets receive immediately after birth is critical.
1. Piglet immunity originates with the sow
The first place to begin in enhancing a piglet’s immunity is the sow. Galina says it is important to make sure the sow is in optimal condition prior to farrowing. This means making sure the sow is healthy, eating properly and at an ideal body condition, which is all necessary for producing colostrum and milk for suckling piglets.
Moreover, she stresses it is imperative to have a well-planned vaccination program for sows. It is necessary to follow the protocols of vaccination and the timing of vaccination because that will affect the amount and the quality of the protection for the piglet.
The timing of the vaccination is everything, Galina adds. For instance, on a farm setting the sow is vaccinated to prevent diarrhea in the piglet. The antibodies will move to the mammary gland seven to 10 days prior to farrowing. So, it is important to target the vaccination to maximize the immunity. Typically, a vaccination is given five weeks prior to farrowing and given again at two weeks, Galina explains.
Overall, Galina says sows need to be healthy, vaccinated properly, not lame, no injury to the mammary gland and free from infections. She says, “You want to make that sow completely comfortable. The most important thing is the sow is healthy because that is the only way she will be a good mother and provide colostrum intake.”
2. Colostrum, a life insurance policy
The next step is to make sure the piglet suckles the colostrum. It is not only energy and food for the piglets, but also packed full of antibodies necessary to keep them healthy. When the pig is born, there is a space between intestinal cells and those spaces allow the antibodies from the colostrum to be absorbed. Those antibodies circulating in the piglets’ blood protects them from bacteria and viruses circulating in the barn. Those gaps will actually close 18 to 20 hours after birth. So, it is imperative the piglet suckles milk immediately after birth, Galina stresses.
Furthermore, she adds the trend in sow productivity is larger litters. The only challenge with sows having more pigs per litter is the piglets on average are smaller. So, it is important for producers to make sure all the piglets, especially the smallest ones, nurse immediately after birth. If a piglet is not doing well then it will need some attention to make sure it receives colostrum. She says, “Colostrum is basically their life insurance.”
3. Assisting the pig from day one
The care the piglet receives on day one is a significant component of building pig immunity. Galina says, “It is important to do all the day one pig care practices to make sure that pig suckles colostrum.”
Galina focuses on three key steps of day one pig care:
- Farrowing assistance: When a piglet is born, someone needs to assist the sow. Caregivers need to understand what is abnormal, how to identify at-risk sows and why it is important to quickly manage problems during farrowing progression. Galina says, “assist farrowing is an important thing we can do to help the piglet to be more robust.”
- Warming pigs: New piglets can get cold quickly after birth. It is necessary to dry them off and give them a heat source. If you do not keep the piglet dry and warm, it will spend all its energy in regulating body temperature instead of getting colostrum.
- Accessing colostrum: New piglets need colostrum to get nourishment and to boost their immune systems. Caregivers will need to check teat health of the sows and help piglets access colostrum in a timely fashion. Galina advises to keep a close eye on individual piglet progress.
In conclusion, Galina says all the focus on colostrum is about making sure the piglet has protection systemically circulating in the blood. Colostrum is important for the development of the gut, which ultimately impacts the overall growth of the pig.