HOW TO EVALUATE SWINE LAMENESS
Each day, twice a day, you are given an opportunity to practice livestock management. Each time you feed, evaluate your pig from head to tail looking at the eyes, ears, mouth, feet, stance and tail set. It’s in these moments that you can catch an injury or illness in the early stage! Each day, you should perform a check of the pen and the health of your pig using the following charts:
LAMENESS IS DESCRIBED BY MERCK’S VET MANUAL AS:
“An abnormal stance or gait caused by either a structural or a functional disorder of the locomotor system. The animal is either unwilling or unable to stand or move normally. It can be caused by trauma, congenital or acquired disorders, infection, metabolic disorders, or nervous and circulatory system disease. Lameness is not a disease per se but a clinical sign. It is a manifestation of pain, mechanical restrictions causing alteration of stance or gait, or neuromuscular disease.”
What Merck’s is trying to say in plain language is, “your pig isn’t standing or walking correctly due to genetics, injury or illness. Lameness is the results of something that is wrong”.
So how it usually works, it’s time to feed and you notice that your pig is limping! What should you do? First, look for the obvious and most serious reason. Before you make a call to your advisor, breeder or vet, there a number of questions that you can answer that will help them determine an answer to your problem!
Answer the questions on the Health Evaluation Chart.
EVALUATION QUESTIONS TO ANSWER:
IS THERE AN OPEN INJURY? DO YOU SEE BLOOD?
Examine – if you see blood, clean the wound with water to reveal how minor or major the injury is. Sometimes a scrape or cut can cause swelling and limping, but it can still be considered an easy fix. If the cut is still actively bleeding, call for help and apply pressure to see if it will stop. There are products to get the blood to coagulate (stop bleeding). See the health tab for more steps.
Clean & Disinfect – If the cut is minor, wash with a 50/50 Betadine/Water mix and apply a topical spray or antibiotic. See medicine cabinet for options. Clean and reapply topical medicines for the next few days to see if the limping improves. Report your findings to your advisor. Reference article on How to Treat Cuts & Scrapes for more details.
This is a Normal & Healthy Foot. Examine the Leg & Toes.
Examine – Look to see if there is anything stuck in the bottom of the toe. Examining a pig’s foot can be tricky, but if you wait until the pig lies down, it will be much easier to view the feet. If anything looks odd, take a picture and send it to your advisor. A quick way to get your pig to lay down is to scratch or rub the belly. This will usually cause the pig to roll over on their side.
Look at the bottom of the foot, the heel and sole of the 2 large toes. Look for cracks or anything that shouldn’t be there! The 2 smaller toes are called dewclaws and they don’t support any weight and are not usually the cause for lameness. This is what a normal foot should look like.
This is an example of cracked toes & cracked dewclaws.
Clean & Disinfect – If there happens to be a rock stuck in the wall of the toe, pluck it out and you’re done. If it’s a nail or some other type of metal or other punctured object, you may need help getting the object out and soaking and cleaning the toe of any debris. This type of medical pig pedicure can be tricky to complete. Again, waiting for your pig to lay down will help the process. If there is a puncture, your pig may need a Tetanus Toxoid shot or other vet recommended antibiotic to ensure adequate healing. The toes and pads can easily crack or get dried out. Clean the toes with a 50/50 mix of Betadine solution. Starting the process by cleaning can help the healing process until other treatment is made.
Swelling - Are any of the Leg Joints Swollen?
Fencing & Gates – Does it look like the leg was caught in the fence or wire? Sometimes they will get a foot jammed under a fence or gate and get their leg sore. This usually gets better in a day or two. For muscle soreness, rub Blu Emu cream or linament twice a day (found in the arthritis section of your local drug store). This can help reduce swelling and aches of the sore muscles.
Examine – Look at all four legs for swelling. Look for any cuts, scrapes, bruises, punctures or bites. Bites can be from insects, spiders, other pigs or dogs. For any abrasions, refer to the Article on How to Treat Cuts and Scrapes in the Health Section for treatment.
Swelling – Swollen legs can be symptoms of minor cuts, soft tissue damage, joint injuries or a fracture. If you cannot locate any reason for the lameness, this may require your advisor or veterinarian to come evaluate the injury and provide a solution.
Are the pasterns down?
Examine – The pasterns (ankles) are not straight up. This is called down in the pasterns and is usually feed related. See the Health Tab for Downed Pasterns” for more specific information.
Feed Changes – Did you recently change feeds? Did you change how much feed you‘re giving each day? Was your pig over fed by mistake? Sometimes lameness issues can be caused by feed related issues.
How is the pig standing? Is he walking in a strained manner?
Examine Body Stance – If your pig is standing hunched backed and feet together, this position may indicate a stomach irritation or other internal illness. When caught early, most illnesses can be fixed quickly. Before you call your advisor, answer the these questions:
Off Feed? – Did your pig finish his food? Is there any left overs in his bucket? Does the feed smell fresh or rancid? Are there bugs in the feed? If it’s bad, throw it out, scrub the bucket and give new fresh feed. Clean the feed bucket daily if feeding your grain wet.
Lack of Water – Does your pig have access to fresh water? Is the water on? Sometimes lack of water can cause stress & heat related health issues that show up in the movement and stance of your pig. If the water is the issue, provide fresh water and electrolytes if the weather is really warm.
Count the Poop Piles – Is your pig pooping? Walk around and count how many fresh piles there are. The normal amount should be around 5-7 piles per day. Does your pig look constipated or messy with diarrhea? Intestinal issues can cause your pig to look lame because their stomachs hurt.
Temperature – Take the pig’s temperature. Normal is 102.5 and the average range is 95.2-103.3. Anything above or below this range should be evaluated using the Symptom & Health Assessment Chart. Call the results into your advisor or vet if the fever is high.
By examining your pig, your answers will help eliminate fix the “easy fixes” and push you closer to determining the real cause. If it’s environmental, fix it. If it’s a more serious issue, the sooner it’s identified, the sooner the pig can be treated and back on track. Remember, the more information and details you can provide will help your advisor direct you in managing the recovery your pig.
Be sure to take close up pictures and gather as much information as possible!
Market Pigs Weighing 230 lbs. – 280 lbs.
Lameness Prone – Market pigs in the 230-280 lbs. weight range are prone to lameness issues because of their rapid daily growth rate. In this weight range, pigs are gaining 1.5 lbs. – 2.5 lbs. daily! So simply put, their bones and muscles are having to readjust to balance the added extra weight. This can cause them to get sore muscles and toe pads. Can you imagine if you were gaining 2 lbs every day for a month? I bet it would be easy to have sore muscles!
Footing & Sore Toe Pads – Watch the surfaces that your pig is walking on. If your pig at home has always walked on grass and dirt, and then suddenly at a show is walking on concrete and asphalt, you might find them sore. It’s similar to us walking barefoot when we always wear shoes. It’s easy to get sore! So be mindful of the changes in footing for your pig. On hard surfaces, walk your pigs carefully and slowly, this will help avoid sore pads. A pig with sore feet in a show will be marked low or disqualified.
This is yet another step in livestock management and as you keep these things in mind, you may prevent lameness injuries or soreness. You never know when you’ll have a pig who is prone to lameness. So take precautions and handle your pig carefully. Always be looking at your pig to see if anything is different. Always report your findings to your advisor or vet for further evaluation. They will appreciate your efforts!