Keep Sows in the Herd Longer: A Look at Lameness and Longevity

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

Lameness is one of the biggest causes of reduced sow longevity in the herd. If you want to keep your sows in the herd longer, reduce factors that contribute to lameness, said Mark Wilson, a swine reproductive physiologist at Zinpro.

Lameness often centers on inflammation, which can create a long-term effect on metabolism. Any insult to the body will release pro-inflammatory mediators. Although, these mediators are helpful in the short term, chronic inflammation can cause production issues over time.

“Chronic inflammation decreases longevity. For example, sows that have been lame for a long time are more likely to have autoimmune reactions, telling them to up-regulate inflammation,” Wilson said in Pig Health Today. “That impacts the nutrients that are left for lactation, growth and even reproductive performance.”

Inflammation is a complex issue – not everything gives the same signals or results in the same responses. Symptoms may include fever, redness, swelling, loss of appetite, lack of mobility and other problems.

Sows often demonstrate inflammation due to lameness in how they stand or move around. They can’t find a way to get comfortable, and they tend to lie down faster than other sows in the farrowing room or gestation pen, Wilson said. Producers and their veterinarians can look for these cues to help find solutions for those animals.

“The quicker we can get the problem solved, the quicker we can get back to normal production,” he said. “The human responsibility is to make sure we’re doing all we can to cut down on stressors and inflammatory issues.”

How Can You Avoid Lameness?

1.    Pick gilts that are structurally sound.
Train employees to identify the ideal structural design for feet and legs and make sure gilts are able to walk easily and correctly. Make sure hooves are in good shape, too.

“The better you can develop those hooves and the keratinocyte tissue in the horn tissue, the more durable and resilient they are to preventing damage,” Wilson said.

Prevention is more effective than treatment when it comes to lameness.

“Once you do get a damaged foot, it’s tougher to get the keratinocytes to fill in and actually grow like they’re supposed to, and the bigger problem is that you also have to reduce the inflammatory issues.”

2.    Look out for lesions.
Certain types of feet and leg lesions, like white-line lesions, open the door for bacteria, Wilson said. 

Antibiotics can help, as long as a veterinarian has determined the most effective antibiotic to use against the targeted bacteria. 
When it comes to claw lesions, however, there isn’t enough blood flow in the feet to get the antibiotic where it’s needed to combat the inflammation. In these cases, minerals are preferred.

3.    Remove potential stressors.
“The more stressors we can reduce, and the more we can have the immune system running at a stable level, the better,” Wilson said. 

For example, vaccinations are often given too close to the time of breeding. When this happens, the titer goes up, which means they’re getting a greater inflammatory response, but reproduction decreases, he said.

“Vaccinate gilts a minimum of 14 days to 21 days from their last vaccination, and you’ll get a much better breeding response from your gilts,” Wilson said.

Water and nutrition also are important factors when it comes to sow longevity, he added. A neutral to slightly acidic pH is the best water for preventing bacteria from getting into the water lines.

“Inflammation is a major modifier of production and metabolism,” Wilson said. “Reducing inflammatory issues improves productivity and will improve longevity in the herd.”

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