The sick bay on pig farms is often not clean enough

The dispensary or the remaining ward is a neglected child in many companies. Research at HyCare Experimental Farm De Raamloop shows that technical outcomes improve if hygiene is taken care of in the comfort department.

“Compare it to a hospital,” says manager Leon Rikers of HyCare experimental farm De Raamloop in Bledel, North Brabant. “If there’s a lot of cleaning somewhere, it’s there. That makes sense, because you don’t want to expose susceptible people to unwanted germs. The same is true of pigs. It is particularly desirable that the weakest animals keep them in the cleanest environment possible. .

Experimental firm De Raamloop is part of The Schippers Group and is focused on putting the HyCare concept into practice. The focus is on a healthy working and living environment for farmers and animals, which also benefits animal welfare. Cleanliness is an essential component of the HyCare approach.

best level

“However, we came to the conclusion that the situation in the rest department was also not ideal on our experimental farm, where hygiene and animal health are of the highest standard,” Rikers says.

The infirmary is the bleakest place in the company

Leon Rikers, manager of HyCare De Raamloop test farm in Bledel

In this regard, it was the same with us as with many pig breeders. The dispensary/lounge section is often neglected when it comes to hygiene. These sections are often the least cleaned, degreased and disinfected. And that while this is where the pigs that have a dire need for an optimal living environment in terms of health are located.

There is no all in all

Veterinarian Rene Sol of DAP VUG in Voorthuizen, Gelderland, also finds that the remaining dispensary/ward is often poor in terms of the attention given to it by the pig farmer. Sometimes I visit companies where the dispensary is not completely empty. This mainly applies to companies that do not implement an all-in-all system.

According to Saul, not making such a section animal-free, cleaning and sterilizing such a section can be disastrous for the health of the animal on the farm. Because then the sick area can turn into a place in the company that makes it possible for infections and germs to continue to spread throughout the company.

Treat quickly and efficiently

The vet prefers to move the piglets and piglets as little as possible to the dispensary/rest ward. This begins with quickly and efficiently treating a sick animal. With successful treatment, the animal recovers and can remain on the ward. If not, a thorough evaluation for transportation to hospital or euthanasia is important.

Sol believes that euthanasia is the best option if the chance of recovery is limited by targeted therapy. “It’s about animal welfare, but it’s also about business economics.” In specific cases, moving to a sick bay could well contribute to the pigs’ recovery, he says.

‘Certainly if you are providing sick leave with circumstances that do not stand in the way of recovery. Consider a firm floor with rubber carpeting or a sandy floor. In pigs with leg problems or an umbilical hernia, this can ensure that they recover more quickly.

Separate loft for each section

In practice, the veterinarian sometimes sees pig farmers have separate sheds for each department where they take sick and remaining animals. This usually works fine. The animals involved quickly move to such a barn where they are easy to handle and check by pig farms. This care room for each department reduces the need for a dispensary.

Why in many companies is the dispensary/rest department at the back? Rikers suspects that human psychology plays a role. “The infirmary/rest ward is the bleakest place in the company. So pig farmers don’t like to come here and this contributes to a less ideal situation.

At De Raamloop, the manager took action to do a better job. At the company, we are constantly working on improving hygiene management. We concluded that this must also happen in the remaining wing.


Schippers’ R&D department investigated the cleanliness of the remaining section. The conclusion confirmed the suspicion that there is: a very high bacterial count. After the next round, additional cleaning, degreasing and disinfection were carried out.

This not only led to a lower number of bacteria, but also to better performance of the pigs. The growth of lighter pigs increased 25 percent from 860 to 915 grams per day. It makes sense, because in a germ-rich environment, a pig has to put a lot of energy into maintaining the immune system. This is important, because it is the remaining pigs that count most in technical and economic results.

medium growth

Rijker’s goal is to achieve a year-round average growth of 1,100 grams per fattened pig per day for the entire company. In order to achieve this, the results for the remaining pigs still need to be refined and the 25 percent lighter pigs will be growing at 950g per day by the end of this year.

The manager investigates whether technical results have been improved by tightening the hygiene strategy in the comfort department.

For the current round we applied the deep cleaning method. You can use a special soap that removes proteins, germs and body fat from the walls and floors of the suite. In a few weeks we will know what the effect will be.

Saying goodbye to an animal is the best option if the chance of recovery is limited by targeted therapy. © Tuan Wermans

A good euthanasia policy reduces the need for a dispensary

The use of a sick bay on a pig farm is closely related to the policy of euthanasia. If there was a well-thought-out and targeted euthanasia policy, pigs with poor prospects would not end up sick. This prevents unnecessary suffering. Pig farmers also have a sick bay that unnecessarily increases disease pressure.

Decisions regarding the care and killing of sick or injured animals are not easy. Such decisions are the subject of regular discussion in the management of the veterinary company.

Timely euthanasia of animals is important to animal care. Under strict conditions, set out in EU Regulation No. 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, livestock keepers are allowed to euthanize their care animals. One of these conditions is the availability and implementation of an evaluation framework.

Decision supporters

For several years now, pig farmers have been able to use decision-making tools for this. Through decision support, pig farmers receive assistance in making decisions regarding the care of sick or injured pigs.

Decision-making aids for piglets and pigs from two months of age have been developed in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Animal Care, the Royal Netherlands Veterinary Society and the Pig and Hypoxia Producers Organization. They are practical and clear documents that pig farmers and/or barn employees can use.

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