Sanitation, colostrum and milk management, and internal biosecurity are key.

Ann Hess, Content Director

January 24, 2024

4 Min Read
National Pork Board

Diarrhea in the farrowing house may be common, but it’s not normal, and it can be fixed, says Tom Petznick.

While the 20 sow farms Petznick oversees do not have significant diarrhea challenges, the swine practitioner with ArkCare in Omaha strives to be thorough in getting to the bottom of a scours episode on farm, after all the costs downstream are immeasurable.

“Do not live with diarrhea. You can't afford it; it costs you in lactation,” Petznick says. “Remember those gut cells are never the same the rest of that pig's life. They might get better, but they're never, never the same.”

The veterinarian says it’s important for production systems to be definitive and inclusive in pathogen control and the first step is to always look at management factors. What can producers and caregivers improve upon in the farrowing house and in the gestation barn?

After getting a definitive diagnosis through broad screening tests, loadout swabs, and pooled litter samples, as well as pig level observation and sampling, Petznick likes to start with management-level analysis and interventions.

“We have to evaluate our processes, because we should be able to deal with the vast majority of our diarrheas, especially if something new pops up and we have a good vaccination program, we have a good health program, we should be able to deal with those with management,” Petznick says.

“And the same thing being said is if you have a dirty farm, you have a chilly farm, you have poor internal biosecurity, you don't have good colostrum management, all the vaccines in the world aren't going to make any difference, or at least not get you to the point where you should be.”


Petznick places special emphasis on sanitation.

“Because this is one, that I can't believe in 2023 we haven’t figured out everywhere, is the ‘solution to pollution is dilution,’” Petznick says. “When an animal breaks with disease, it's usually a function of two things — the amount of exposure that they have to that disease and the amount of immunity they have towards it. So, it takes very little amounts of exposure if you don't have any immunity. But if you have strong immunity, you can still overcome that with a filthy environment.”

For example, when Petznick visits sites with coccidiosis, he expects to find it in gestation barns with sanitation issues. He questions if sow washing should be revisited and if pre-farrow feedback works, because quite often pathogens are being carried back to clean farrowing rooms.

In lactation, he says there needs to be porcine epidemic diarrhea level engagement when it comes to sanitation. That level of cleaning needs to include bio-film breakdown, hot water and disinfection or whitewash.

Colostrum and milk management

Immune management of sows, giving vaccination and doing feedback makes no difference, if pigs don't get good colostrum and good milk intake, Petznick says.

“The milk intake's a big one, and we have a few things working against us here. We have too many pigs at times. So, that milk is scarce, it's ‘I can't get a full belly of milk.’ We have some poor-quality pigs that we're letting hang around on the sow, they're not getting milk and all of a sudden they lose their antibodies. What are they going to do in the presence of pathogen?” Petznick says. “Poof, now I have more exposure to pathogens. I have non-uniform age in rooms, maybe because we're rolling back pigs, maybe because we're picking the youngest pigs to wean out.”

However, when that maternal shell is compromised, he says that’s when we see gaps in protection and virus or bacteria leaks.

Internal biosecurity

When the farms Petznick works with are going through diarrhea, rooms are flagged, red for scours, or green for clean.

“Trying to manage our internal biosecurity, moving from green rooms to red rooms or orange rooms, is one that we use,” he says. “If you're serious about resolving diarrhea, you'll adapt to the all-in, all-out.”

With people movement, he notes unnecessary traffic sometimes happens, but that’s where the flags have really helped out. “If I'm working in red rooms, I am not allowed in green rooms until I go up to the front and I clean up to come back,” Petznick says.

He also recommends staff working from youngest to oldest animals, especially with processing.

For fallout pigs, his farms have been working on management from day one.

“If we can create the right match, with number of piglets that I have with the number of teats that are functional, and then say I'm done,” Petznick says. “If you can't grow and you can't maintain, and you can't survive and thrive in that environment, then I need to move on, because I'm creating too many problems trying to put other sows together with pigs.”

Finally, he says don’t forget the fomites.

He also recommends farms be definitive and inclusive in their pathogen control.

“Don't just chase one thing, make sure that you have a complete package,” Petznick says. “And then step one is always to look at the management factors. What could we get better at in the farrowing house and in the gestation barn? And then just make sure you use all the tools you have judiciously to pull it all together and you will be able to beat scours.”

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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