Pig producers can now accurately assess the risk of post-weaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) on their farms – a devastating disease which costs the pig industry £30m every year.
Findings from a study funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and carried out by the Royal Veterinary College, identify key factors contributing to the disease.
And a new risk analysis tool, developed in partnership with BPEX, allows farmers to key in their performance data and classify their farm as mild, moderate or severely at risk of the disease, and subsequently plan an appropriate prevention programme.
Dirk Werling, who led the research across 149 test farms, said: “We found that good animal husbandry is the way to guard against an outbreak of PMWS. If pigs are reared outdoors, or in an enriched, clean environment, they are far less likely to get sick, even if the virus is present.
“Our research suggests that by reducing the likelihood of PMWS, improving conditions for pigs is a good investment because, in the long term, production is improved.”
He said with regards this particular disease, pigs reared outside fared better. However, this notion is only applicable to PMWS because outdoor rearing can have implications on other diseases.
In addition, he said a lack of regular changes in diet was identified as a contributing factor to the disease.
“We know that if you can provide diets that are more adapted to the growth needs, then that might be better for the pig, meaning it’s less stressed and healthier. This is something where the farmers can, with relatively little additional economic impact, improve things.”
The prevention period should start right from the beginning when they are vaccinated as piglets, added Professor Werling.
“The vaccine really seems to work in terms of bringing the production parameters up, especially if you have a highly affected farm. It does not clear up the disease, but it reduces the losses.”
He recommended a preventative programme combining vaccination alongside measures to reduce stress on the pigs, including reducing other diseases, improving cleanliness and stocking in the pens, and maintaining a good level of biosecurity.
“We would like farmers to have the best possible housing facilities they can afford for the pigs, so basically anything which takes the stress out of the pigs.”
BPEX veterinary programme manager, Derek Armstrong, said: “PMWS is a very multi-factorial disease and we have to look at every aspect of management when tackling it.
“The problem is the disease has been with us since 1999 and it does not appear to be going away. At a time when pig prices are low and feed costs are high, it’s important for farmers to monitor anything that impacts on performance and efficiency. PMWS is one of the big things to watch.”
Prevention strategies should focus on reducing the stress on the pigs as much as possible. And key areas to consider include stocking density, group size, cleanliness, biosecurity and incidence of other diseases, he added.
Commenting on the new risk analysis tool, which is available on the BPEX website, he said: “It allows farmers to benchmark themselves against other farms with the disease. If you are quite isolated and you don’t know what’s happening on other pig farms it’s very difficult to know if your farm is better or worse than other farms. Farmers can also use it to benchmark themselves over time.”