Reducing Antibiotic Use in the Swine Industry

Antibiotic use in the livestock industry can be a touchy subject. The judicious use of antibiotics is important in livestock production. Pigs, like any animal, will get sick on occasion. Sick pigs are no fun for anyone. One of my main tasks as a veterinarian is to ensure the judicious use of antibiotics. The reduction of antibiotic use, in general, is good for the industry, yet I would argue it overshadows the need for the proper treatment given at the correct dose at the right time. On a side note, I remember as a student in vet school when the class laughed after the professor commented on explaining to a real doctor how or why to calculate a medication dose by weight. Today, while performing veterinary health visits, I am asking myself about the opportunities to prevent, reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics in each situation. Most, if not all the pig farmers I work with are already using multiple methods to minimize the risks of health challenges. Showering into farms, insuring proper vaccinations, single source flows, managing and matching health, quarantining new replacements, composting, etc. are all great examples of risk minimization. The industry is continuing to develop these technologies and/or new effective methods.

Communication and information
I like to encourage the pig producers I chat with to continue regular communication with everyone involved with the operation, including the veterinarian, nutritionist, and employees. Consider including other neighbors with pigs that may be up or downwind as well. Challenge and share with each other. Regularly reviewing and updating antibiotic treatment is important. Reviewing medications, routs, doses, etc. with everyone in the barn is time well spent as it ensures that the site follows all the standard treatment protocols. It is crucial to remember that when misused, antibiotics can and will make a situation worse.

Prevention and quick detection
We know that prevention is the number one way to keep pigs healthy. Quick detection and implementing effective interventions when issues arrive is number two. Closely monitoring your pigs and addressing problems as soon as possible is essential. It is the reason that as a veterinarian, I answer my phone after 5 pm and do my best to keep it close at hand on the weekends. Unlike lawyers, bankers, or many physicians, my clients/patients are eating food and drinking water on weekends and holidays!

While life can be unpredictable, being prepared and aware of issues with your operation makes an effective and thorough treatment plan come together much more quickly. It is imperative to have a game plan for potential problems. It seems like issues tend to arise on Friday afternoon or over weekends or holidays. Over the past few years, producers are implementing more non-antibiotic options to address specific problems. Some of these options turn out to be fads that come and go, while others continue to show real promise in substituting or replacing the need for more costly and maybe less effective antibiotics.

Producer responsibility
Producers should be leading the charge in disseminating accurate information. The pig farmers I work with care for their animals and want to make sure they are as healthy and productive as possible. At the end of the day, we are all responsible for the information and reports on total antibiotic usage that the media, researchers, and government publish.

Government officials may not realize and cannot capture or measure the elbow grease and effort we are already making to minimize issues. If the rest of the industry is half as concerned about doing the right thing as the pig farmers I work with, I can tell you we are in good hands. Communicating with the consumer is a never-ending opportunity. I remind myself and encourage everyone else working with pigs not to be afraid of putting a face and story to our industry. We as an industry need to work together as a team to keep a positive image.