How Irish farmers can take ‘a proactive approach to PRRS’ – the Dutch way

The Pig Vet Clinical Club met last week in Enfield, Co. Meath. The focus of the meeting was the ‘proactive approach to PRRS’ and featured two guest speakers from the Netherlands.

Frank Bekkers, from sponsors MSD Animal Health, gave an overview of how the pig industry in the Netherlands has had to change in recent years.

As the numbers of farms have reduced and the number of sows increased, the farmer has become a manager and takes a different approach to staffing and investment.

The Dutch pig farmers have managed to drastically reduce the amount of antibiotics being used, whilst keeping production high with around 30 piglets per sow per year. In part, this has been possible through the increasing use of vaccines, with high rates of vaccination against circovirus, mycoplasma and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

The other guest speaker, John van der Wielen, heads up a large commercial pig veterinary practice, as well as offering workshops and pig signals training.

John van der Wielen. Image source: Eunan Sweeney

Breakdowns in biosecurity

In the Netherlands, vets must visit each farm every four weeks by law and typically offer a range of services including animal inspections, health monitoring and process audits.

It is also common to work with farmers on their vaccination protocols, including the storage of medicines and correct use of needles or, preferably, needle-free devices.

Dr. van der Wielen explained that, in the Netherlands, over 95% of farms test positive for PRRS at some part of the production system. Although most sows are vaccinated to prevent the signs and spread of disease, only around 90% of piglets are vaccinated.

Breakdowns in biosecurity allow the virus to continue to circulate leading to occasional outbreaks in vulnerable groups.

Dutch vets regularly test pigs at all stages and when they get a positive result, they begin the hunt for the virus.

John gave examples of how it is often a biosecurity issue that allows the PRRS virus to survive; for example, the worker with a bad back who refused to wear washable workboots and the weigh-crate that wasn’t cleaned properly when used before gilts were introduced.

Dr. van der Wielen concluded: “The solution is not in the bottle [of vaccine], but the bottle is part of the solution.”

Maureen Prendergast, technical manager for MSD Animal Health, explained further: “Sow vaccination is essential in the fight against PRRS, but piglet vaccination can only be dropped with very good management.

“The problem can be very costly, both in itself and through secondary bacterial infections. It is essential that farmers and vets have an honest discussion about management, biosecurity levels and test results before deciding whether piglet vaccination is required on their farm.”

More information

Farmers should discuss their vaccination regime with their vet who can also advise on improving herd health management and on-farm biosecurity.

Further information is available from the SPC, your veterinary practitioner or MSD Animal Health, Red Oak North, South County Business Park, Leopardstown, Dublin 18, Ireland.

MSD Animal Health can be contacted at: 01-2970220; or emailed at: [email protected].