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Early indicators of iron deficiency in piglets

Dear Daktari

My name is Mr Odanga, a pig farmer from Porti, Busia County, and a regular reader of Smart Harvest. I have been keeping pigs for some time now. In the beginning I let them walk in the farm in search of feeds. Due to their destructive rooting behaviour, which was causing me trouble with neighbours, I decided to confine them and feed them from there. The piglets are not growing as fast as they used to do and are now taking long time to attain market weight, which is negatively affecting my business. Some of them are weak, pale and I have lost some, which was not happening initially. I'm yet to call in a vet, but I wish to get your advice on what I need to do to avoid this problem.

Mr Odanga, Busia County.

Dear Mr Odanga,

Thanks for reading the Smart Harvest and most importantly for getting time to write to us. It is through such feedback that we are able to meet the information needs of our readers. Although for a thorough analysis and pinpointing of the exact problem, more information from a physical visit and examination of the said animals is always the right thing to do. Nonetheless, I will still advise, and finally recommend a vet visit to the farm for an examination to corroborate my advice.

When rearing piglets, two things must be taken into consideration, without which the piglets will not grow as fast. One is teeth clipping. The second is iron supplementation. Piglets are born with needle teeth, which need to be cut; failure to which they will bite their mother and cause wounds on the teat. The end result will be a sow reluctant to suckle and this will negatively affect the growth rate of piglets. 

Piglets are born with very little iron in their system and the sow milk despite being rich in all other nutrients, it has very low iron. Unfortunately, piglets need iron to support their fast growth rate. Iron is important in the formation and function of red blood cells in the transportation of oxygen throughout the body. Therefore, it is important for good physiological state. Iron deficiency will clinically manifest through lack of thriftiness, pale body, fatigue and laboured breathing. Lack of iron predisposes animals to other diseases, especially those of the respiratory system. Sometimes death may occur.

The causes of iron deficiency are confinement of piglets as their contact with iron from the soil during rooting is eliminated. Low iron content in the sow’s colostrum and a rapid growth rate of piglets can quickly deplete the body reservoirs. Piglets require about 7mg of iron daily to support the body functions against a total of 40mg in their body at birth. If no supplementation is done, deficiency develops. 

How is Iron Deficiency managed in piglets?

Let them snout – When in confinement or in concrete farrowing pens, piglets are denied their natural behaviour of rooting, which helps them get iron from the soil. This is said to meet their demand. Soil can be placed in the farrowing pen to allow the piglets to get access to the iron in soils. But the soil must be free of parasites.

Oral supplementation – There are iron powders, pills, liquid and pastes available in the market. The paste is normally applied on the sow’s teats and ingested during suckling. The powder is normally given daily for the first two weeks.

Iron injections – This should be done by a vet because for effectiveness an appropriate form, amount and method of administration are required. This is normally given a day or two after birth and a second and third dose given at one and two weeks respectively.

 (Dr Othieno was the vet of the year in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council (KENTTEC). He can be reached via email – [email protected])  

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