The worst nightmare for any livestock farmer is to wake up one morning and find an animal dead or a number of them sick.
It becomes more distressing when the veterinary service providers come over and they are unable to offer solutions.
The farmer is left wondering what options she has other than watch her animals die leaving empty pens, empty pockets and unpaid debts.
In my opinion, this situation should not happen unless the farmer is not well-informed and the service providers are not professionally versed with events that should be initiated once they encounter difficult disease situations.
I always advise livestock farmers to be on a permanent learning mode on animal health and production. They should not seek to be experts in these fields but they must work to know the fundamental checks that a layman should be able to institute to know if they are generally getting good service and the right time for them to seek alternative professional opinion. They should also know where they can get public service diagnosis of difficult livestock diseases.
Even if a farmer is using private animal health services, she should always have a good rapport with the government veterinary officer in her area to consult if she needs to request diagnostic services from the veterinary directorate. The local veterinary offices may not have diagnostic services but they are always able to guide farmers on how to get the services if the private animal health service provider fails to do so.
In the last one month, I have had four enquiries of pigs dying in what the owners considered mysterious circumstances. In all the cases, the farmers had engaged private animal health service providers. They were given diagnoses such as salt poisoning, unidentified bacterial infections, vitamin-mineral deficiencies and simply unidentified disease.
Lost 15 pigs
The first farm was in Kiambu. It had lost 15 pigs between the weaner and porker ages in the preceding two months. Two baconers had also died. When the farmer called me, there were two porkers that were at different stages of the disease. One was weak, dull and wobbly. It could stand but the hind legs kept on going closer to the ground at the hock joints as it tried to walk.
The other one was already lying on the floor unable to stand and having periodic convulsions. The farmer sent me a video of the sick pigs and a panoramic view of the housing. I also interviewed her on phone.
From the footage, history of the problem and the post-mortem observations made by the farmer earlier on one dead pig, I diagnosed gut oedema. I cautioned the farmer not to open pig carcasses in future but seek professional help because she was endangering her health and that of her workers and family, as well as her surviving pigs. In any case, she would really not be able to make a diagnosis of the problem since she is not trained. You see, when she explained to me what she had seen, I was able to decipher the meaning of the changes but to her it meant nothing.
The farmer further told me she had decided to take the very sick pig to the Government Veterinary Research Laboratories at Kabete for diagnosis.
I gave her an antibiotic and multivitamin prescription. The pigs would get the multivitamin treatment as a single dose but the combination antibiotic would be given for three days in water. She also had to establish and maintain a very high-level of hygiene on the farm for the workers, the pigs and the environment.
I also determined she was using very low quality feeds and the pigs were overfed in the attempt to give them adequate nutrition. I advised her to use commercial feeds and offer the animals the correct daily quantities as recommended for the different age groups of the pigs.
The feed she was using was manually mixed by a manufacturer in her locality. She used it because it was apparently much cheaper than the reputable brands but the pigs took nine months to mature instead of six. The feed was not only of poor quality but also made her pig production uneconomical due to the extra three months of production.
The other three cases were from Nyandarua, Naivasha and Murang’a and were basically the same. In the Kiambu case, the results confirmed the diagnosis of gut oedema.
One would ask why many animal health service providers find it difficult to diagnose gut oedema. First, it is because we do not have a lot of pigs in the country and, therefore, the level of exposure of the service providers to pig diseases is low.
The second thing is that gut oedema has many different presentations that conflict with other diseases and conditions of pigs. I comprehensively explained the disease in my article of March 10, 2018. It is available online.
The final reason is that many service providers fear looking incompetent and thus lose the customer if they refer difficult cases to another vet. This is unethical and farmers should ditch any service provider who is fearful or unwilling to refer a difficult case to a more senior practitioner or a diagnostic laboratory.
In general, gut oedema may present as swelling of the face, difficulties in breathing, weakness and inability to stand. Other signs may include diarrhoea and vomiting. Some pigs die suddenly in very good shape without having shown signs of illness. Body temperature may be lower than normal, normal or elevated.
The skin may have some areas of reddening or turning purplish depending on the level of lung involvement. The disease mainly affects weaner piglets and those below 70kg body weight. Pigs older than baconers, including adult ones, may also get the disease.
A good clinical diagnosis is based on good history taking, clinical examination and observation of the farm’s hygiene status. Post-mortem examination is recommended where pigs have died.