In these financially lean times for pig farming, it’s a smart decision to vaccinate against ileitis. Vaccination saves money in that you have fewer truckloads of feed coming through your gate.

Gareth Marry from Co. Meath started vaccinating all the piglets on his 500+ sow farm after his vet positively identified the presence of Lawsonia intracellularis on the farm through post-mortem and laboratory testing. 

Lawsonia intracellularis is the bacteria known to cause ileitis in growing pigs and here in Ireland, it is most usually seen in pigs between 10 and 16-weeks-of-age, often beginning to spread in the second stage weaners.

Gareth’s farm is not unusual, a recent study showed ileitis to be present in 90-100% of farms tested across six European countries, while a previous report showed 95% of pig farms from the UK and Ireland were infected. 

Maureen Prendergast, Technical Manager at MSD Animal Health explained further: “The bacteria are easily transmitted through modern pig units, even with ‘all-in-all-out’ systems, disinfection and biosecurity.

“Many experts agree that it is virtually impossible to eradicate Lawsonia intracellularis and ileitis from commercial pig farms, as studies have shown it can return following eradication. The disease is currently managed with a combination of hygiene, antibiotics and vaccination.” 

Lawsonia infection causes inflammation and thickening of the gut wall, even in the absence of diarrhoea. Unlike short-term bacterial gut infections, part of the ileum becomes permanently damaged, causing long-term reduction in food absorption and digestive efficiency. Even subclinical infection can affect performance indicators such as FCR and ADWG for the rest of the pig’s life.

“Since I took over the farm in 2015, we’ve constantly measured feed conversion and growth rates, so I’ve been able to prove without any doubt that we’ve made huge improvements in performance as a result of vaccinating against ileitis,” continued Gareth.

Vaccination on Gareth’s pig farm

Gareth has succeeded in reducing FCR to under 2.4:1 and has seen a huge improvement across a wide range of production metrics since he began vaccinating.

“We’re producing more pigs, to a heavier weight, in less time and with more uniformity and as a result we’re able to finish all the pigs on our own farm. Because we measure performance we can prove without any doubt the huge improvements,” he said.

There have been multiple studies on the effect of Lawsonia intracellularis on pig production. It has been shown to cause a direct reduction in average daily gain of between 9% and 32%, and an increased feed conversion ratio ranging from 6% to 25%.

At a time when feed costs are on the rise, this can have a significant impact on profitability. 

Even a 6% reduction in weaning-to-sale FCR represents a saving in feed costs of €7.50/finished pig (based on 2020 Teagasc National Weaning to Sale FCE of 2.4).

Gareth has also noticed other benefits from the reduction in ileitis on the farm, including a reduction in behavioural vices such as tail-biting and aggression between pigs.

Staff labour hasn’t been affected as the piglets are being vaccinated for Lawsonia at 28 days, at the same time as receiving vaccines for PCV2 and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae.

MSD Animal Health markets an injectable inactivated vaccine that has been proven to reduce diarrhoea, loss of daily weight gain, intestinal lesions, bacterial shedding and mortality caused by Lawsonia intracellularis infection.

The vaccine can be given by intramuscular injection from 3-weeks-of-age and offers 21-weeks’ duration of immunity. The intradermal version has recently been launched for use with the IDAL device. 

Maureen Prendergast added: “European legislation is being introduced early in 2022 that will affect the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. We’re also seeing a ban on the use of therapeutic use of zinc oxide coming in from June of next year.

“So, controlling scour in weaned piglets is going to present a real challenge for farmers. Thankfully vaccines against bacterial challenges like Lawsonia intracellularis not only play a role in managing disease but research studies in both the US and Denmark have shown that they can reduce the use of antibiotics and antimicrobial products.”

“We’ve been very impressed with the new injectable vaccine since we started using it shortly after it launched about 18 months ago,” concluded Gareth.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to stop now. Every single pig every week gets the vaccine because we believe in it and the truth is in the results. We’re getting better performance with substantially reduced feed.

“The way I see it the cost of the vaccine is actually a saving when you look at how much less feed is consumed by the pig over time.”

More information 

Farmers should discuss their vaccination regime with their vet who can also advise on infection control and on-farm biosecurity.

Further information is available from 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]