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NHF-Hess-AttilaFarkas.jpg National Hog Farmer/Ann Hess

Keeping a Romanian sow farm in business

Carthage veterinarian says biosecurity is key, even before an African swine fever stop movement.

From a swine practitioner’s perspective, Attila Farkas has been fortunate, or unfortunate depending on which way you view the situation, to consult with a sow farm in the center of Romania’s African swine fever outbreak. While the Carthage Veterinary Service partner and veterinarian has not necessarily had to help with the cleanup and all the exercises surrounding the ASF break, he’s learned how to keep a farm fully functioning in a full red zone area.

“Full red means that the virus has been identified in both domesticated pigs and wild boar pigs so there’s movement restrictions, trade restrictions, all those things in these areas,” Farkas says. “So, it’s about how do we provide the pork producer with a business continuity plan and how do we keep the virus out of their environment.”

A native of the Eastern European country, Farkas shared the extra steps the commercial multiplication site had to add to their biosecurity protocol as well the losses they had to encounter during his presentation at Biomin’s recent Women in Veterinary Medicine Leadership Forum in Nashville. 

In 2017, when the first case of ASF broke in northeast Romania, Farkas says the authorities did a pretty good job containing it and it wasn’t until 2018 -- when cases started breaking in the south, believed to come in from the Ukraine through the wild boar population -- that it took a turn for the worse. However, what makes Romania unique in terms of ASF spreading throughout the country, Farkas says is that Romania is the largest backyard pork producer in the European Union.

“There’s different types of backyard production in Romania,” Farkas says. “They put them out near the Delta Danube, they pasture, they have the litters there and then around June and July, they gather them up and they distribute them, selling them in markets, and it’s not a regulated market. So, we believe that is one of the reasons it spread. It started from here and then we started moving pigs all over the country and the cases where it started to appear on the northeast side of the country, it all ties back to people buying pigs from down south.”

While the farm Farkas consults with was located outside the euthanasia zone, it did encounter movement restrictions in the red zone. In order for animals to be moved, they had to be on the premises for 30 days from birth and a minimum of 30 days prior to shipping. There were no new pig introductions from regions where the ASF virus was active in wild boars and domestic pigs, and 7 days prior to movement pigs had to be bled and tested through ELISA.

In addition, each farm had to submit tissue samples from two dead animals older than 60 days on a weekly basis to be tested by PCR.

Finally, an accredited veterinarian had to physically inspect the farm 24 hours before movements and certify that the farm from where the owner wished to move pigs had biosecurity measures in place that prevented the introduction and spread of ASF.

Since the farm Farkas consults with is a high productivity, multiplication site, the veterinarian says they already had strict biosecurity measures in place, but after the first break in the northeast they decided to include even more layers to their protocol.

The first parameter around the farm is an electric fence, then a dry filter parameter and lastly an area where everything is disinfected and washed before coming inside the farm. During the dry filter station staff leave personal belongings on a dirty side and hand sanitize before stepping over a bench. Then the employee would hand sanitize again, step over another bench and put on color-coded farm clothing. Finally, he or she would go to the shower area, take off the color-code clothing and enter the shower --which are motion sensored to ensure all employees are passing through and getting showered in—before putting on another set of color-coded farm attire.

The shower procedure is also monitored from the clean side as the farm employs guards, who not only keep surveillance on employees but feed mill and truck driver employees as well.

A coop system, the farm makes its own feed, but the feed delivery truck gets washed before it gets to the feed mill. Then before it gets back into the farm it gets disinfected again. The guards not only keep an eye on the truck driver, making sure he or she never exits the vehicle, they also are the ones to wash and disinfect the trucks.

“Before the live haul trucks or feed delivery trucks enter inside the perimeter of the farm, they need to park inside a gated disinfection area located at the farm gate and the guards will disinfect them using disinfectant atomizers loaded with Virkon S disinfectant, allowing half an hour contact time between the disinfectant and surfaces that were disinfected. Throughout the whole process the driver never exits the truck,” Farkas says.

Even with all these extra biosecurity protocols in place, the 5,000-head sow farm was still severely impacted during the outbreak since it was located in a high-risk area for ASF. Animal movement on the farm was restricted for 65 days. The farm was forced to euthanize 4,087 suckling piglets immediately after birth, abort 725 pregnant sows (which equates to about 12,000 piglets) and turned half of the farrowing houses into nurseries. Farkas estimates the movement restrictions cost the farm nearly $700,000 in animal losses alone.

Despite these losses to maintain business continuity, Farkas remains positive about the situation. Knowing that backyard populations are more prone to ASF transmission, Farkas says it brings him “a little bit of a peace in mind because it proves that if you have good biosecurity plans in place, you're able to keep the virus out.”

“It doesn't spread very well through the air. It has to be taken inside the farm, so it has to be on a vector, whether that is contaminated meat, water, clothing, feed or a livestock delivery truck,” Farkas says. “If we can maintain good biosecurity procedures by establishing additional protection barriers, I think we will have a very good chance of keeping it out.”

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