Courtesy of his presentation, to the recent Fane Valley Pig conference, veterinarian David Stewart discussed the growing threat of PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome) – or Blue Ear Disease – to the pig sector.

He initially pointed out that the current cold and damp weather –conditions are particularly conducive to the survival of the virus.

“The disease was first identified here in Ireland about 20 years ago,” he explained.

“Symptoms in growing pigs include sneezing, coughing, the onset of fever, general dullness, discolouration of the ears and snout, a drop off in performance and an increase in mortality levels. Reproductive failure will also be a feature of the disease in breeding sows.

Stewart then went on to highlight the best ways of keeping the disease at bay and how to reduce its impact in the event of an outbreak. He referenced a range of issues in this context, including pig unit location, unit design and the role of vaccination.

“Looking to the future Stewart suggested that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development may give favourable consideration to a form of PRRS eradication programme.

“Obviously this will have to be considered in an all-island context. However, the envisaged scheme would mirror that which was put in place to tackle the Aujeszyky’s challenge,” he said.

The issue of piglet management was also addressed at the event. The presentation given by Devenish Nutrition’s Mick O’Connell was centred on two themes: the existence, or not, of pig compensatory growth and the precise nutritional requirements of piglets.

On the issue of compensatory growth O’Connell pointed out that many theories had been expounded, none of which had been proven conclusively.

“If compensatory growth is a genuine phenomenon then restricted pigs should exhibit a significantly faster rate of gain than their non-restricted counterparts in the period of catch up growth, leading to the securing of equal body weights by both groups at the end of the feeding period,” he explained.

“However, what the trial work does show is that even the best performing herds suffer form a degree of genetic under achievement. There is also a growing belief that if compensatory growth is a true reality, then it should be taken as a head start, rather than a true catch up.”

On the subject of piglet nutrition, the Devenish representative pointed out that nutritional programmes, designed to increase started pig performance will also have a direct effect on the performance levels secured during the grower and finishing phases.

He concluded: “Diet selection and feeding levels during the early days of a pig’s life are truly important. Tailored nutrition will help increase margins.”