Show Pig Health: How to Prevent Challenges and Keep Your Champion on Track

May 07, 2024

When sale season comes, everyone wants to know which pig is the one. But the truth is, no one knows. In fact, it's a rare occasion when the pig that's the best in March is still the best when the show rolls around in August. 

I like to think about it like this. When the project begins, there may be dozens of pigs that have a chance to be champion at your show. As each week passes, some pigs fall out of contention. Maybe they get hurt, maybe their genetic potential maxed out as a baby, but more often than not it's because they encounter some kind of health challenge that sets them off course. By the time the fair rolls around, what started out as 500 show pig prospects and 50 pigs that were good enough to win as babies whittles its way down to maybe five pigs that are still good enough to win in the end. 

It's my opinion that the number one way people derail their chances for winning is by disregarding the critical nature of pig health. Any health challenge a pig has to endure adds stress and takes away from the pigs ability to perform at its best. 

Todd Price, DVM calls it perfectly in the video on this post when he says, "There are more champions lost to health issues every year than to anything else." 

"There are more champions lost to health issues every year than to anything else."  - Todd Price, DVM

We're just coming through the receiving period with our families summer projects and it's been tough. The pig I liked the least when he came in is now third in the string. The pig I liked the most when I bought him is in dead last. The real difference between those two pigs has been their health. While one has taken everything in stride, the other has tripped over every obstacle along his path. While the rankings are bound to continue to change over the course of the summer, our job as feeders is two fold; eliminate the obstacles that fuel health challenges and respond to them as quickly and accurately as possible when they arise. It's not just about treating pigs when they get sick - it's about creating an environment that fosters health and learning to see and diagnose health challenges before they becomes a real problem. 

Here are ten things we do every day to make sure our pigs stay healthy: 

  1. We have a Veterinary Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) in place year-round and stay in touch with our vet anytime a health problem arises.  
  2.  We monitor and manage temperature, humidity and air flow in our barn to ensure pig comfort and reduce stress. Because we have old facilities, managing drafts is a challenge, especially in the Spring when we're receiving pigs. Pigs are tough and you can raise them in just about any facility, but they have to have a space that's warm, dry and draft-free. 
  3. We clean pens at least once daily to ensure every pig has a clean, dry place to lay. 
  4. We inspect every waterer daily to ensure working order and, in the summer, we'll run the water until it's cold and fresh two to three times a day because the overhead waterlines in our barn can get warm. 
  5.  We walk the barn at least three times a day, generally this is at AM and PM chores and noon if someones home. We monitor pig activity, breathing, stools and barn conditions each time. 
  6. During chores, we turn off the radio and listen to the pigs eat. I feel like a lot of times we can detect a respiratory issue coming on by listening to the way the pigs breathe while they eat. 
  7. After chores, while brushing or washing we inspect the pigs skin and give a close evaluation. I don't typically do this, so a lot of times I notice that the kids are pointing out little bumps, scratches, bites, and even have caught bigger problems like abscesses developing before I ever would have noticed  them with the normal walk throughs. This especially helps us get ahead of problems like mange before it becomes a challenge. 
  8. Something else I do every day is evaluate the pigs body condition and their feet and legs. I'm watching to see what direction they're trending in as far as their muscle development and fat cover and I'm looking for any issues in their structure and movement to inform how I need to adapt that animals feed moving forward. I try not to switch feed up too often - maybe every week or two I'll consider adjusting it, but I'm trying to know each day if a pig is moving in one direction or the other - are they getting better or worse in the areas I know I can improve with feed and management. 

    I guess I think the reason this is important to point out in a health-centered post is that, anymore, show pigs can develop a tremendous amount of muscle quickly, usually just after you get them home. If you're not observant of what their feet and legs are doing pigs can develop issues with their structure and joints that you'll be wishing you could fix later - and that is a health challenge you're much better off to avoid if at all possible. 
  9. We communicate with each other. If we see something, we make sure we mention it to the other folks involved in the process. There's nothing worse than going to the barn, having to treat a sick animal then finding out someone else noticed something off a few days ago. 
  10. We take action. If a pig isn't doing its best, we try to understand why and act on it immediately. We aren't afraid to ask questions and we're never too proud to consult our veterinarian if we don't know exactly what we're dealing with. 

If you'd like to learn more about show pig health, you should definitely check out The Showman's Guide to Show Pig Health with Todd Price, DVM on herdly. He's an amazing teacher and I still use this course as my guide book every time I have a question about health in our show barn.  You can get it now - along with access to every course in the herdly library - in our summer savings deal! 

BJE offers video-based online courses in showing livestock, taught by the industry’s most talented breeders and feeders. We're here to help you win - in the show ring and beyond. 

View Available Courses

Get the latest from!

Join our mailing list to be the first to know when new courses are announced. 

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.