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Keeping Your Pigs Healthy –Vaccination

Vaccinations for Free Range Pigs

By Lee McCosker

Vaccination is one of the best and simplest methods we have of managing disease in our free range pig herd yet it is often overlooked.  Vaccinating the herd can prevent some pretty important diseases that have the potential to affect the productivity of your animals or even cause death. One of the most common responses to being questioned about a vaccination program is ‘we don’t need to, we don’t have that disease’.  Unfortunately, once the disease is present it is too late and eradication can be costly and pig losses high.

Common pig diseases to vaccinate for

One of the most common yet preventable diseases in pigs is Erysipelas. It is also known as Diamond Skin Disease because of the raised, blue/pink welts on the skin of infected pigs.  Leptospirosis can affect your pigs if it is prevalent in your area. Porcine Parvovirus, while present in free range herds, generally shows little effect but can be a problem for pigs that are housed.  All of these diseases are present in the environment; in the soil, manure or urine so avoiding them is nearly impossible.  You will always need to vaccinate against Erysipelas but check with your vet to see if your should be protecting your pigs from any of the other diseases mentioned.

Don’t wait until disease strikes – vaccinate.

Pig Immunity to disease

Protection from disease begins within the first hours of life.  Piglets must consume colostrum (first milk) as soon as possible and with 12 hours of birth to receive some immunity to some diseases from mum.  This type of immunity is very short lived however and only lasts a few weeks so it is important to vaccinate your piglets at weaning or around 6 weeks of age. Vaccinating piglets too early could inter with the passive immunity that they have received in colostrum so weaning age is a good time.

Whenever a pig is vaccinated for the first time, there is a two stage process that must be carried out.  After the initial injection is given, a second is usually required within four weeks (read the instruction sheet supplied with the vaccine).  The second injection is extremely important and must not be missed or you will not have vaccinated your pigs correctly and they will not have adequate protection from the disease you are treating for.

One of the biggest barriers to implementing a vaccination program is simply not having the confidence to give an injection to an animal. It will be money well spent to visit your vet or attend a training course for professional instructions to give you confidence in the procedure. Because vaccines are generally given just under the skin (subcutaneous) and are a small dose, the task is not too difficult and it will easily be mastered with a little practice.  It is a good idea to have another person hold piglets while you vaccinate, or if you are treating larger animals, a race or crate that will temporarily stop the animal moving about will make the job much more pleasant for you and the pig.

Vaccines are not available in single doses but this should not deter you from using them because when compared to the cost of not vaccinating, disposing of any unused product is worth it.  Order them through your vet or animal feed supplier who will also be able to supply you with needles and syringes or a small vaccination gun that can be fitted to the vaccine bottle.

Using the right equipment

Using the right equipment is very important.  Read the product instructions to find out what size needle to use as this will vary depending upon route of injection.  Subcutaneous injections are delivered just under the skin so need to be quite short while a longer needle that can penetrate the fat layer and reach the muscle is needed for an intramuscular shot.

Withholding periods (WHP) also need to be monitored.  This simply means the time that must lapse from end of treatment until the pig can be used for human consumption. Keeping a record in a farm diary of any treatments given to your pigs is the best way to ensure that you do not send pigs off to the abattoir while they are still within the withholding period. To do so could mean that testing may register drug residue in the carcass.

 Some points to remember:

  • ·        Ask your vet for advice on an appropriate vaccination program
  • ·        Always vaccinate against Erysipelas
  • ·        Read the instructions on the label or packaging
  • ·        Follow storage instructions as most vaccines require refrigeration
  • ·        Use the correct size needle
  • ·        Use clean equipment
  • ·        Give the correct dose
  • ·        Do not store unused vaccine – follow product instructions
  • ·        Complete the vaccination process as required – give the second injection on time
  • ·        Give booster shots every 6 months
  • ·        Keep records of any treatments given to your pigs
  • ·        Adhere to any withholding periods (WHP)
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The opinions, advice and information contained in this website have not been provided at the request of any person but are offered by  PROOF and Australian Pig Farmers solely for informational purposes. While the information provided has been formulated in good faith, it should not be relied on as a substitute for professional advice. Australian Pig Farmers, PROOF or do not accept liability in respect of any action taken by any person in reliance on the content of this publication.


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