Youth exhibitors should consider deworming options for their show pigs: Why are parasites a problem? (Part 1)

As youth exhibitors in Michigan prepare their animals for fair, they should map out a pig care strategy, including being mindful of the need and considering their options for controlling parasites.

It's early summer in Michigan and over 3,000 youth in the state are planning to show pigs later this summer at over 30 county fairs. Youth are in the process of purchasing animals and will soon, if not already, be working hard to prepare their swine projects for the fair. For themselves, their families, advisors, friends and for our industry, it's important that they present the best project possible. This means that above all else, their pigs should receive proper nutrition, housing socialization and health care, which includes controlling infections by parasites. 

Parasites that typically infect Michigan pigs, at some stage of their development, include both internal and external-dwelling species. Internal species (endoparasites) that reside mostly in the gastrointestinal tract include protozoa (also called coccidia, with Isopora suis being the most dangerous to pigs) and roundworms (especially Ascaris and whip-worms). External parasites (ectoparasites) cling to and irritate the skin of pigs and include ear mites and lice. 

Worm, mite and lice infections very rarely lead to death in pigs, but they can each severely impact grow rate/feed efficiency, behavior and external appearance. Impacts of parasite infection in fair pigs might also include diarrhea, red/scabby skin (especially around the heard and ears) and even appearance of large, white worms in the feces. In addition, even a relatively low worm burden infection by Ascaris can cause persistent coughing from larval stages of the worm that migrate into the lungs, and liver damage (white spots), sometimes leading to condemnation of the liver at slaughter. Whipworm infection frequently damages the colon sufficiently to cause extreme diarrhea and bloody stools. 

In Michigan, most pigs destined for county fairs will be purchased from show pig producers at six to eight weeks old, weighing 30-40 pounds. In general, potential health issues associated with infection by protozoan species (especially Isospora suis), which usually occurs prior to weaning, will have long passed. Assuming the producer is on the ball and reputable, pigs will have received at least one dose of deworming product and be free of significant infection by ear mites or lice at time of sale. Un-treated pigs, especially those maintained on-pasture or in barns with unslatted floors, can and often will become re-infected with worms and ectoparasites between time of purchase and fair season, which typically begins three-to-four months later. 

How to avoid parasite problems between time of purchase and through the fair season? Ideally, pigs should be kept on a deworming schedule throughout the growing season and be given deworming medications once every 30 days, rotating products when possible. This will allow the pig to remain free of most parasites and have an optimal growth rate. If this practice hasn't been followed, it's even more important to make sure that the pigs are dewormed before they go to the fair. Youth exhibitors and their sponsors need to be mindful of the fact that their animals on display at the fair me be the only ones that some non-farm people will interact with. For some, it'll be their first experience with livestock agriculture. As stewards of agriculture, it's the job of the youth exhibitor to have healthy, clean animals on display. 

For more information on deworming products, see the article: Youth exhibitors should be considering deworming options for their show pigs: What deworming products are available? (Part 2)

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