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Fighting Back Against HBS in Pigs


Grow-finish pig in the barn

Hemorrhagic Bowel Syndrome, commonly called HBS, is a significant concern for pork producers. There are no signs and no real explanation. Pigs in their late finishing stages die unexpectedly after looking otherwise healthy until their loss.


These losses can have a significant impact on productivity. After all, you’ve successfully fed a pig out to 150 - 300 lbs., and now all that feed cost and labor is gone, making a negative mark on your bottom line. With feed accounting for roughly 60% of your animal expenses and costs continuing to rise, every bite taken by a pig lost to HBS is money out of your pocket.


Causes of HBS

While there is no definitive cause of HBS, the reason that most experts point to is an inconsistent intake that leads to a microbial overgrowth in the gut, typically E. coli and/ or Clostridium. This overgrowth results in intestinal hemorrhage and bacterial toxemia, commonly resulting in death.


Inconsistent intake can happen for many reasons – maybe a feed line goes out or a bin goes unexpectedly empty. However, intake issues occur more in the summer because pigs don’t want to eat when they're hot. This leads to long stretches of low intake during the day and waiting until cooler nighttime stretches to head to the feeder, potentially overeating.


With consistent meals, the pig’s microbiome sits in a more steady profile. However, as those meal intervals change, the microbes often reposition to populate at adjusted, rapid rates due to a number of factors. This can lead to overgrowths of harmful bacteria, quickly impacting the pig's health - generally before you even know it’s happening.


A small 10-lb. pig eats roughly 13.5 meals a day. But a finishing pig eats half as many meals, often three times the quantity at each meal. So in finishing, missing one meal equates to a larger portion of the day without feed increasing the chance of an off-feed event and HBS. This is one of the reasons HBS is most common in finishing pigs.


Being Proactive Against HBS

The key to fighting HBS is consistent feed intervals and a healthy gut microbiome. Here are some ways to make that happen.

  • Bring down the heat. The outside environment isn’t the only thing that makes pigs hot. The heat created by digestion can also make them not want to consume as consistently and efficiently. Some diets generate more heat than others during digestion – a diet heavy in soy protein can increase a pig’s heat increment leading to greater internal heat, more animal stress and wasted energy. Ralco’s EnMAX® diets are more digestible and have a lower heat increment, causing less digestive stress and keeps pigs on feed.

  • Keep the gut healthy. An established, healthy population of gut bacteria can crowd out any harmful bacteria that try to grab a foothold. These good bacteria help encourage gut development and growth, supporting the immune system and overall health. Ralco’s ProsperEO™ is a natural feed additive that uses essential oils and prebiotics to support the immune system and encourage a healthy gut environment. Research has shown that using essential oils can provide an 87.5 % decrease in cases of HBS.

  • Don’t forget the water. Pigs who have plenty to drink are more likely to eat as well. Make sure your pigs have consistent access to fresh water.

Talk to a Ralco representative today to see how adding ProsperEO or EnMAX to your operation could minimize HBS challenges on your farm.

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