Vet on Call: Don’t be caught on wrong foot, keep pigs clean

Saturday March 18 2017

Roxie Nancy in her pig farm in Juja.

Roxie Nancy in her pig farm in Juja. All animal farms should have very good hygiene, otherwise technically called bio-security. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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John is a successful farmer rearing pigs and cattle on the outskirts of Nairobi. He is meticulous about his farm operations run by his skilled farm manager, a diploma graduate of animal health.

Though I have known John for a few years, I had never served him until four weeks ago when he gave me a call.

The level of organisation and cleanliness on John’s farm was impressive but there was one stubborn problem that had emerged.

Many pigs appeared to be squatting and preferred to rest, lying on their sides. I noticed the ones lying down and those squatting all appeared to have “sky blue socks”. Some pigs had abscesses.

John said he was concerned because the pigs were eating poorly, the boars were having difficulties mating and the females could not withstand a boar mount due to the pain in the feet.

“At this rate, I’m afraid I’ll go into serious losses because I’ll have no piglets or pigs to sell,” John concluded.

“We have been washing the pigs with copper sulphate solution for the last two weeks. It has caused the blue stains. Antibiotic injections have not helped,” Wafula, the farm manager explained.

He said about four weeks earlier, two pigs started limping on their hind legs. He found the hooves had cracked and the lowest foot joint was hot, painful and swollen.

Some pigs developed abscesses higher up the affected legs and on the shoulders.

He had washed the feet with copper sulphate solution and given antibiotic injections for three consecutive days but the condition had deteriorated.


He also opened ripe abscesses and flushed them with hydrogen peroxide and iodine.

The affected pigs had increased to 15 out of 60 adult pigs. The disease now affected both front and hind feet. A few pigs were barely able to stand.

I examined all the 15 pigs and confirmed Wafula’s findings. I explained the pigs were suffering from footrot. The disease can be economically devastating to a pig farmer because it reduces breeding and weight gains, thereby disrupting the pig sale programme.

Footrot is caused by many factors. The common culprit is fusiformis bacterial infection. The bacteria take advantage of cracks in the hoof, which may be caused by rough floors, wet floors or foot injuries.

Hoof cracks may also be caused by deficiency of calcium, phosphorus and the vitamin biotin. In cases where the cause of lameness in pigs is not clinically clear to the vet, extensive investigations are required to make a proper diagnosis.

The investigations can be expensive especially where the pig feeds have to be analysed in the laboratory for their vitamin and mineral content.

Footrot is prevented through good piggery hygiene. The floors should be kept dry and free of sharp or broken surfaces.

The pigs should be given a well-balanced diet. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of footrot should be practised to avoid spread of the disease in the piggery.

If you leave footrot untreated or inadequately treated, the bacteria travel up the leg and cause abscesses in soft tissues.

When a severely affected pig lies on a hard surface for long, the tissues around the shoulders and upper thighs develop pressure sores and easily get infected. This explained the abscesses on John’s pigs.


I prescribed an appropriate antibiotic for Wafula to inject the affected pigs for five consecutive days. He would also dip the feet of all the pigs in a formalin solution twice per week for two weeks.

The healthy pigs would have a footbath of their own to avoid contamination. I also agreed with Wafula that he should continue opening the ripe abscesses and cleaning them rigorously with dilute hydrogen peroxide and iodine.

While John’s pig farm is very clean, I noticed he missed some key hygiene structures and procedures. There was no disinfectant footbath at the main entrance to the farm.

On the other hand, disinfection footbaths at the entry of each pig house were all dry.

As we got into each house, a worker, who accompanied us, would step on the rim of the dry disinfectant trench.

“John, I see your workers don’t like wetting their gumboots. They have developed a reflex to avoid the disinfectant,” I told him.

You see, all animal farms should have very good hygiene, otherwise technically called “bio-security”. Whenever people enter a farm or workers move from one animal house to the other, they introduce disease-causing micro-organisms carried on their feet and hands.

Bio-security, through disinfection footbaths and washing hands, helps to minimise the chances of germs being introduced on the farm or being spread into the various farmhouses.

I also noticed John allowed outsiders to get into the animal farm compound on foot or by vehicle and they would walk straight into the pig and cattle houses.

While I was at the farm, a pig trader drove into the farm and came directly into the pig houses.


He caressed the pigs and gave them his hand to sniff.

“John, you will need to install disinfectant footbaths at the main entrance, at the entrance to the animal compound and at the entrance into each animal house. The baths must contain disinfectant at all times and be protected from rapid evaporation and dilution by rainwater,” I advised.

Finally, I advised told him to limit outsiders from unnecessarily entering the animal compound, especially the pig houses.

John’s farm manager reported on phone the other day that the pigs have since fully recovered and their pig breeding and sales plan is back on track.

They have fixed the disinfectant footbaths and banned unsupervised entry into the farm.


The Clinic

Mbugua, Ruiru: Does michunu (naked neck hens) have less immunity to diseases and then how do I deal with birds infected with fowl pox and coryza?

Naked neck chickens, also called Turkens, Chirkens or Transylvania, have good immunity to many diseases and high tolerance to both heat and cold. Kindly seek the services of a veterinary doctor near you.

Duncan, Kasarani: Our five cows produce less than 24 litres a day, with one offering a litre. What is the problem?

The production of the cows is too low meaning management might be the problem. Seek vet services.