Piglet Observation – Part IV

Photo: Lydia Johnston

Cross- Fostering

When dealing with large litters and you have simultaneous farrowings, there may be an opportunity to implement a fostering procedure, transferring your Oxford Sandy and Black piglets from a larger farrowing to a smaller farrowing. This practice can be of benefit as well as ensuring the welfare of sow and piglets which begins with careful observation of the piglets.

Identify those piglets that show signs of lethargy and lacklustre. These observations will serve as indicators for taking action, possibly including the decision to foster the struggling piglet and at the same time provide essential sustenance such as electrolytes or additional milk.

Cross-fostering your low birth weight Oxford Sandy and Black piglets with littermates of similar weight can significantly improve their daily weight and overall health with the added bonus of high expectations for pre-weaning performance.

We are aware that smaller piglets competing with their larger siblings are at a disadvantage. Therefore, whenever possible, it is advisable to create foster litters consisting of the smallest piglets born on a given farrowing day. It is essential to introduce these small piglets to a sow that is in her early stages of motherhood, preferably on her first or second litter. Sows in their second year, for instance, tend to have smaller teats that are better suited for the small mouths of these piglets. This thoughtful approach can greatly benefit the piglets’ growth and overall well-being of the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig.

You might discover our blog titled “Piglet/Weaner – Being Prepared” to be a valuable resource for additional guidance and assistance.

The Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group is UK’s only pig breed that is a registered charity in England & Wales (1190469) and Scotland (SCO52662). We are creating a better future for our breed, the bloodlines and its breeding potential together with our Independent Pork Producers, Breeders and Keepers. Please consider clicking our donate button so we may continue to look after our breed and our supporters.

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Photo: In pig gilt with 11 days to go. Francesca an Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Gilt photo taken on 22 January 2023 farrowed on 2 February 2023.

Enhancing the In-pig Sow Nutrition

Although the last month of pregnancy is the period when the main growth rate of the foetus takes shape, we, Oxford Sandy and Black Pig keepers must take into consideration the whole of the gestation period to take advantage of the opportunity to influence birth weights.

Direct Your Attention Beyond the Final Third of Gestation: Emphasis is more than just the last third of gestation, as this period witnesses foetal growth spurts and an opportunity to influence birth weight. Elevate nutrient intake for sows starting from day 80 of gestation to positively impact birth weight. Notably, between days 90 and 115, piglet growth rate increases significantly.

Evaluate Feeding Regime for the Oxford Sandy and Black Gilts: Carefully consider the feeding plan for your breeding gilts. Overfeeding them during the initial stages of gestation can yield both short and long-term effects. The extra feed might be directed towards the gilts’ reserves rather than the developing foetus. This practice could lead to the birth of small piglets and overweight gilts. Once a gilt accumulates excess fat, her productivity might diminish.

Remember it is worth discussing feeding options with your feed nutritionist/feed merchant.

Photo: In pig gilt with 12 days to go. Francesca an Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Gilt photo taken on 22 January 2023

The Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group is UK’s only pig breed that is a registered charity in England & Wales (1190463) and Scotland (SCO52662). We are creating a better future for our breed, the bloodlines and its breeding potential together with our Independent Pork Producers, Breeders and Keepers. Please consider clicking our donate button so we may continue to look after our breed and our supporters.

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Photo: Mrs R Ford

As we witness the wonderful farrowings with the anticipation of more to come, I thought it a perfect opportunity to delve into the different phases of piglet observation and care this week.

We know that recognising those piglets smaller than their littermates often exhibit delayed growth and require additional attention, and as such the following protocols may aid us to minimise the weight disparity between lighter piglets and their larger siblings.

Investigation of various factors affecting birth weight, with the aim of enhancing the postnatal performance of underweight piglets, has resulted in the following findings.

As most of us have witnessed, a common occurrence is litters with diverse birth weights. These variations tend to increase, with an overall trend toward smaller piglets, when the number born alive is higher. There is no need for alarm; entire litters comprised solely of small piglets do not necessarily indicate an issue, as these piglets can still be viable. With the right conditions, low birth weight pigs can catch up in growth to their normal birth weight counterparts. Nonetheless, early intervention remains crucial.

The prospect of piglet survival rates are low if their weight falls below 1 kg. If possible, try to weigh and gauge the number of piglets below 1kg, document the weights to enable to recognise the developments which will help you to offer extra assistance in their development.

Challenges During Foetal Development

  • Poor foetus and reduced growth of piglets can be identified as early as 30 days of gestation
  • Low birth weight can be a result of an inefficiency of the placenta to transfer nutrients to the foetuses rather than uterine capacity – ensure gilt is not younger than 12 months for service
  • Oxygen Deprivation influences the Critical Factor in Foetal Growth, Central Nervous System Impact, and Survival of Piglets
  • Some piglets may be petite but exhibit excellent vitality and favourable postnatal behaviours, such as rapid suckling, which significantly contributes to their survival.
  • Piglets that are both undersized and weak, which can be indicative of oxygen deprivation, face a significant disadvantage
  • It’s important to highlight that the maternal genotype plays a significant role in determining placental efficiency and, consequently, foetal weight, while the potential for growth and size is influenced by the sire line.

The Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group is UK’s only pig breed that is a registered charity in England & Wales (1190463) and Scotland (SCO52662). We are creating a better future for our breed, the bloodlines and its breeding potential together with our Independent Pork Producers, Breeders and Keepers. Please consider clicking our donate button so we may continue to look after our breed and our supporters.

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Some of us have experienced our sows and gilts as being very drawn during and after feeding their piglets. The causes have been diagnosed as inadequate feed during lactation, farrowing house being too hot or is due to underfeeding during pregnancy. This effects weight loss and anoestrus (poor return to season).


The condition results classically from a combination of parasitism – one organism (called parasite) benefits at the expense of another organism usually of different species (worms or mange), low environmental temperatures and inadequate feed intake, particularly during lactation. Weight loss at this time may never be regained. Parasitism is less important when therapy is routinely carried out. In outdoor pig populations, low environmental temperatures are important.

Outdoor sows require at least 200 kg more feed per sow per year than indoor animals. Sow that are kept indoors during the winter cold months should be kept at 22°C and sows in moderate condition at 21°C. Lower temperatures may be tolerated in the presence of bedding. Temperatures below this require extra feed to maintain sow weight gain in gestation.

Feed intake is the most important cause. Feed intake may be affected by bullying, disease, a high environmental temperature in the farrowing accommodation, or an over fat condition at farrowing. Sows should be in condition score 3/4 or 6/10 (fat depth at P2 16-20 mm) at farrowing, which may fall to condition score 2-2.5/4 or 4/10 (fat depth P2 12 mm) after lactation. Unless these criteria are met, total weaning weight of the litter will be reduced, return to oestrus will be delayed and egg numbers will be reduced to give small subsequent litters.

Clinical signs

In extreme cases, being abnormally thin or weak may occur in 30-90% of sows and boars in a herd, associated with hypothermia 36.5-38°C (97-100°F), depraved appetites, restlessness, apathy, and later, difficulty in rising. The skin may be dirty and greasy and there may be surface abrasions. As the condition progresses, failure to return to oestrus and permanent infertility may occur.

Where accurate individual feeding to condition is not practised and bullying occurs, individual animals in a group can be clinically affected. Less than optimal condition are frequently found in winter where temperature control is not practised. Suboptimal condition or even thin sows may be found during the recovery period from disease such as influenza and may be more extreme in lean breeds. Clinical signs of suboptimal condition include increased weaning to service intervals, small litters and low weaning weights. Piglets of sows in suboptimal condition may be restless and demand milk more frequently.

Thin sows may be identified by observation and systematic condition scoring of the herd. Ultrasound is particularly useful for quantitative measurement as scoring is more difficult in older animals due to their conformation. As sows should gain at least 12.5 kg body weight between parities, regular weighing can identify animals in sub-optimal condition. Pressure sores in sows at weaning also indicate poor condition.

Where gilt condition and nutrition in lactation is inadequate, the second litter is the same size or smaller than the first, and low number born may reflect overall sow condition at service. Extended weaning to service intervals and low weaning weights may be due to poor body condition. The causes of poor sow condition should be established. It should be established that feed of adequate quantity and nutrient density is being supplied to each individual especially during lactation and until implantation 10-14 days after service. Parasitism can be ruled out by inspection, by sampling for mange and faecal sampling (which some of you do) for worm eggs and coccidia. The influence of disease may be established by inspection, clinical examination or consultation of the recent history of the herd of the animals concerned.

Treatment and prevention

There is no treatment. The effects of thin sows on litter weaning weights can be reduced by supplementary feeding of the litter, whereby some of us have supplemented with sow replacement milk in the earlier days. The effects on numbers born may be reduced when sows or gilts are in poor condition by delaying service until the next oestrus. Ensure that adequate quantities of food of the correct nutrient density are given to all affected animals and that individual feeding is possible. Environmental temperatures should be restored to normal and anthelminthic or mange treatment should be considered.

Adequate feed intake during lactation and early pregnancy should maintain the weight of the sow and increase it by 10-15 kg between litters by increasing the energy content of lactating rations with fat or feeding three times daily during lactation. It may be necessary to weigh sows after weaning (for those of you that do not have scales please may I remind you that we have a “calculate the live weight” in the OSBPG tools section of our website) in order to ensure that adequate weight gain has occurred between lactations, to assign them to groups for feeding at an appropriate level through pregnancy or to feed individually to condition.

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As we know each breed has its own characteristics. However, a generalisation can be reached regarding selecting breeding stock for future generations. The same criteria applies to the selection of both our boars and gilts/sows.

The ideal pig provides good cushioning and flexability to all the joints and as you would imagine this would cause our pigs an easier time getting up and down with the knock on effect of being less likely to suffer from leg injuries and complaints which in turn enhances the longevity and productivity of our herds regardless of how small or large they will be. Not forgetting adding to a greater genetic selection.

So lets start from the ground up. The toes, the fundamental building blocks of the making of our pigs.

Toes should be big, even and well spaced to take the weight of our pigs.

Condition of the toes

The toes should have no visible cracks, swellings or injuries, this is also true to say for the underneath of each foot.

The Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group is UK’s only pig breed that is a registered charity in England & Wales (1190463) and Scotland (SCO52662). We are creating a better future for our breed, the bloodlines and its breeding potential together with our Independent Pork Producers, Breeders and Keepers. Please click the donate button so we may continue to look after our breed and our supporters.

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Swine Dysentery, Brachyspira hyodysenteria

Photo: Pork Information Gateway – Faeces with excess blood, mucus or both are highly suggestive of Swine Dysentery

Swine Dysentery, Brachyspira hyodysenteria, a widespread and well-recognised disease among pigs globally, poses a significant threat across various pig keeping operations. It is present in the UK and it is wise that pig keepers are aware of diseases in and around your area/county.

Please ensure you are signed up to AHDB Disease Charter (using the same log in details when signing in for the eaml2). Being aware helps you to be prepared. As it could affect the movement of your pigs.

Clinical Symptoms

Swine dysentery has distinct clinical signs in affected pigs, such as a dull and depressed demeanour, displaying a lack of appetite.

Dehydration is a common consequence of the disease, the faeces may range from soft to almost watery consistency, containing blood, mucous, and, in severe cases there will be necrotic gut lining.

The course of the disease usually spans over several days. Initially, pigs may exhibit high temperatures, reaching up to 41°C (106°F). Mortality can occur early on or later in the disease course, often as a result of dehydration or salt poisoning. It is essential to closely monitor pigs showing these clinical symptoms and promptly seek veterinary attention to manage and treat the disease effectively.

Swine dysentery is primarily spread through infected pigs and their faeces. Anything contaminated with dung, such as vehicles, boots, and equipment, can serve as potential carriers and easily transmit the infection between farms. Vigilant biosecurity measures are crucial in preventing the disease’s spread and protecting pig populations from the risk of infection. Being mindful of where you are moving pigs from and too and being aware of the regional/county infection.

Pigs that survive swine dysentery infection often require treatment, leading to extended time to reach slaughter weight. This compromises the farm’s overall productivity and competitiveness, posing significant challenges for pig producers.

The disease poses a particularly severe threat to farms involved in breeding pigs. If breeding pigs become infected, it can devastate both their international and UK trade, significantly impacting the farm’s economic viability.

An infected pig farm not only endangers other local farms but also poses a risk to farms in other regions. The disease can spread through contaminated vehicles or pig movements, leading to potential outbreaks in previously unaffected areas.

Moreover, the limited range of available treatments for swine dysentery is facing increasing resistance from the disease. In some cases, the swine dysentery organism has become resistant to all available treatments, leaving depopulation as the only viable method to control the disease’s spread and prevent further outbreaks.

The seriousness of swine dysentery demands constant vigilance and the implementation of strict biosecurity measures to safeguard pig populations and the pig farming industry as a whole. Early detection, proper management, and collaboration among pig producers are essential in tackling this challenging and potentially devastating disease.


Make use of AHDB free services for safer biosecurity measures and sign up to the Significant Diseases Charter.   An important application which shares information quickly in the event of an outbreak.

It is worth noting that abattoirs pose a significant risk for cross-contamination of vehicles. Therefore, effective cleaning and disinfection protocols can successfully prevent such contamination.

If you suspect swine dysentery in your pigs, it is crucial to take immediate action:

  1. Observe for Diarrhoea and Wasting: Pay close attention to any pigs showing signs of unexplained diarrhoea and wasting. In particular, if the diarrhoea contains blood or mucus, this could be an indication of swine dysentery.
  2. Contact Your Veterinarian: As soon as you notice these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice and assistance. They will provide guidance on the next steps and help confirm the diagnosis.
  3. Seek Diagnosis: Diagnosis of swine dysentery is achieved by submitting faeces or pig samples for testing. Your veterinarian will conduct appropriate tests to identify the presence of the disease.
  4. Implement Control Measures: If swine dysentery is confirmed, prompt diagnosis is essential for implementing suitable control measures.   These measures are critical in limiting the spread of the infection to other pigs and farms.

By taking swift action and involving your veterinarian at the first sign of suspicion, you can effectively manage and control swine dysentery, minimising its impact on your herd and preventing the disease from spreading to other pig populations.

The Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group is UK’s only pig breed that is a registered charity in England & Wales (1190463) and Scotland (SCO52662) We are creating a better future for our breed, the bloodlines and its breeding potential together with our Independent Pork Producers, Breeders and Keepers. Please click the donate button so we may continue to look after our breed and our supporters.

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Photo: A O’Shea – Slate House Farm

Tetanus – Clostridium tetani

Image: Photo Library

Tetanus is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani, which produces toxins that affect the central nervous system of which the germ lives in the large intestine and can form spores therein. It also exists in faeces, not just in pigs but of other animals, and can also exist in soil.

The incubation period for the disease is around 1 to 10 weeks. Spores of the bacterium can be present in the soil, and the infection usually occurs through a dirty wound or cut. In lactating piglets, castration is a common source of infection.

Young pigs kept outside, especially those with wounds, are more prone to tetanus. Castration wounds in young pigs are particularly at risk. Once infected, the bacterium produces a powerful neurotoxin, leading to rigid muscle contractions.

Image: NADIS

Symptoms of tetanus in pigs include collapsing with tetanic muscle spasms, an upright head, curled tips of the ears, all four legs held out backwards, and an upright tail. Death often results from asphyxiation as the respiratory muscles become paralyzed. It is essential not to confuse tetanus with meningitis.

The disease tends to occur in areas known to be infected. In such high-risk situations, it is recommended to remove piglets for 48-72 hours after castration to allow wound closure. Maintaining a clean environment during castration is crucial. The disease is not limited to areas shared with or previously occupied by sheep.

Image: YouTube

In high-risk situations, vaccination of the sow is advisable and should be incorporated into your vaccination program. It is essential to consult with your veterinary for guidance. Consideration of administering a tetanus antitoxin at castration should also be discussed with your veterinary practitioner. Taking these preventive measures can help protect pigs from the potentially deadly effects of tetanus.

Always look to your bio-security. Hygiene is first and foremost.

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We invite you to join us in our mission to preserve and protect the rare breed of Oxford Sandy and Black Pig. Your support is crucial in ensuring a brighter future for this cherished breed, its precious bloodlines, and its valuable breeding potential. Together, let’s work towards providing a thriving and sustainable existence for these remarkable pigs, safeguarding their heritage for generations to come. Your contribution will make a meaningful difference in the conservation and prosperity of the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig breed.


Biting in pigs is not uncommon and can manifest in various forms, such as tail, ear, flank, stifle, anus, belly, vulva, and even penis biting, all of which are different types of cannibalism. However, tail biting is viewed as the most widespread and serious of them all and thankfully rarely seen within the Independent Pork Producer sector. It is true to say that it is most common within the corporate sector. However, it has been observed within the IPP sector, whereby rare/traditional pig breeds are running indoor systems with some experiencing this condition as well a other issues which is underlining the need to seek advice on space and layout of running an indoor system.

Research has suggested that the overall frequency of tail biting is 1.2% and that the frequency in different systems highlights the widespread nature of the problem. No one system of pig keeping is immune from tail biting. Slatted systems have seen a prevalence of 2% of pigs affected whilst on straw the figure is only 0.4%. Growers from indoor systems are 50% more likely to be tail bitten than those born outdoors. (NADIS data table below)

Yes, we would all like to see pen mates get along but sadly there will always be a bit of argy-bargy and as a result can harbour a loss within our pig industry.  Tail biting is observed under many circumstances and different situations with different action intensity.  In a severe situation, 3-5% of pigs may be affected and with this in mind it would not be unusual for 1% to be euthanised and a similar number are condemned at slaughter, which is written up as “pyaemia”.  

Information obtained from pig abattoirs in England suggests that the recorded incidence of tail bitten pigs presented for slaughter is much lower than clinical surveillance, as it is due to on farm cases taking action of pigs being destroyed humanely as they are unfit for presentation for slaughter for human consumption.

Pigs do have a natural tendency to chew and it would be akin to teething.  Lets not forget as covered in various blogs the growth of our pigs teeth is changing as at 4 weeks of age they will experience new teeth and again at 8 months. With this in mind research has concluded that once at the “teething stage” they will be biting and chewing anything to pacify the sensation hence tail biting starts, the draw of blood is a great attraction and it is said that it become contagious.  Normal inquisitive investigation with the mouth can lead to “accidental” bleeding, which can lead to more serious damage. 

When tail biting occurs, it is wise to assess, observe and identify the culprit and the damage of the wound and treat and remove the injured pig

Tailing biting reasons are endless with the main factors being:

  • environmental
  • dietary
  • husbandry factors
  • overstocking and understocking,
  • temperature variation,
  • draughts,
  • competition for food and water,
  • Vitamin E deficiency
  • high fat diets. 

It is paramount that veterinary advice is seeked to help identify the cause of “unhappy pigs”. The inability of some pigs to find a comfortable draught free lying area is one of the major triggers for tail biting recognised on farm.

Such areas for consideration include:-

  1. Thermal comfort:- draughts, temperature variation, chilling and over-heating are highly significant factors.
  2. Freely available feed and water – the pig that is unable to get to a free supply of feed and water is always more likely to seek revenge on its pen mates.
  3. Feed diets that are appropriate to the pig and contain a full balance of nutrients.
  4. Stocking density.  Space provision should be determined by the nature of the accommodation and the requirements of the specific pigs. if stocking rates are too low thermal comfort may be difficult to achieve and trigger tail biting. If stocking rates are to high then again thermal comfort will be too high and can trigger tail biting.

Wounded pigs must be isolated to prevent further damage. Spray and treat the bitten tail with an antiseptic spray.  The bitten tail can be dressed/sprayed with antiseptic or proprietary “antibiting” sprays can be applied. Stockholm Tar can also be applied but do seek veterinary advice. 

It is worth noting that any wound presented and observed on the tail of a pig must be dealt with immediately,  as this can leave an open window for bacteria to travel through the tail wound up the main lymph column under the spine whereby abscesses in or close to the spinal canal will form.  Again, these will be observed at slaughter and therefore the carcass will be condemned. Also on farm observation will see paralysis in the live pig.  Also infection can spread to joints producing arthritis.

As a rule of thumb any pig that is known to have been tail bitten and is lame due to joint swelling requires on farm euthanasia.

One or two features can be added to help our pigs and reduce any incidences that may arise whether we are outdoor or indoors and these are:

1. Providing toys in the form of chewable material.  Chains, alcathene piping, rubber boots, wood etc are valuable but must be in place at all times.  Straw, sawdust, peat is also a requirement if you choose to keep your pigs indoors
2.  Look at dietary content, nutrition
3. Review stocking rates, health control protocols and overall health management of the herd to minimise the trigger factors for tail biting.
4. Undertake a review of ventilation systems including smoke tests and temperature gradient measurements and correct any faults.

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Diarrhoea in Newborns (scour)

Diarrhoea in newborns can pose a human risk, the causes of diarrhoea in this early stages of life are E. coli – Clostridial infection, TGE – epidemic diarrhoea, rotavirus – common disease in the small intestine. Within 48 hours of birth watery diarrhoea is noticeable it can stunt growth and if not treated loss of life can occur.


The gut of the newborn pig is sterile but is rapidly colonised by bacteria. Antibodies found in colostrum and later in milk protect against any damaging effects of these bacteria in normal piglets. Piglets which do not receive colostrum and those born from non-immune sows may develop disease. One of the first bacteria to colonise the neonatal piglet is Escherichia coli (E.coli). The strains of E. coli responsible for neonatal diarrhoea attach to the cells lining the small intestine by means of fimbriae (hair-like fibres) which secrete an enterotoxin (usually Heat Stable Toxin) which causes loss of chloride ions, the secretion of fluid followed by diarrhoea. Diarrhoea and loss of fluid are particularly important in neonatal piglets as water forms a large part of their body mass and the only source is sow’s milk. The next organisms to colonise are the clostridia, C. perfringens type A and type C and possibly, C. difficile. They may be followed by rotavirus, the viruses of Transmissible Gastroenteritis or Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea and coccidia which multiply in the cells lining in the small intestine, destroy absorptive cells and produce atrophy of the intestinal wall (finger-like fibres) and give rise to diarrhoea.

Source of transmission

The sources of infection in neonatal diarrhoea are affected piglets, the piglet environment and the faeces of the sow. Each of the agents mentioned can occur in small numbers in the faeces of the sow, although adult animals are unaffected by the coccidia, rotavirus, E. coli and clostridial strains because of immunity. Piglet to piglet transmission is most common within a pen or house but the most important agents (E. coli and the clostridia) can also persist in the environment for months in the absence of thorough cleaning. New strains of all the agents can be introduced to a farm with carrier pigs.

Clinical signs

Neonatal diarrhoea (scouring) occurs in piglets aged 0-4 days and can begin within 12 hours of birth. Affected piglets may suck but often stand with drooping tails, appear shrunken and have a dull skin with erect coat hairs. Dehydration results in sunken eyes and makes the hips and backbone more prominent. The diarrhoeic faeces may be difficult to see on casual inspection as it is often pale in colour. Dried crusts of diarrhoeic faeces may be seen on the thighs or perineum and there may also be scalding about the anus. Affected pigs may either enter a coma and die, or recover without subsequent loss of condition after 3-6 days or remain stunted. Blood-stained diarrhoea may occur after 36-48 hours when clostridia are involved. Outbreaks of neonatal diarrhoea occur in successive litters, particularly those of gilts or newly purchased sows. In some cases up to 70% of all piglets born may be affected. Seventy percent of piglets affected with diarrhoea in the first few days of life may die. Mortality rates from diarrhoea then decrease rapidly until less than 10% occurs in affected pigs over 2 weeks of age.

Neonatal diarrhoea
The presence of neonatal diarrhoea in piglets is confirmed by inspection of the piglets and the pen. Dehydrated piglets often have diarrhoea, but it may be necessary to examine piglets individually to confirm diarrhoea in very young litters and early cases in older piglets. Rectal temperatures are usually normal, and insertion of a thermometer or a swab often confirms the presence of diarrhoea.

Treatment and prevention

Neonatal diarrhoea can be treated by individual oral dosing with antimicrobial for 3-5 days. As most neonatal diarrhoea is caused by E. coli, ampicillin, amoxicillin, neomycin, apramycin, tetracyclines, trimethoprim sulphonamide, spectinomycin, fluoroquinolones, gentamicin and can all be used. Where treatment is ineffective, post-mortem examination and laboratory tests are required to confirm that E. coli is the sole cause and whether or not it is sensitive to the antimicrobial used. Penicillin, ampicillin and amoxicillin may be required for clostridial disease and the viral conditions do not respond. Electrolyte solutions with glucose: glycine should be available in all.
Neonatal diarrhoea caused by E. coli can be prevented by vaccinating the sow and ensuring that the litter receive colostrum. All-in, all-out management should be practised in farrowing houses with thorough disinfection between batches.


(When sourcing stock IT IS UP TO YOU to ask the breeder if they have suffered any diseases within their herd if you don’t ask you don’t know and the breeder will and should not be offended by your question as this shows due diligence on your behalf.)
Despite a control programme spanning decades, M. bovis infection levels in cattle in Great Britain (GB) have continued to rise over recent years. As the incidence of infection in cattle and wildlife may be linked to that in pigs, data relating to infection of pigs identified at slaughter are being examined. Data suggest that pigs raised outdoors or on holdings with poor biosecurity may be more vulnerable to infection with M. bovis. In the majority of cases, the same strains of M. bovis were found in pigs and cattle, despite the fact that direct contact between these species was rarely observed. Genotyping and geographical mapping data indicated that some strains found in pigs may correlate better with those present in badgers, rather than cattle. Given the potential implications of this infection for the pig industry, and for the on-going effort to control bovine TB, the importance of understanding the epidemiology and pathogenesis of M. bovis infection, as well as monitoring its prevalence, in pigs should not be underestimated.
Tuberculosis is transmitted through animal to animal contact or by ingestion of contaminated food, water or soil. Mycobacterium avium ss hominisuis and M. avium ss avium have been isolated from peat and kaolin and should not be used as feed additives since they are considered high-risk factors. Early in the 20th century when Tb in cattle and man was more prevalent, disease in pigs was due mainly to M. bovis or M. tuberculosis. The bacteria is most often of environmental origin. M. avium and other mycobacteria abound in the environment and occur in food and drinking water; therefore it is not surprising that they are present in the human alimentary tract. Rhodococcus equi infection in pigs also produces a granulomatous lesion that resembles Tb microscopically. The earliest reports of R. equi infection in pigs were made during the 1930’s, and isolation of the organism has been reported frequently since then. Rhodococcus equi is common in the soil of pig pens, and infection with this organism occurs about as often in pigs with or without mycobacterial disease. In summary, although other bacteria can cause diseases resembling pig Tb, M. avium ss hominisuis is responsible for a large number of reported cases in commercial herds in countries with M. bovis eradication programs. Peat when added to feed or when used as bedding material is considered a very high risk factor for TB in pigs.
Pigs usually are infected with M. avium by ingesting the organism. After ingestion, the organism penetrates the wall of the pharynx near the tonsils or the wall of the small intestine and becomes localised in the mandibular and/or mesenteric lymph nodes. Small lesions develop in these lymph nodes. The health and condition of the infected pig are usually not affected, therefore it is often impossible to establish a clinical diagnosis in these animals. It should also be noted that in herds in which Tb has been diagnosed M. avium has been isolated from the lymph nodes of pigs that were negative to skin tests, presented no lesions tissues, and had no signs of illness.
Because diagnosis of Tb in the live animal is usually impossible, the prevalence of the disease must be determined from postmortem. The actual infection rate may be higher since mycobacteria can be cultured from lymph nodes with no visible lesions and because some lesions may go undetected. Pathogenic mycobacteria may survive for more than 4 years in soil and litter contaminated by chickens with Tb. Studies have shown that sawdust or wood shavings used for bedding are a source of M. avium ss hominisuis in pigs. Mycobacterium avium complex is often found in samples of sawdust and wood shavings where it survives for long periods. The mycobacteria may multiply under proper conditions of moisture and temperature which could explain the seasonal occurrence of disease in some herds. It has been suggested that seasonal changes may produce less favourable conditions for survival of bacteria in wood shavings and cause the infection rate to decrease. The presence of lesions in the intestinal wall with a subsequent pig to pig transmission probably is due to shedding of mycobacteria in the feaces. Granulomatous lesions of lungs, mammary glands, and uterus also may occur with the potential for transmission of organisms from these sites.
The addition of infected breeding stock could introduce the disease within a herd, and transmission from infected sows to their litters may maintain the disease within a herd.
Detection of mycobacterial disease in a live animal is often very difficult, therefore the presence of disease must be determined by post-mortem examination. Infection in pigs exposed to M. avium is usually associated with the lymph nodes of the head and the digestive tract and rarely spreads to other locations. Diagnosis of Tb by physical examination of the live pig is usually impossible. Visual examination of infected sites at slaughter cannot differentiate lesions of Tb from those caused by other microorganisms or conditions; a confirmed diagnosis should be based on mycobactereologic examination from these sites.
Diagnosis of Tb in pigs on a herd basis is important and usually depends on detection of infected lymph nodes from swine at slaughter. When Tb has been confirmed by microscopic and bacteriologic examinations, the producer should work with a veterinarian to determine potential sources of the infection and alter management practices to eliminate the source if possible.
Tuberculin skin testing has been used to identify pigs exposed to pathogenic mycobacteria. The amount of tuberculin used and the site of injection have varied depending on the investigator. The recommended method for a tuberculin skin test in pigs is an intradermal injection of 0.1 ml M. avium purified protein derivative (PPD) in the dorsal surface of the ear. The response (induration) to injection of PPD is observed and recorded at 48 hours. Positive reactions usually include swelling and redness, and they may vary in size and intensity. Haemorrhage and ulceration may occur at the injection site. The reliability of the tuberculin test, when used on individual swine, has been questioned.
The tuberculin test can be used successfully as a herd test although false positive reactions occur. Biologically balanced PPD’s of M. avium and M. bovis may be injected at separate sites on the dorsal surface of the ear to gain useful information on exposure to M. tuberculosis complex or to M. avium complex organisms. The responses (mm) at the injection sites should be measured (mm) and compared at 48 hours post-injection of PPD. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays have been described for obtaining information on the presence of mycobacterial antibodies in the sera of the Pig naturally exposed to clinically significant mycobacteria. However, these tests have not come into widespread use since some animals fail to develop detectable antibodies in the sera for several weeks or months following natural exposure.
Prevention and Control
Control of mycobacterial infection in pigs is difficult since no vaccine is available and the preventive use of anti–tuberculosis drugs in feed is either illegal or of unknown value. Preventing the disease in noninfected herds is more effective than trying to eliminate the disease from infected herds. It is important not to:
1. Raise pig and poultry in close proximity on the same premises.
2. Feeding kitchen waste, unpasteurised milk, or other materials that might contain viable mycobacteria to pigs must be avoided.
3. Breeding stock should be purchased from herds free of Tb (those in which no lesions of Tb are found in slaughter).
4. Efforts should be made to prevent all contact between pigs and wild birds. The potential for transmission of M. avium complex from infected wild birds to pigs is probably low but must be considered.
5. Pigs should not be housed in old poultry buildings unless they have first been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
6. Wood shavings should be kept dry and protected from contamination by wild birds and invertebrates.
There are few options for eliminating Tb from infected herds:
1. Producers should not use peat or kaolin as feed supplements.
2. Breeders may depopulate the herd and then repopulate with stock from Tb- free herds. Little is known about decontamination of infected soil since mycobacteria can survive in this environment for at least 4 years. To avoid such problems, concrete lots should be used whenever possible.
Concrete surfaces and equipment including farrowing areas and feeders which must be disinfected with a suitable disinfectant as described in earlier posts from AHDB Pork webinar recently.
Ammonium disinfectants or halogens (e.g., Chlorine) will not kill mycobacteria. A mycobacterial infection will recur if the source of infection cannot be effectively decontaminated or if replacement stock is not separated from the source.
Producers may choose to endure the 6-month period until all exposed pigs have been slaughtered if the source of infection can be determined and eliminated. Mycobacterial disease increases the need for mandatory identification of slaughter pigs. The ability to trace pigs with mycobacterial infection to the herd of origin is useful to solve this problem. IT IS UP TO YOU TO ASK THE BREEDER IF THEIR HERD HAS SUFFERED TB IN THE LAST TWO TO THREE YEARS. YOU WILL NOT OFFEND A BREEDER YOU ARE SHOWING DUE DILIGENCE.
The Proposed compensation rates in place by DEFRA already in place in Scotland and Wales. UK to be confirmed.
Breeding female (Gilt or Sow) – £250
Breeding male – £350
Suckler (a pig weighing under 25kg) – £30
Weaner (a pig weighing from 25kg to 35kg) – £40
Grower or Finisher (a pig weighing over 35kg) – £90
Pictures show:
Tuberculous lesions in various tissues of pigs at slaughter
Bronchial lymph node (A)
Submandibular lymph nodes (B, C)
Enlarged mediastinal lymph node (D).
Photo above shows retropharyngeal lymph node of a pig with TB. The lymph node shows many tubercles, some of which are merging (image source: APHA)
Map Bovine TB checker http://www.ibtb.co.uk
Photos and information courtesy of BMC Veterinary research, DEFRA, Harvard University