Profile of pig farms combining high performance and low antimicrobial usage. Collineau, L.; Backhans, A.; Dewulf, J.; Emanuelson, U.; Grosse Beilage, E.; Lehébel, A.; Loesken, S.; Okholm Nielsen, E.; Postma, M.; Sjölund, M.; Stärk, K. D. C.; Belloc, C. (2017) Profile of pig farms combining high performance and low antimicrobial usage within four European countries. Veterinary Record 181, 657.
With the pressure on us to reduce antimicrobial use, it seems impossible to maintain a high production level. Nevertheless, the article shows something that many of us have already experienced. It is possible to produce well with a low antimicrobial use!
The article shows which are the traits that make these farms significantly different from average farms. On them, the biosecurity measures, both internal and external, are stricter. Applying biosecurity means understanding which are the risks and place value on the cost, time and money required by biosecurity. How many times have we asked ourselves what is the profitability of biosecurity? It is a difficult question, and it is not easy to answer it, because the impact of a new disease can be very small or large depending on the disease. If what we avoid is the introduction of an infection such as App, the savings will be “X”, but if what we avoid is the introduction of a notifiable disease, such as African swine fever, the return on investment of the same measures can be way greater. In my opinion, the article shows that whoever reaches a high production level reaches it because they have a good knowledge about livestock and because they are organised and diligent regarding the routines. There is no production without tidiness and routine. Curiously enough, the top farms in terms of production and low antibiotic use were the ones with a younger age at weaning. Nowadays, it seems that if we do not reach 4 weeks of age at weaning it is not possible to obtain good results in the subsequent stages. Nevertheless, the data in the article disprove it, and it should not be surprising, because the age at weaning has been used as a tool to control diseases. We only have to review the literature regarding medicated early weaning for the control of different infections. Although it is very adventurous to say it, it would seem that the article comes to the conclusion that an early age at weaning would help to control both digestive and respiratory diseases, although it could also be a coincidence, because good farmers are able to provide the animals with what they need in every situation.
Another interesting aspect is that there were also top farms in high pig-density areas. This coincidence partially refutes the belief that if the farm is located in a high pig-density area it will have problems and antibiotic therapy will be almost essential.
It has not surprised me that that there is not a relationship between the use of vaccines and the use of antibiotics. In many cases, the farmer that uses few vaccines has few problems, and this would be perfectly applicable to the farmers that do not vaccinate against PCV2. It is the farmers that do not vaccinate the ones that do not have problems, and therefore it is difficult to establish relationships between the use of vaccines and antibiotics.
Abstract of the commented article
What are they studying?
How was it done?
The authors conducted a cross-sectional study among farrow-to-finish farms located in four European countries. The farms were classified based on their technical performance (weaned piglets per sow per year, WSY) and their antimicrobial consumption. Top farms combining high performance and low antimicrobial usage were compared with the regular ones (i.e. the ones either reporting a high antibiotic consumption or reporting low antibiotic consumption but also low technical indexes) with respect to their characteristics, biosecurity and health status. A multivariate logistic model was introduced to determine which of the characteristics, biosecurity aspects and health status of the farms could help to determine the success or failure with regard to being a top-farm. Among the farms located in high pig-density areas, the authors also identified the main criteria increasing the probability of being a top farm.
What are the results and what implications does this paper have?
The authors showed that farrow-to-finish farms can be successful at maintaining a high technical performance and a low antimicrobial usage whatever the farm characteristics are, even when targeting a high WSY index through early weaning.
Biosecurity pays off - The multiple logistic regression suggested that the probability of being a top farm was clearly increased with the decrease in the risk of introducing the infectious agents on a farm whose location in a high pig-density area could entail an increase in the aforementioned risk. Nevertheless, the adherence to increased internal biosecurity measures, such as a strict farm compartmentation, thus minimizing the risk of disease transmission on the farm, was key for increasing the chance of being a top-farmer whatever the farm environment or the occurrence of disease episodes.
Vaccination is an efficient alternative to antimicrobial (over)usage- Not surprisingly, as a major indicator of antimicrobial treatment, antimicrobial usage would increase on farms where diseases are not efficiently prevented. Nevertheless, the introduction of vaccines did not increase the probability of getting rid of a high antimicrobial usage. The authors acknowledged that the absence of information about the infection status justifying the implementation of vaccinations was detrimental for assessing the contribution of vaccination schemes to the probability of being a top farm. However, when the authors focused on farms located in high pig-density areas, the probability of being in the top-farm group was clearly higher with a higher internal biosecurity and increased vaccination strategies.
Both high technical performance and low antimicrobial usage are more likely observed in systems where disease control is more effective and higher biosecurity features are present. Even on farms that show a high infection risk in high pig-density areas, a higher internal biosecurity and increased vaccinations are effective approaches for controlling the impact of infectious diseases without using other approaches such as a high antimicrobial usage.