VETS in Ireland have been trained to recognise the damage caused by ileitis during factory checks in order to identify potential losses caused by the disease. MSD Animal Health organised the training with Hungarian vet Laszlo Buza, one of the pioneers of the ‘gut scoring’ technique.
Ileitis is caused by the bacterium Lawsonia intracellularis, which is found on all Irish pig farms. Not all infected pigs will show signs of disease, but they may experience diarrhoea characterised by grey, pasty faeces.
Piglets remain affected by permanent damage to the gut as physiological changes to the lining of the ileum caused by Lawsonia reduce the pigs’ ability to digest food and absorb essential nutrients, resulting in reduced weight gain and increased feed costs.
“Being able to see and feel the changes to the pigs’ intestines during a factory shift really brings home the long-term damage being done by this insidious disease,” explains Maureen Prendergast, Swine Technical Manager at MSD Animal Health.
“Ileitis is very common here in Ireland and often the signs are masked by the use of zinc oxide or antibiotics, so it really is an invisible enemy. Hopefully this new technique of gut-scoring will allow vets and farmers to see the effect it has throughout the whole of the pig’s life, right through to slaughter.”
The gut-scoring technique focuses on a small part of the ileum close to where it joins the large intestine. Healthy guts have fine folds and ridges, but in diseased animals there are areas of thickening with discoloured lesions and raised nodules that are easily identified. With practice, vets are able to grade the level of damage simply by touch, allowing a snapshot of the scale of damage across batches of pigs.
“Of course, there are other methods of diagnosis for Lawsonia on farm, but this is another practical tool for vets to use and the feedback from the training was incredibly positive. In the same way we can use lung-scoring to identify the effects of pneumonia, clinicians can see that gut-scoring offers a quantifiable assessment of ileitis.”
Management of ileitis on farm previously relied on the use of zinc oxide and in-feed antibiotics, but with recent legislation changes farmers are increasingly adopting vaccination as a control measure. Vaccination with Porcilis Lawsonia from three weeks of age has been proven to reduce diarrhoea, reduce intestinal lesions and reduce loss of daily weight gain.
“Pig farmers are currently experiencing unprecedented rises in feed costs, so there really isn’t any feed to waste right now. Porcilis Lawsonia has been shown to increase ADWG by an average of 57g compared to unvaccinated pigs, and the same field trial also showed a reduction in FCR from 2.47 to 2.21. With pig feed at more than €470 per tonne, it makes a big financial impact over the lifetime of a pig.”
The majority of pig vets in Ireland have now received the training and farmers are encouraged to discuss gut-scoring with their vets. “In the current climate, I would recommend farmers talk about feed efficiency to their vets as well as their nutritionists. There may be underlying disease issues that need to be addressed and their vet will be best placed to diagnose and treat it,” concludes Maureen Prendergast.
(Ref: Jacobs et al, 2019. Teagasc composite feed price, July 2022)
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