Addressing gut health through a three-team approach

Operating a base of 120,000 sows in six states, selling 4 million hogs a year and overseeing 1,200 employees, The Maschhoffs is a complex hog production system, but Amy Maschhoffs says the same goes for pig intestines.

“The gut is complex in itself, just like our production systems, and so it’s important how we think about it, how we introduce protocols or solutions or technologies to be able to control and help our pigs be healthy and grow well” , said Maschhoff, who serves as director of health for the Carlisle, Illinois, pork production system.

During the recent Kemin Gut Health Symposium in Palm Springs, Calif., Maschhoff noted that because of the design of their production system, they often stress pigs, which can affect gut health. But one thing they have learned is that pigs are very resilient.

“I still think there’s a huge opportunity to think about how we can continue to do this better in these stressful situations in our manufacturing environment today, and I don’t want to talk about gut health without saying that we need to continue to we’re getting better at how we manage the stress events that happen in our pigs and our production systems,” Maschhoff said.

When it comes to gut health, the Maschhoffs take a systems approach and have three teams dedicated to it: Health, Nutrition and Operations. For operations, they try to follow the principle of lean manufacturing to reduce some of the variability.

“We don’t necessarily have barns or cookie-cutter design facilities, and so we try to create standard workflows,” Maschhoff said. “Whether your barn is in Wyoming or southern Illinois, we still want to recommend that you handle pigs and do certain things at the same time, and that helps our system evaluate what continuous improvement opportunities we have instead of having multiple variants throughout the system.”

Lessons learned from one region can then be applied throughout the system. In the farrowing room, this may be the way detergents, disinfectants and power washing equipment are used. For market barns, this can be constant drops, truck washes and sewage.

On multiple hog farms, Maschhoff notes that incoming pigs are common and add to the complexity with various viruses, bacteria and health conditions in pig streams. However, the system has its advantages with space utilization, fill time, and management of maintenance and supply resources in areas such as propane and transportation.

Labor is also a challenge for the pork production system.

“When we’re trying to optimize labor at the sow farm level, it’s about picking the priority list of what absolutely must be done on the sow farm and what must not be done … one of the things that for unfortunately off the list related to gut health when you optimize labor on the sow farm is that we may not wash the farrowing cage between turns exactly according to the protocol, which is not ideal from a piglet health perspective,” Maschhoff said. . “When I look at some of the production partners we work with, raising pigs every day is not always their first priority depending on the time of year because their individual family operations are also complex.”

One of the ways the Maschhoffs healthcare team has addressed this is through ease of administration as well as standard practices and education. With 1,200 employees, safety is also a top concern.

As for nutrition, the swine production system is partnering with the University of Illinois and Dr. Mike Ellis’ lab to evaluate new nutrition technologies before adopting them system-wide. Together they consider the application, whether it is dry or liquid and for what stage of production; the complexity of adding the product; the biological impact on morbidity, mortality and growth; the price of a pig; and scalability.

“At the end of the day, we use what we call our marginal economic values ​​when we’re evaluating feed technologies, so what’s that cost per pig going to be? We have to keep that in mind because those operational metrics are extremely important to us,” Maschhoff said. “And then how do we scale that? We have our own company-owned mills, but if we want to put some technology into our system, we’ll are we coordinating with external ishleme mills to implement this technology?”

To evaluate on-farm feeding technologies, the Maschhoffs have five research centers, three weaning barns and two sow farms. Within this system, 39,000 locations are designated for research and performance data collection. Research centers have cages and individual scales, the ability to record food intake electronically, and can feed up to 16 different diets at once, with additional mixing options.

A firm’s innovation process also often involves strategic partnerships and external and field research, as well as what Maschhoff calls a “business case stage” process.

“When you’re looking at innovation from a production system to a specification, there’s a long list of things you’d like to do and make changes to the system, but you have to prioritize what you’re going to do the most value to us and the most the big changes today and what things I should just keep on the list that I can’t research today or go ask my operations team to try within the business,” Maschhoff said.

As for the health approach of the pork production system, veterinarians and the herd health team continue to educate and train about infectious diseases, explore how they can approach health issues at scale and try to continue to do good clinical assessments. This also includes taking into account herd history and animal response to treatment, as well as the biosecurity and environment of the individual farm.

“Every environment is different. We talk in our system a lot about what we call the big four: feed, water, air and care and the air in one barn is always different to the air in the other barn and how we ventilate our barns is extremely important and different, so taking that into account of the environment and the impact that has had on gut health and health in general is important,” Maschhoff said.

One area that continues to be a challenge for the healthcare manufacturing team is differential disease. The list continues to grow with emerging enteric pathogens such as porcine adenovirus and porcine bocavirus being added routinely. Maschhoff said that with the ability to detect different viruses, whether through whole-genome sequencing or new PCR technologies, the differential list continues to grow. Surveillance and prioritization of pathogens is also a challenge.

“I think one of the challenges you’re going to see in a production system is going through and organizing which ones are on my priority list and highest today,” Maschhoff said. “We’ve done a pretty good job among our team, for example, of agreeing on what that priority list looks like.”

For example, a few years ago the health team investigated their final mortality and found Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae was a problem and took a systemic approach to attack the pathogen.

Maschhoff said prevention, control and treatment are key to the pork production system’s health approach, and they are constantly trying to fine-tune their biosecurity protocols, acclimation processes, vaccination timing and the use of antimicrobials, anthelmintics, antiseptics and disinfectants.

Even with their three-pronged approach to gut health with standard system-wide operating protocols, Maschhoff noted that the system is far from perfect.

“Everybody is good at doing their own variations of what they think works versus what the protocol is, and so I think whether it’s our research team, operations team or health team, we know that what we have on paper is not always the reality of what goes on in the barns every day,” Maschhoff said. “One example I can give you is simply cross-breeding piglets. We will tell farms not to move piglets from one sow to another, but there has not been a day that I have gone to a farm where piglets are not being moved from one sow to another because the team thinks they are trying to best for the piglet, but actually cause more intestinal problems and/or health problems for the piglet by moving them around.”

As for future opportunities in gut health, Maschhoff has his eye on how to get more Class A piglets per sow, improve water quality, address 0-6 week mortality, improve facilities, use genetics and to better manage the microbiome. However, she acknowledges that any new approach to the system will need to be multifaceted and applicable in the field.

“Making sure that everything we want to implement in our system is applicable in the field and that you can see it in the production metrics at the end of the day,” Maschhoff said. “There’s a lot of things you hear or see, but if you can’t apply it in the field and you can’t see the metrics, it can’t be done in our system and we’re not going to adapt it.”

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