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Lameness in pigs, prevalence, risk factors, causes and the relationship with limb lesions

The pig production industry is the third most important agricultural sector in Ireland, accounting for 6% of the gross agricultural output (GAO). It is a sector which is currently facing substantial financial pressure as a result of the rise in the price of cereal in 2010 coupled with the decrease in pig prices. It is therefore important to find ways to improve on farm productivity in order make units more profitable. Lameness in pigs is a major health problem on commercial pig farms and is an area of growing concern. Lameness has both welfare and economic implications. Welfare of the pig is reduced because lameness is in many cases associated with severe pain and discomfort and from an economic point of view, lameness results in an increased work load, increased medical expenses and a reduction in farm productivity. The EU Directive 2001/88/EC states that in all 25 member states “sows and gilts shall be kept in groups during a period starting from 4 weeks after the service to 1 week before the expected time of farrowing” from January 2013. This will require a major shift from individual stall housing, which predominates in Ireland, by this date. It is predicted that lameness and leg problems in pregnant sows in Ireland will escalate as a result of change from gestation stalls to loose housing of pregnant sows on slatted floors. The identification of the extent of on-farm problems such as lameness and identifying causes and possible methods to prevent lameness in some instances may improve sow longevity and number and quality of finisher stock thus farm productivity.

This project is funded by the Teagasc Walsh fellowship Scheme and the research is carried out in Ireland. This research aims to determine the prevalence of lameness and limb lesions in Irish pig farms and Identify the risk factors for limb lesions and lameness by carrying out a cross sectional study throughout Ireland. It also investigates the effects of feeding replacement gilts (developing female pig selected for breeding) a developer diet, a conventional finisher diet and a conventional gestating sow diet during the development period on; lameness, limb health, behaviour and carcass characteristics. The majority of pig producers feed replacement gilts a finisher (factory pig) or gestating sow diet from selection for breeding to first service. The developer diet contains an appropriate blend of ingredients to meet the needs of a future breeding sow as well as the inclusion of a blend of trace minerals and vitamins at levels which aim to improve claw integrity and health.

Amy Quinn BSc. MSc.

Walsh Fellow with:

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Pig Development Department,
Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre
Teagasc, Moorepark
Co. Cork

Tel: + 353 (0) 25 42350