Post-weaning E. coli management – a team approach

Successful E. coli management requires team approach to address all potential contributors and minimize impact of disease.

June 22, 2021

5 Min Read
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Now in addition to whole blood, diagnostic labs are also permitted to do official ASF tests on spleen, tonsil and lymph node tissue samples.National Pork Board

Post-weaning diarrhea is a syndrome often caused by Escherichia coli and is significantly important to producers as it causes diarrhea, dehydration and mortality. Impact ranges from mild decreases to growth performance to severe weight loss and mortality. While particular genotypes of E. coli can cause a major impact on their own, many factors including husbandry and environment tend to play a critical role in the severity of the disease. E. coli treatment usually does not have a single “silver bullet” and successful E. coli management requires a team approach to address all potential contributors and minimize impact of disease.

Sow farm team

Piglets are infected with E. coli by eating manure that is contaminated either in the environment or from sows that are shedding bacteria. Review sow farm hygiene and sanitation protocols to ensure farrowing crates, hallways and nursery rooms (or holding rooms) are adequately washed and disinfected. All in/all out practices of farrowing rooms and holding rooms is important to promote downtime (dry time) and create a break in the cycle of shedding. Management of pigs from the time of weaning off the sow until they are placed on the truck is absolutely critical to ensure piglets are not eating or exposed to a large amount of manure prior to wean pig placement. 

Gilt and sow vaccination and acclimation protocols are designed to provide piglets with passive immune protection to E. coli (among other pathogens) and minimize the occurrence of disease. It is a balance between the amount of immune protection and the infectious dose the pig is exposed to. Focus on consistent vaccination, feedback and colostrum management protocols to maximize the pig’s ability to fight off infection.

Wean pig start-up team

First focus of the wean pig start-up team should be on placing pigs in a clean and dry environment to prevent overwhelming exposure of pathogenic E. coli. If E. coli is a continual problem at a particular site, more thorough hygiene and sanitation protocols should be considered including cleaning water lines and white washing.

The next most important factor is to get pigs started on feed. Our main goal is to fill the pig’s belly with feed (not manure) to allow the immune system to mature and prevent disease occurrence. Feeding a small amount of feed on mats four to 6 times per day for the first week of placement encourages feed intake and teaches the pig how to eat away from the sow. Nursery rations typically spoil quickly due to high whey (milk) content, and it is important to keep fresh and easily accessible feed in the pan of feeders. Utilize gruel feeding for nutritionally challenged or sick pigs to transition to dry feed as they recover.

Pig comfort is key to minimize stress and to promote proper intestinal motility. Keep the environment warm, dry and be sure there is adequate zone heating. Successful sites typically have at least 0.5 sq ft/pig of solid space with some form of supplemental heat to reach 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Target 50-60% humidity to ensure proper air exchange and removes buildup of gases, bacteria and viruses from the environment. Most importantly, observe the pigs and adjust ventilation parameters to ensure pigs are laying correctly and are defecating in the correct location of the pen.

Nutrition team

We are asking the pig’s guts to adjust a lot in the first few weeks post-wean as they move from a milk diet to starter diets high in milk proteins to solely plant-based rations. It is important to engage your nutritionist as you deal with postweaning diarrhea to evaluate diet type, processing type, amount of fiber and protein in diet as just a few examples that impact colonization of E. coli.  Additionally, some teams find value in adding acidifiers to the feed or water, probiotics and/or zinc oxide or other plasma proteins.

Veterinary team

Effective treatment of E. coli starts with quality diagnostics identifying which genotypes are present at which stage of production and susceptibility patterns of isolated E. coli. This can require multiple submissions at times due to varying receptor expression by age of animal and depending on what intervention is being considered. Identifying other pathogens present at the same time of disease expression can be significant as we know certain viral infections such as Rotavirus favor E. coli colonization and treatment plans can be adjusted to encompass more than solely E. coli.

Vaccines are available to be used in sows and/or piglets depending on genotype/toxins present and the time of disease occurrence. These are generally effective when matched to current diagnostics and timed correctly. Oral vaccines can be a challenge to administer to suckling piglets and ensure a consistent full dose is administered. If group-to-group variation in disease occurrence is observed downstream, be sure to audit oral vaccination procedures.

It is critical to consider susceptibility patterns when using antibiotics to treat piglets in the water, feed or individually. E. coli is a bacteria that tends to develop resistance over time or in certain populations. Immediate treatment of pigs with clinical signs is typically warranted to minimize shedding to other piglets. Work with your veterinarian closely on any routine treatments in feed or water to minimize development of antibiotic resistance. In addition to antibiotic treatment, use of oral electrolytes can minimize impact of dehydration and acidification of water can minimize E. coli colonization.

Post-weaning Colibacillosis within a flow of pigs can be challenging to stop the cycle and requires a team approach including sow farm caretakers (people responsible for pressure washing, day 1 care, gilt/sow acclimation,) transporters and logistic team scheduling movements, finishing site caretakers (people responsible for pressure washing, wean-pig start-up,) nutritionist and veterinarian. Each person is a critical to the success of the team.

Sources: Elise Toohill, DVM, Carthage Veterinary Service, who are solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly own the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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