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Overstocked hospital pens

The idea of the hospital pen has caught on well. And that's good. However, on the 30 or so large production units in five countries I have been invited to tour this spring and summer, by far the large majority - about 80% no less - were making one or both of these serious errors, at least in my opinion…

The idea of the hospital pen has caught on well. And that's good. However, on the 30 or so large production units in five countries I have been invited to tour this spring and summer, by far the large majority - about 80% no less - were making one or both of these serious errors, at least in my opinion…

1. The hospital pens were nearly all in the main building(s).

2. They were overstocked (overcrowded) especially during an outbreak of disease. The reasons given for these errors were always: "We just haven't enough space."

Sure, I understand this, but what producers are failing to realise is the damage both errors are doing to productivity.

Breeding ground for infection
A hospital pen is a breeding ground for infection. You don't need me to tell you that. It must be sited well away from the indigenous pigs This is especially important at the nursery stage of rearing.

Workers attending to the hospitalised pigs must wash their hands, change overalls and scrub, not just dip, their boots before moving back to the healthy pigs. This is part of modern-day management, just because after meddling or uncaring politicians, the cost of food and a low pig price - disease is our worst enemy!

Farmers who have adopted the 'Streaming' concept (see my Pig Production - What the Textbooks Don't Tell You textbook, pps. 241-247) have realised what failure to keep diseased pigs well away from the healthy ones could cost them a 9% rise in operating costs (Gadd 1997) over the whole herd, due to the close proximity of the sickly pigs to the healthy ones.

Money
Overstocking costs money. Even among healthy pigs. With the help of several farmers I measured it carefully several years back. At 15% overstocking (for example, 14 pigs/pen instead of 12) then destocking by this amount, and allowing for 15% higher housing overheads, gave a 6:1 economic benefit (Gadd 2003). Even I was surprised!

If healthy pigs can respond to this extent what would unhealthy ones do? Their immune system is already weakened, challenged or acutely activated - this latter itself eats up food energy - and the stress of disturbance and close contact must delay recovery anyway. Please don't overcrowd sickly pigs.

Okay - what about that perennial excuse of not having enough space? I meet it every where I go.

Let us discuss this next time - I've some ideas for you.

4 comments

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    Bruce Winkler

    Hospital pens are always overcrouded and are too close to healthy animals. This is a common sense mgmt issue that is never thought out properly, and if the producer says that he does not have enough space ,then he or she must euthanize the sick pigs that are not going to recover. Sick pigs are carriers and producers tend to try for toooo long to to save a sick pig.

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    Henry Rosolowski

    I agree with Bruce Winkler's comments, but add that, if the comments from the producer is that ' we don't have enough room,' then overcrowding probably exists in all pens, especially in the nursery. With todays genetic capability and the numbers we are getting, does not match barn design/capacity. Those producers would be further ahead to either cut back on sows, or sell some isoweans.With proper spacing the producer will probably make more money with less pigs. He is now producing a huge number of pigs for the hospital, which costs a lot of money, and pigs require a certain amout of space to grow. Soon his barn just gets back up with slow growing pigs and is not getting his packer's best price.

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    John Gadd

    "Thanks to Messrs Winkler an Rosolwski`s sensible observations.
    I`m making some suggestions here shortly on how I, when faced with the situation on-farm, tackle the hearfelt cry of `We just ain`t got any spare room!

    In about two thirds of the cases, with some imagination and having it explained to them what they can do, for example, with spare land outside - and how to do it, even in winter, they have had a go. Following up later, about half were successful. As reader Winkler rightly says, farmers don`t realise the oncost of indoor, overstocked, juxtaposed hospital pens. As I said previously I`ve had a go at measuring these `errors` against what I call properly `streamed` pigs, and it is about equivalent to an increased production cost of 9%. That pays for a lot of time and trouble!


    Please read my suggestions in a forthcoming blog."

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    Daniel Torrents

    From last March I visited a dozen of Chinese pig farms and any of them were overstoked. Of course all hospitals were in the middle of units. Do you have any experience in Chinese farms? I just started to work here and I will appreciate any comment.

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