Pig vaccine proves worthwhile

As submissions for the BPEX PCV2 voucher scheme comes to a close this week, many pig producers will be making the decision whether to continue vaccinating for circovirus.

With 509 units applying, 2.58m doses of vaccine being distributed and a total of 315,000 sows being treated, the feedback from producers has been positive, according to BPEX senior vet scientist, Derek Armstrong.

This unique project has seen £1.65m invested in mass vaccination of pigs and initial evidence suggests PCV2 vaccines are having a significant and positive impact on pig health and welfare, says Mr Armstrong.

Effect of vaccine

“Feedback from producers indicates there has been an increase in uniformity of growth, PMWS disappearing completely from units and an improvement in food conversion ratio – resulting in increased P2 measurements,” he says.

Mortality in weaner pigs has also reduced by as much as five percent and in finishers by six percent, with initial reports suggesting the sow vaccine may also increase the weaned litter size by up to half a piglet a litter.

But good management and vaccine use must go hand in hand for the best results, according to Mr Armstrong.

“Good management and vaccine are needed to improve health and welfare and lower cost of production. For example if you are vaccinating sows as a way of ensuring the PCV2 antibody is passed to the piglets via colostrum then it’s important all piglets receive an adequate intake of colostrum,” says Mr Armstrong.

Sow V piglet vaccination

Each unit’s management system will dictate whether sows or piglets are vaccinated. “For units handling piglets for other management reasons then a piglet vaccine may slot in well despite more animals having to be vaccinated. Also units buying in weaners should consider the piglet vaccine.

“However, in farrow to finishing units where there is already good attention to detail with sow health, then sow vaccination may be best. Whereas group housed sow systems may incur an additional labour cost, so a piglet vaccine may be better,” says Mr Armstrong.

Despite the BPEX PCV2 voucher scheme only applicable to English producers, the sow vaccine has also been well accepted in Northern Ireland with positive effects on fertility seen, according to Northern Ireland pig technologist, Mark Hawe. “Several producers using the PCV2 sow vaccine have unexpectedly seen positive effects on sow performance, with conception rates and litter sizes improving.

However, Mr Hawe stresses the importance of following manufacturer’s recommendations and vaccinating sows at the correct time. “To ensure piglets are covered through to slaughter, following vaccination guidelines is essential. Likewise making sure piglets received adequate amount of colostrum is just as important,” he says.

And more producers in NI seem to be moving across to PCV2 vaccination, according to Mr Hawe. “Those not seeing wasting disease in the herd are also vaccinating and have seen improvements. Often circovirus may be nipping away meaning pigs are more susceptible to others secondary diseases such as pneumonia.

“Other management practices such as having the correct housing environment, not overstocking and providing enough feed and water space and general good husbandry are all vital in reducing stress, contributing to impaired immunity,” says Mr Hawe.

But with BPEX funding now coming to an end, the question remains will producers continue to vaccinate.

“With PMWS resulting in mortality levels as high as 20%, producers will have to calculate what is most efficient, vaccinating costs or mortality and mobidity losses,” says Mr Armstrong.

CASE STUDY – Mike Sheldon, 510 indoor sow unit, Milton Keynes  

Having a low level of wasting, but knowing PCV2 was positive on the farm was the main reason pig producer Mike Sheldon decided to trial the PCV2 voucher scheme. “I thought I would use the period of subsidy to see whether I would get a positive effect and if it was cost effective.

“I wasn’t looking at pig mortality or sow productivity as an issue, but was looking at improving growth rates in finishers.”

Mr Sheldon who has been using the vaccine in weaner pigs since April has seen improved growth rates of at least 30g/day.

“This extra growth rate results in an extra 2.2kg deadweight, which is worth about £1.50 a pig. The improved growth rate means we are taking pigs to slightly heavier weights and with the number of tail-enders in a batch reduced it is quicker to clean up batches, reducing average days to slaughter,” he says.

The cost efficiency of using the vaccine is quite fine according to Mr Sheldon. “At the moment we are getting at least an extra £1.50 a pig, but with the unsubsidised vaccine costs ranging from £1.10-1.30, if it was to increase then it may not be worth it, particularly when labour costs and purchase of needles and syringes are taken into account.”

Mr Sheldon estimates vaccination of 800 pigs take 2-2.5 man hours. Despite this he will continue vaccinating unless the cost balance changes.