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Articles from 2006 In January

More Pork, Beef Burdensome to Markets

This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but this was another tough week for cash hogs and hog futures. Figure 1 shows the steady downtrend dating back to last March and the negative pressure on February futures that the cash market has wrought over the past three weeks. The gap between Feb futures and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Lean Hogs Index is now near $1.00, so the degree of pressure will lessen a bit. Still, lower cash markets is going to mean continued pressure on Lean Hogs futures.

While the concern for some time has focused on demand, trouble last week and this, it appears, can be placed squarely on supply. A quick perusal of the North American Pork Industry data table shows U.S. pork slaughter up 5.7% from one year ago and hog weights up another 1.8%. U.S. pork production from the week that ended Jan. 14 was 6.4% higher than last year. Those data always lag one week in the table. Canadian production was down fractionally, but the Canadian-American total was still over 5% larger than in 2005.

Cutout values down 19% and carcass values 22% lower are really very much in line with that kind of supply increase. Today's very inelastic hog demand causes prices to move more than they once did when supply changes. I regularly use a multiplier of 4, which fits pretty well with recent data. Those data support the idea that hog demand will end 2005 at about the same level that it began the year.

Pork demand, on the other hand, still appears soft. Remember that the factors that determine pork demand are consumer tastes and preferences, income (more accurately, expenditure) levels and the prices of other goods. None of those factors appear positive for pork at the present time. The decline of high-protein dieters, some concerns about the U.S. economy (underscored by the massive cutbacks announced last year by Ford Motor Company), and very cheap chicken, are all a drain on pork demand. Strong beef prices help, but they can't overcome the added effects of the other three big drivers.

"Stupidity" has been defined as doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. Until one of these factors changes, hog prices will not get better. I'm sure all of you needed a Ph.D. economist to tell you that!

I'm still most concerned about demand, but the current supply situation is definitely burdensome and beef supplies appear to be growing, too. Last week's Cattle on Feed Report showed feedlot inventories above 11.8 million head (4.5% larger than last year) and record-large December feedlot placements (1.9 million head).

A portion of those large numbers is due to very dry conditions in much of the traditional wheat pasture areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. However, low feed costs and attractive live cattle futures will sometimes cause feeder cattle to come out of the woodwork. The calculated average placement weight for December was 677 lb., 11 lb. less than last year, but only 1 lb. less than in 2003 and 4 lb. less than the five-year average. Therefore, these placements should reach market weight quicker than last year's December placements, but about "normal" relative to history (assuming normal weather, etc.). Canadian-American beef supplies this summer and fall will be well below the record levels of 2003, but substantially larger (4-6%) than one year ago.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.
e-mail: [email protected]

After a Tough Week - Now What?

Last week's tough week for Lean Hogs futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) translated quickly to a tough week for cash hog prices, too. A healthy rebound on Tuesday and smaller increases Wednesday and Thursday have eased some of the pain, but it has left many wondering just what has hit this hog market the past couple of weeks.

The answer, as is often the case, is that there has been a combination of factors and they all went one direction for a short time period.

First, hog supplies have been slightly larger than expected since Dec. 1. USDA's 180-lb. and over inventories on that date indicated that slaughter should have been up 0.1% or so over the past few weeks. It has actually been up 1.7%. That is certainly a significant deviation. The question is whether or not it will persist.

Some think this may be an indication of an undercount by USDA. Others think that exceptionally mild weather may have helped improve performance, thus pulling a few hogs forward. It is way too early to judge whether the undercount argument and higher weights (at least until last week) would support the enhanced performance argument. But I'm not sure mild winter weather translates into higher daily gains. Since intakes are already high, don't they really translate into better feed efficiency (less feed burned for warmth) and lower heating bills?

Second, pork cutout values have been under pressure since mid-December and, as of this week, have reached their lowest level since early 2004 (see Figure 1). Wholesale demand still appears soft and extremely low chicken prices are one reason. Figures 2 and 3 demonstrate just how low chicken part prices are -- record low for boneless/skinless breasts and 50% lower than on Oct. 1 for leg quarters. That means the U.S. broiler industry is ultra competitive in both domestic and export markets and can put some pressure on pork demand on both fronts.

Finally, there is the post-holiday lull in consumer activity. Whether everyone is still stuffed from holiday feasts or their credit cards are stuffed to the limit, pork demand always seems sluggish at this time of year.

Hope on the Horizon
There is hope. Slaughter runs of over two million head are not unusual in early January. The pig spigot is not turned off at Christmas time. But those runs usually moderate some as we go into February. In addition, decent packer margins have helped cash hog bids this week and, while supplies are good enough that we won't see convergence of hog prices with cutout values, it feels like we may have found a floor -- provided cutouts don't fall out of bed.

And, it appears that CME Lean Hogs futures have found their fighting legs, too. Most of the damage was done in the February contract and it still looks somewhat risky. A $5 premium to the Lean Hogs Index will be reconciled sometime between now and Feb. 14. Outside of February, April and the fall contracts were the hardest hit by the recent decline. The summer contracts are lower, but not dramatically so.

This is not the time to panic, but I'm still thinking producers should be engaged in ongoing consideration of pricing 2006 production. Barring some unforeseen circumstances, there will be some seasonal strength in cash hog prices and futures prices usually honor that strength (the old adage is "Cash is king!"). Current futures prices are still generally above the four forecasts shown in Figure 4 (LMIC is the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Lakewood, CO). Basis levels will be from $2-$3/cwt. for all except the Net Price series shown in the first column of data in Figure 4.

Risk management and forward pricing require careful thought, rational decision-making and action. Use your head, do your profit margin and rate of return calculations and make a decision about pricing hogs. The decision may be to wait. I know I'm a broken record on this, but make sure that any delay in action is a conscious decision, not an act of omission or procrastination.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.
e-mail: [email protected]

Less-invasive rupture repair

An innovative procedure for repairing scrotal hernias is fast, cheap and highly successful.

With a 90% success rate at affected farms served by the Carthage (Ill.) Veterinary Service, veterinarian Doug Groth, says that's 30-40% better than surgical results.

Although scrotal hernias affect only 2% or fewer piglets in CVS client herds, if left untreated, they can cause serious problems.

A scrotal hernia or rupture occurs when the gut protrudes into the sac that holds the testicles. Groth explains that scrotal hernias are polygenic, which means the disorder is not attributed to a specific gene, making it difficult to select away from the trait.

Pigs with scrotal hernias are at increased risk for health problems and death due to infections and injury to the ruptured area, he says. And, ruptured pigs are subject to deep discounts by packers because they pose a great risk for contaminating carcasses during evisceration. Many packers will not even accept them.

New procedure

The new procedure, which CVS introduced to clients in 2004 and Groth highlighted at the practice's annual swine conference held in Macomb, Ill., is best done in conjunction with castration of pigs 3 to 5 days old, to assure the 90% success rate.

The treatment can be used on older pigs (up to about 18 days), but Groth says success rates are 20 to 40% lower. Treatment cost is about 30-35¢/pig.

By the numbers, the treatment is performed as follows:

Step 1. Reducing the hernia

One person holds the ruptured pig by the back legs and gently reduces the hernia by depressing the protrusion back into the abdominal cavity.

Step 2. Reducing the hernia

With a thumb or forefinger, apply pressure to the inguinal ring (the opening between the body and the scrotum) to keep the intestines in the body and the testicles in the scrotum. If the hernia cannot be reduced into the abdomen because the intestines are attached to the testicles or scrotum, CVS recommends euthanizing the pig. If it is difficult, but possible to manipulate the rupture, the treatment can still be attempted; however, success may be lower due to intestinal injury.

Step 3. Castration

While the pig is being held in the position described above, a second person castrates the pig. CVS recommends the “pull and cut” method of removing the testicles vs. a stretching method, because it reduces the rate of ruptures occurring after castration.

Steps 4-6. Taping

Immediately apply 1-in. Elasticon tape in a figure eight around the pig's rear legs and over the inguinal rings. Begin by carefully wrapping the left rear ham (or right side for a left-handed person), making sure the tape does not wrinkle or fold to avoid restricting circulation.

Pull the tape up through the legs and across the rear, just beside the tail head and over the inguinal ring on the right side of the pig (or left if you started on the right).

Complete the figure eight by wrapping the tape around the opposite ham, and then wrap tape around the flank of the pig to help stabilize the treatment.

For older pigs or those with very large ruptures, Groth recommends reinforcing the entire taped area with a second layer of tape. No antibiotic wound powder, sprays or antiseptics are required.

Removing the tape

Tape should be removed 48 hours after application to avoid restricting growth. When the tape is removed, you may notice a small, fluid-filled pocket. Groth says the body will quickly absorb this fluid.

Groth reports clients are very pleased to get the job of repairing scrotal hernias done without the risk of infection or wear and tear on pigs that traditional surgical repair presents.

The downside is the procedure requires two people. “But it doesn't take much time — only about three or four minutes per pig once you've done it once or twice,” Groth says.

For more information, contact Groth at [email protected].

Strep Suis Still Steals Profits

Streptococcus suis will be experienced by virtually every production system.

It can be referred to as an old problem, but it continues to cause significant losses in today's swine industry.

Whether it's joint infections in young pigs or sudden death loss in the finisher, Strep suis has the ability to steal significant profits from an operation.

Case Study No. 1

This farm is a 2,500-sow, farrow-to-wean operation that was recently remodeled to sell weaned pigs exclusively.

Originally, this was a feeder pig operation with on-site nurseries, but the owners decided to expand the sow herd. They converted nurseries into farrowing and added a few gestation stalls. They contracted with four producers to purchase their weaned pigs for a fixed price. Extra gilts were purchased as part of the expansion.

As production ramped up and the number of gilt litters increased, the number of pigs rejected by the growers increased. The rejection rate started at 1 to 1-Ω% and increased to nearly 4%. This represented almost 40 pigs each week the producer was not being paid for.

In investigating the cause of the problem, I reviewed the past four weeks of delivery grade sheets with the producer. The reports indicated that 75% of the pigs were rejected due to swollen joints and lameness.

As we observed the pigs in the farrowing crates, it was evident that there were an unusually large number of swollen joints. I reviewed piglet-processing techniques with the staff, and found that they were using the same clipping tool for the teeth and the tails without disinfecting between pigs. I recommended that they use different tools for each and disinfect the clipping tool in a diluted chlorihexidine solution.

We also discussed the possibility of not clipping needle teeth at all. Many farms have successfully used this approach to reduce joint and navel infections.

I submitted three joint swabs from affected pigs to the laboratory for culture, and a Strep suis and a Strep equulii were isolated.

The farm followed the recommendations to discontinue clipping needle teeth and also instituted an antibiotic injection at processing. The rejection rate due to swollen joints quickly returned to normal.

Case Study No. 2

The second farm's experiences were similar to those of the first farm. Except in this case, when we tried reviewing processing techniques, injectable antibiotics, changing disinfectants and anything else we could think of, nothing seemed to work.

We then formulated an autogenous Strep suis vaccine that was isolated from the joints of the infected pigs. This vaccine was administered to the sows at three and five weeks prefarrowing. As these vaccinated sows and gilts began to farrow, there was a marked improvement, and now, over a period of six months, the farm has returned to a normal rejection rate.

Case Study No. 3

This case deals with a 2,400-head finishing barn that receives pigs every 18 weeks from a contract-farrowing unit. Pigs are about 45 lb. on arrival and are marketed at an average of 260 lb. The barn is managed all-in, all-out. Death loss is typically 2-3%.

This particular group of pigs started well and was averaging 60 lb. when the barn manager called our veterinary clinic because three pigs died suddenly the previous day and four died suddenly overnight.

Postmortem examinations of the pigs did not show anything significant, so tissues were collected and submitted to the laboratory for culture. The next day the lab reported that a pure culture of what appeared to be Strep suis was isolated. In the meantime, the barn manager called and said that six more pigs died overnight.

We recommended that the producer inject all pigs in the room with procaine penicillin G. The individual pigs were not showing signs before dying, so our only choice was to treat the entire group. Death loss immediately stopped and that flow of pigs never experienced that type of outbreak again. The laboratory later confirmed the isolation of Strep suis.


Strep suis is an ever-present organism that waits for an opportunity to cause problems. Control can sometimes be as simple as basic sanitation and adjusting procedures.

However, sometimes control can be a challenge, and more aggressive methods are warranted.

Either way, a thorough investigation and proper laboratory workup are helpful to sort out specific causes and intervention methods.

Nurseries are probably the stage of production where Strep suis causes the most losses. But each farm and case is different. Your local veterinarian is the most qualified person to help sort out the causative factors and formulation of preventative protocols.

Environmental Stewards Nominations Now Open

Pork producers have a long-standing record of conscientious environmental stewardship. To recognize that commitment to manage their modern pork production systems in harmony with our natural resources, National Hog Farmer and the National Pork Board developed a program to recognize exemplary environmental management programs.

This is the 12th year of the Environmental Stewards of the Pork Industry recognition program, launched to showcase pork producers who are doing an outstanding job of incorporating state-of-the-art environmental and nutrient management programs into their pork production systems.

Through this program, the pork industry has gained a greater public awareness and appreciation for pork producers' conscientious environmental management. Additionally, this program has reinforced to the nation's policymakers and the general news media that pork producers are commited to protecting the environment and our valuable natural resources.

Areas of Evaluation

Nominations are now open for the class of 2006 Environmental Stewards. A national selection committee comprised of pork producers and environmental experts will review all nominations and select four for national recognition.

Nominations will be evaluated in eight areas:

  • General farm production and background;

  • Manure/nutrient management;

  • Soil and water conservation practices;

  • Air quality technologies and odor control management strategies;

  • Farm aesthetics and neighbor relations;

  • Wildlife habitat management;

  • Adoption of innovative ideas; and

  • A short essay describing the nominee's view of environmental stewardship.

Nominations Open to All

This recognition program is open to production systems of all types and sizes. Since 1995, winners have represented family-owned-and-operated farms, management teams working within an integrated system and contract producers.

Pork producers can apply or be nominated by Extension agents, veterinarians or others. A nomination should be focused on a single production site, outlining the owner's and/or manager's diligence and expertise in applying their environmental management program.

Winners will receive a special plaque, an expense-paid trip to the awards ceremony and a $1,000 cash honorarium. In addition, each environmental steward's farm will be featured in a special report published in the September 2006 issue of National Hog Farmer.

Additional information and an easy-to-use nomination form are available on the sponsors' Web sites: or (click on the Environmental Stewards banner). Nomination forms may also be requested by calling Allan Stokes, National Pork Board, (800) 456-7675, or Dale Miller, National Hog Farmer, (800) 722-5334.

Send nominations to: National Pork Board, Attention: Environmental Stewards, P.O. Box 9114, Des Moines, IA 50306-9620. Nominations must be postmarked by March 31, 2006.

A Mortality Case with A Jolt

Pork producers are discovering something about electricity that dairymen have known for years — stray voltage hurts production.

The term is a misnomer, says agricultural engineer Larry Jacobson of the University of Minnesota. He prefers neutral-to-ground voltage. Basically, it occurs when an animal comes between two surfaces that are at different voltage. “One isn't as well grounded, so they are at different potentials,” he explains. “When the animal touches something like a water nipple, current goes through the animal.”

Swine veterinarian Amy Woods, Rensselaer Swine Services, Rensselaer, IN, says stray voltage is a difficult concept and hard to prove. “We have cases where gut feeling says it may be involved, but it is usually diagnosis by exclusion.”

Woods discussed a stray-voltage case at the annual Swine Disease Conference for Swine Practitioners in Ames, IA, recently. An exceptionally high-producing 1,800-sow herd was suffering mysterious sow deaths and high preweaning mortality from poorly lactating sows.

The diagnosis was “puffer sow” syndrome, a strange malady evidenced by rapid respiratory rate, muscle weakness and high fever. Sows would collapse and die as a result, Woods believes, of some type of stress, most commonly the start of farrowing.

Affected animals were necropsied, but there were never significant findings. Many sows were ketotic, but there were no major abnormalities on blood counts. Serum chemistries did show sows tended to be hypoglycemic and magnesium levels were often very low.

Treatments included Flunixamine, cool running water to decrease fever and injections of Cal-Dex or Cal-Phos, which provided supplemental magnesium. Epsom salts were run through the water in gestation at 4 lb./gal. of stock solution that was metered into the drinking water at 1 oz./gal. These interventions helped, but the farm's sow mortality still averaged nearly 13.5% and was rising. Preweaning mortality was 3% higher than normal.

When the sow death rate hit 28% in July of 2004, Agrivolt, a Canadian company specializing in stray voltage, was called in to investigate.

According to Jacques Dion, president of the Quebec company, 70% of electrical systems in North America use the ground as the return path of current because it's safer and more reliable. Livestock are parallel with the grounding network, so whatever is flowing back includes a portion of current going through the animal.

“There's nothing wrong with this, providing the voltage doesn't exceed the animal's sensitivity threshold,” he says. “In the pig, it is quite low, but as animals are pushed to maximum performance, they are becoming more sensitive to voltage fluctuations. The electrical load on farms is also increasing, and the return has to go somewhere. We see more and more current flow underground, and that's where problems start. Grounds are not designed to return electricity, but to handle faulty current.”

Voltage Variance Tested

Agrivolt's first step was to record variances in voltage from the farm's electrical system over a three-day period. A sensitivity threshold of 1.2 volts was set for the facility, which included motors from fans, pressure washers, cool cell pumps and clothes dryers. The evaluation showed the farm had a standard peak level of 6.4 volts and spikes of 10.1 volts when motors turned on.

“That is an amazing range of quantity of current,” says Dion, “and enough to create stress.” Current causes a tingling sensation and likely occurred when crated sows touched nipple waterers or feeders, causing them to go off feed.

The farm's managers were skeptical of Agrivolt's findings. The facility was only a year old and wired to code. And, changes to the network were expensive, particularly since the transformer was moved 75 ft. from the original spot due to a driven ground nearby.

“My point to them was if they have control over factors such as health and nutrition, we could control and deviate current on wires instead of grounding,” Dion explains. “Equipment and expertise amounted to about $43,000 to neutralize the problem, but within a short period, there was major improvement.”

When the switch was flipped on the revamped system in August of '04, the herd had slipped to 27 pigs/sow/year, down from 28. The impact on death loss and piglet mortality was immediate, according to Woods (see Table 1). The puffer sow syndrome decreased dramatically and sows started eating and milking better.

Voltage Sensitivity

Past research shows that pigs are sensitive to electricity at about 5 volts, Dion continues. He's convinced pigs are becoming less resistant as productivity increases. “Today, we're dealing with 2 or 3 volts before animals are impacted.” (The correct term is amperage, but voltage is commonly used.) Stray voltage is typically only a volt or two.

Woods agrees that stray voltage represents another stress to sows that are already pushed to extremely high productivity. She did not feel it was a direct cause of the puffer syndrome; it just sent sows over the edge. Older sows, Parity 3 and higher, were also affected more than younger, more tolerant animals.

Voltage is a function of resistance, due to Ohm's law, which states that current, or amperes, times resistance, or ohms, equals volts. Woods says the Canadian Plan Service suggests a finisher pig has a resistance of about 930 ohms.

Some animals can detect current as low as 2 milliamperes, which according to Ohm's law would take only 0.72 volts to reach for a cow, but 1.86 volts for a pig, she says. If the animal is wet, resistance is much lower and the animal becomes an even better conductor. Humans have a much higher resistance than animals.

High-Tech Monitoring

Monitoring equipment was installed at the farm to detect stray voltage from faulty wiring, bad motors, electrical shorts, etc. An alarm sounds at a predetermined voltage threshold and the source of the problem is traced.

The system is on-line through telephone hookups with Agrivolt, and was tested when a cool cell pump went out and the alarm went off. Water in an outlet was also sending stray voltage. “If a defective wire leaks to the ground, this farm knows right away to fix it. Nothing is flowing back to the animals,” Dion points out.

Producers need to focus on regular maintenance and monitoring of electrical devices and motors to be sure they are working properly and wiring is well insulated, says Woods. “Stray voltage is starting to get people's attention. If suspected, call electrical experts familiar with stray voltage.

“Keep in mind, stray voltage occurs intermittently, so it often goes unnoticed. It is impossible to eliminate all sources of stray voltage on a farm, but it can be minimized,” she adds.

Most farms have had an ongoing problem for years, adds Dion. Producers don't know what they're losing in productivity. In the past, they've taken for granted higher death rates or tail biting problems because they've always had them. He figures 5-10% of his business is in swine facilities.

Years ago, Dion recalls, they would deal with 20 to 25 circuit breakers on a swine operation. Today, operations have 140 to 150 circuit breakers. “Electricity has to be managed today, and the tools are available,” he says.

For more information on neutral-to-ground (stray) voltage issues, contact Agrivolt, Inc. at (800) 463-3486 (push 9 at the prompt for English), or

Stray Voltage Defined

Stray voltage is the voltage difference between two contact points. When an electrical conductor, such as an animal, connects these points the current flows through this completed circuit. It comes from the neutral-to-earth voltage that develops as current flows through the ground at points where the system is grounded. Any neutral-to-earth voltage within the system can be transferred to any grounded objects.

Stray voltage can also be generated by the power supplier so it comes into the farm on the primary neutral wire, or it can be caused on farm by faulty wiring, worn insulation, loose connections, improper grounding, shorts in motors or unbalanced 120-volt loads on the circuits.

Stray voltage can also travel through the earth from neighboring facilities. All electricity that comes into a farm strives to travel back to the power source by the easiest possible route. Animals can become a part of that path.

Table 1. 2004 Monthly PigCHAMP Performance Monitor for Farm.
Monitor Performance Jan. 4 Feb. 4 Mar. 4 Apr. 4 May 4 June 4 July 4 Aug 4 Sept. 4 Oct. 4 Nov. 4 Dec. 4 Total
Pigs weaned per sow 11.1 11.2 11.2 11.4 11.0 10.8 10.6 10.4 Stray Voltage Correction August 2004 10.7 11.1 10.7 11.6 10.9
Preweaning mortality,% 12 11.8 12.2 11.8 13.3 11.9 12.4 12.6 9.5 9.8 9.4 7.4 11.5
Ending female inventory 1,910 1,863 1,814 1,827 1,849 1,788 1,815 1,767 1,826 1,846 1,872 1,871 1,871
Sow and gilt deaths 16 25 19 11 22 19 43 23 5 7 8 6 204
Death rate,% 9.7 16.7 12.1 7.4 14.1 12.8 28.1 15.1 3.4 4.5 5.3 3.8 11.1

Triumph Foods' Second Plant Approved

As Triumph Foods puts the finishing touches on its St. Joseph, MO, pork-processing plant, the pork producer-owned company announced plans late last year to build a second plant in East Moline, IL. That plant will cost $136-160 million to build and process 1,000 hogs/hour, or four million head/year, the same as its St. Joseph plant.

Although the issue faced a great deal of public opposition, East Moline City Council members unanimously approved a redevelopment agreement with Triumph, including about $20 million in incentives, according to local development authorities.

Triumph's Jerry Lehenbauer, vice president of hog procurement and genetic operations, says Triumph is now working with the state of Illinois on several state incentive programs. Once those agreements are completed, the company will move forward with engineering and design work. The plant opening is targeted for 2009.

The Quad City Development Group, which helped lure Triumph to East Moline, touted the 1,000 new jobs and $28 million payroll as the largest development project in the Illinois-Iowa Quad Cities area in 30 years.

Triumph indicated the East Moline location was chosen because of its large available workforce, central location and great road and air access. Triumph estimates up to 30% of the facility's pork products will be exported to Japan.

Triumph Foods owners include Christensen Family Farms, Eichelberger Farms, the Hanor Company, New Fashion Pork and Tri-Oak Foods, plus Allied Producers Cooperative, a group of smaller, independent producers.

Lehenbauer says the majority of hogs supplied to the new plant would come from current Triumph owner-members.

European Union Urged to Cut Tariffs

The European Union's (EU) stand on agricultural tariffs was regarded as “untenable” and “holding hostage” current World Trade Organization talks in Hong Kong, according to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

NPPC international trade counsel Nick Giordano urged the EU to reduce its agricultural duties, particularly for pork.

The EU protects its producers through quotas, high tariffs and numerous non-science-based health restrictions on imports.

Canadian Leader Passes Away

Frank Aherne, North Saanich, British Columbia, internationally recognized swine nutrition and management specialist, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, passed away on Dec. 6, 2005.

Aherne's service to the North American pork industry spanned nearly three decades through his research, teaching and extension work at the University of Alberta. He authored over 160 papers in refereed journals, numerous chapters in books, many conference proceedings and extension-type publications, in addition to several articles for National Hog Farmer.

Aherne served the National Research Council committee on swine nutrient requirements through two separate terms and on the editorial boards of the Canadian Journal of Animal Science and the American Society of Animal Science's Journal of Animal Science.

In 2003, the Dr. Frank Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production was launched in his name. The awards are presented during the Banff Pork Seminar held in Banff, Alberta in January.

Aherne died following a six-week battle with heart disease.

NPPC Prevails in Mexican Anti-Dumping Trade Case

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is applauding the decision by the government of Mexico to drop its antidumping case on unprocessed hams from the United States.

In June 2004, Mexico filed an anti-dumping case in response to Mexican pork producers' charges of unfair prices on U.S. hams.

“Mexico should never have initiated the case in the first place,” says NPPC President Don Buhl, a pork producer from Tyler, MN. “The U.S. pork industry did not, and will not, dump ham or any pork product onto the Mexican market. We sell hams to Mexico because it is very profitable.”

Audits Return to Basics

Mike Eisenmenger, DVM, has launched a return-to-basics approach to educating producers on ventilation.

Many barn offices feature a dizzying array of computer-controlled settings for fans and inlets that attempt to calculate the perfect balance of temperature and humidity and ensure pig comfort.

The vast display of ventilation designs faced by field supervisors overseeing contract grower barns can sometimes be a nightmare.

“It's like all of a sudden they have to learn three or four different controllers,” says Mike Eisenmenger, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN. “Some barns will have four fans on stage 1, and other systems will have two fans on stage 1. We have all of these different parameters trying to run ventilation, making it difficult for a lot of these supervisors.”

Audit Focuses on the Basics

Eisenmenger's approach is to return to the basics of ventilation management, making sure producers understand the systems they have in place.

He has formulated a four-step program to assist numerous production companies in the Midwest with an audit of their ventilation systems.

An audit has proven especially beneficial in reviewing systems installed during the recent barn-remodeling craze, he says. As barns increased hog numbers, extra fans were often added to boost ventilation rates (cfms/pig) without providing matching fresh air inlets.

Because each system is different, it's also vital to identify the controller being used and build a cheat sheet to ensure employees know how to run it.

Eisenmenger's audit includes these four basic steps to ensure everything works as a system:

  1. Make sure outside air is pulled through the attic. “Honestly, this has been a problem because a lot of older buildings were built with residential soffit material that, over time, gets sealed up with dust, rust and water vapor, which inhibits air from flowing into the attic,” he says. This step evaluates fan power and whether soffits allow air to be drawn into the attic.

  2. Make sure adequate air flows into the room. This calculation includes the number of fans available, cfms/pig and the inlets in the barn. If there are enough inlets, it is important to also check whether they are managed and functioning properly.

  3. Make sure producers know how to operate the whole system, understanding the complete ventilation package.

  4. Make sure environmental conditions are right in the barns. Eisenmenger strongly advises the use of temperature and humidity recording devices to measure room conditions and compare them with barn settings.

Positioning of temperature-recording devices is critical. They must be away from heaters and inlets to get accurate readings. Eisenmenger recommends sensitive temperature probes instead of regular mercury thermometers, which are slow to react and can miss rapid temperature swings. One or two recorders/room is adequate.

Swine Vet Center uses the Temp-Recorder from The Monitoring Company because it is durable, responds very quickly to temperature changes and can be disinfected. Price varies from $90 to $180, depending on level of sensitivity desired.

Program Confidence

Eisenmenger says it's important that the producer or grower “buys into” your barn environmental program so he/she believes your suggestions are sound. To achieve that, he sets up a trial where the producer runs one room in a barn his way and Eisenmenger runs a room his way. Then they compare results.

“The last thing you want is to get in a situation where you tell them how to set the controller, and they follow those recommendations while you are there, but then they switch it back to their method when you leave,” he explains.

Some question whether swine veterinarians are the best resource for ventilation advice. Eisenmenger responds, “I would never claim to be a ventilation expert, but I take an interest in it and try to make it work.”

In fact, he says, swine veterinarians are uniquely qualified to assess ventilation because environment and pig health are closely intertwined.

Mark Stork, nursery supervisor for Holden Farms' 17 contract pig nurseries in southern Minnesota, strongly agrees. “Mike's ventilation auditing experience and advice have helped us a tremendous amount in getting our systems up to code,” he says.

Spotting Ventilation Problems

Eisenmenger says it's easy to spot a ventilation system that's really out of whack — pigs have a bad bout of diarrhea or whole groups of pigs are piled up in the pens. More challenging are the subtle problems caused by drafts, or fine-tuning the environment so pigs do well.

Audits are nearly completed in Holdens' contract nurseries and contract wean-to-finish systems, but fine-tuning continues.

The trick in tweaking systems is keeping the pigs warm, dry, draft-free and comfortable.

For new wean-to-finish pigs, it is important to run the ventilation system just enough to take care of the moisture and the gases so they can lie down on a surface that is 85-90° F without a draft blowing across them, Eisenmenger says.

He paints this picture of a comfortable pig: “He kind of lies next to his buddy, on his side, with his feet out. If he is lying flat on his sternum or piled two pigs deep somewhere, he is not comfortable.”

Finding Comfort in New Barn

Pigs were fairly comfortable one week after arrival at Mike Spindler's new 2,000-head, wean-to-finish barn in early December. With construction work incomplete in one of the two rooms, pigs were double-filled in one room.

This was the first fill of the barn for the former dairyman-turned-contract grower for Holden Farms near Blooming Prairie, MN.

Even though the barn was double-filled, conditions were still challenging for the 19-day-old pigs as a cold snap hit the area. Room temperature was only 58° F when the pigs were placed, reports John Jovaag, who oversees all of Holden Farms' contract grower field staff.

Several key features make placing weaned pigs on 4-in. concrete slats work, relates Eisenmenger. The room features 16 brooder (radiant) heaters hung across two pens that blast out 5,000 btu (low setting) to 17,000 btu (high setting). Two biodegradable floor mats provide ample space for 70 pigs in each of the double-stocked pens.

“This barn is zoned just like a farrowing house; you've got an environment that the pigs really love, and they've got an environment on the mats that is going to be 90-95° F. The zone system reduces propane costs,” Eisenmenger says.

“Pigs urinate and defecate in the cooler area of the pens, grab a bite to eat and come back to the mat area where it is warm,” he adds. “They have a sleeping zone and a living zone, with the whole goal to conserve LP. Air comes in through the inlets and flows into the non-sleeping zone, so we can keep it draft-free and warm in the mat area next to the gates.”

After a few weeks, the brooder heaters and mats will be pulled, leaving the 200,000 btu, L.B. White heaters to provide room warmth when the temperature drops below 76° F, says Jovaag.

The tight-fitting double curtains, enhanced by 4-mil plastic designed to double the R-value of the curtain insulation, provide heat conservation. This extra sheet of plastic will be removed when mats and brooders are removed.

Nursery Family Affair

At the 4,000-head, two-room nursery run by Mark and Lyn Meany and family at Rose Creek, MN, Eisenmenger stressed that minimum ventilation be strictly adhered to with the recent cold snap. “When the temperatures have been nearly 30 degrees below the average for early December, it is doubly critical that we have the minimum ventilation set right on a weaned pig,” he says.

The Meany nursery is a solid-wall barn, so the biggest heat loss will be through ventilation. The goal is to keep the ventilation set low, maintain humidity between 50-70%, reduce heat loss and maintain temperatures on the plastic flooring at 85-90° F for about a week or so postweaning.

When Eisenmenger checked the barn, humidity readings were below 50% and floors were 82-83® F. Ventilation was lowered further to bring up room temperatures.

To check barns, Eisenmenger uses the hand-held RayTec Mini-Temp to spot-check floor and room temperatures and the Thermal Hygrometer from Mannix to measure relative humidity. His rule — if humidity is below 50%, you are overventilating; if above 70%, you are underventilating.

The Meany nursery doesn't use much supplemental heat or mats in regular pens. Pens are stocked with 30 pigs/pen to provide more body heat.

Pens are walked frequently, with fallouts moved to intensive care pens where they get special feed supplements and automatic drinkers. Mats and heat lamps are also provided.

By the time pigs reach 50 lb. and are ready for the finisher, most pens contain 24-25 pigs.

This special attention held mortalities under 1% on the last group of 4,000 weaned pigs.

Holden Farms' contract growers receive weaned pigs commingled from eight Holden sow farms. Pig health has been good because virtually the entire 30,000-sow system is free of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, says Eisenmenger.

Reaching Ventilation Objectives

A barn's ventilation system provides adequate fresh air, keeps toxic gases below maximum allowable concentrations and warns producers of system shutdown.

By Joe Vansickle
Senior Editor

Your ventilation system offers comfort year 'round and helps meet productivity goals, according to Steve Pohl, agricultural engineer at South Dakota State University.

In doing so, ventilation controls humidity, reduces room condensation and lowers moisture penetration through the building's vapor barriers.

Ventilation also affects air temperature, airspeed across animals, dust and disease organisms and odor and gas levels, says Pohl, in a series of Professional Managers Conference talks sponsored by the National Pork Board.

The ventilation system must be designed to match the group size of the pigs being housed.

Realize that the air temperature in a hog barn is seldom the temperature that the pig feels. The pig's effective environmental temperature is basically influenced by those same factors that impact ventilation.

Ideal relative humidity is 50-70% for pig comfort, and to lessen the impact of bacteria, viruses and odors and gases.

Setting Ventilation Rates

Ventilation rates are based on several principles, starting with outside temperature, and including heat control and odor and moisture control rates, says Pohl.

Recommended ventilation rates for minimum (cold weather) and hot weather settings are listed in Table 1.

Pohl points out that recommended mechanical ventilation rates based on cubic feet/minute (cfm) are rising. The norm used to be about 35 cfm/pig with pit ventilation. The curtains could open to exhaust extra heat, but winter winds could cause drafts.

Today, more barns are running 45-60 cfm/pig using mechanical ventilation, with pit fans and wall fans. Curtains don't open until the temperature hits 40° F or higher.

Heating, Cooling Components

Barn environment is comprised of a wide variety of basic ventilation, heating and cooling systems to meet producers' needs in different climactic and production settings.

Pohl uses prevailing weather conditions to determine number and size of exhaust fans needed.

Buy exhaust fans that meet your needs for capacity, efficiency, quality, service and cost.

Air inlets should be placed to provide proper air distribution throughout the room and help maintain proper environment in animal zones, states Pohl. Match inlet size to maximum ventilation needs and ensure they're adjustable.

Whether inlets are sidewall, ceiling, attic or continuous baffle, it's important they provide proper room air distribution at minimum airflow rates, he stresses.

Attic air intake is a crucial part of the air distribution system. There should be 1 sq. ft. of opening for every 400 cfm of airflow. For example, 60,000 cfm divided by 400 cfm = 150 sq. ft. of opening.

Controllers, Sensors

When selecting barn controllers, ease of understanding and operation are the top two factors producers should keep in mind, says Pohl.

Other vital selection criteria include temperature tolerance, number of stages and building/room applications.

Sensors should be placed in a location that represents temperature in the pig space.

Saving Energy

Pohl ticks off a few management lapses that can cause a ventilation system to waste energy:

  • Dirt/dust ▸ in. thick can produce up to a 40% reduction in fan and shutter airflow.

  • Air inlets that are poorly maintained obstruct airflow. Shield exterior winter air intakes from wind.

  • Building curtains that drop several inches at once can produce massive drops in temperature (10-15 degrees). Curtains moving too far too fast are the number one cause of temperature swings in finishers, especially those set on minimum ventilation. Moving curtains too far or too often leads to large temperature swings, says Pohl. Curtains should move no more than 1-2 in. at a time.

Taking Responsibility

Ultimately, the manager of a swine unit is responsible for the environment inside the barn, regardless of initial factory installer settings.

Target specific temperature settings for the controller to follow.

Adjust variable speed fans to mesh with controller settings, and match up variable speed fans with the appropriate motor curves if that function is available on your controller. Determine an acceptable minimum setting and overall operating range.

More information is available at Midwest Plan Service at

Table 1. Recommended Ventilation Rates*
Minimum Hot Weather
Sow & litter 20 cfm/sow 500 cfm/sow
Nursery, 12-30 lb. 2 cfm/pig 25 cfm/pig
Nursery, 30-75 lb. 3 cfm/pig 35 cfm/pig
Finishing, 75-150 lb. 7 cfm/pig 75 cfm/pig
Finishing, 150-250 lb. 10 cfm/pig 120 cfm/pig
Gestating sows 12 cfm/pig 150 cfm/pig
Breeding sows 14 cfm/pig 300 cfm/pig
*Cfm refers to air movement rates based on cubic feet/minute.

Boron Shows Promise In Curbing Lameness

Osteochondrosis — a big word that has all but dropped out of the swine industry's vocabulary — has resurfaced in a small study conducted by swine veterinary consultant E. Wayne Johnson, DVM, at the University of Illinois.

Johnson says the condition, often called OCD, occurs in the articular cartilage and the growth plate (see Figure 1). The cartilage cells of the growth plates and articular ends of the bones divide and grow, and can change to bone through ossification. A good blood supply is essential to bring oxygen and nutrients to the cartilage and bone. The pressures of rapid body weight gain can damage the tiny blood vessels and the rapidly dividing and differentiating cells, resulting in abnormal cartilage and bone and often in pain and lameness.

“In animals that develop OCD, we think that at least part of the problem is poor cross-linkage among the extracellular matrix components, such that the pressure is concentrated at one point rather than being distributed over a unified cartilage surface. A joint is like touching two balls together. The pressure is concentrated in a fairly small spot,” Johnson explains.

The cartilage may buckle or tear into a flap that can come loose and float in the joint. The damaged tissue can heal, but often with scarring of the normally smooth, slippery joint surface

“Often, animals start out with OCD, which later turns into arthritis because the joint is irregular and it's grinding all of the time,” Johnson says.

Johnson's interest in OCD piqued when a client called about “a horrible lameness problem” in a group of Durocs and Yorkshires. After examining the pigs for injury and basic skeletal structure, he suspected OCD.

Boron Field Tests

Drawing on some long-recognized work in plants that confirmed the importance of adequate boron for structural stabilization of plant cell walls by cross-linkage, Johnson wondered if the mineral could improve the strength and durability of cartilage in pig joints. A preliminary boron treatment of the pigs proved promising.

Later, he set up a field test with 56 fast-growing, heavily muscled pigs (35 Durocs, 21 Yorkshires). Pigs, averaging 42 lb., were divided into three straw-bedded pens. One pen, serving as the “control” group, was fed a typical 18% crude protein commercial diet. Another received the commercial diet plus 25 ppm boron. The third group received the commercial diet plus 10 ppm boron and 250 ppm ascorbic acid.

During a three-month trial, pigs were individually weighed and evaluated for lameness, then were sacrificed and had joints scored for OCD lesions. In this test, 61% of the non-supplemented pigs became lame, compared with only 3% of the pigs receiving boron. Lameness rate did not differ between breeds, and growth rate did not differ across treatments. Ascorbic acid had no effect on the variables measured.

“From these results, it may be concluded that OCD in swine apparently is a boron-responsive disease,” Johnson observes. OCD may be one manifestation of pandemic boron deficiency in swine fed low-boron, grain-based diets without boron supplementation.

Boron Needs Approval

Here's the catch — the Food and Drug Administration has not approved boron in any form for use in animal feeds.

“We know that animals that grow faster are more likely to get OCD. Further research should determine dose and other biological effects,” he says.

Johnson believes OCD is a major cause of lameness and culling, and that boron supplementation could help alleviate OCD-related problems in growing pigs and breeding animals.

PMWS Sweeps Across Ontario

Canadian officials believe that three swine diseases are working in tandem as postweaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) spreads across Ontario.

PMWS is sweeping into eastern Canadian swine herds, along with increased incidence of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and H3N2 swine influenza virus (SIV).

Robert Friendship, DVM, University of Guelph, says 54% of the herds he tested now have H3N2, compared with none a year ago.

Stratford, Ontario swine veterinarian George Charbonneau reports that 22% of the tested herds infected with circovirus (PMWS) are also infected with H3N2 SIV, and there has been a tripling of PMWS cases.

Gaylen Josephson, DVM, a retired government disease specialist now working for the Ontario Pork Industry Council (OPIC), believes that most of the province's herds are infected with circovirus, but they simply aren't showing signs of disease.

Josephson suggests that the new strain of PRRS being identified came from Europe, because genetic typing at the Animal Health Laboratory at Guelph indicates it's 98% identical to the new strain that has swept the United Kingdom and France, and 99% identical to the strain in Quebec.

Disease Losses

The losses in Ontario due to PRRS have proved devastating to some herds. Martin Misener, DVM, of the Millbank Veterinary Clinic, says abortion rates in sows have reached 65% and death losses of 15-40% are common.

He says 17,000 of the 80,000 sows the clinic oversees are infected. PRRS losses have run as high as 25%.

Misener says it's possible to get rid of the disease, but hog density in parts of Ontario make it difficult.

“Gilt isolation and acclimation are absolute key factors in moving forward,” he says. “We need to make sure we do this right.”

Misener has had good success with vaccinating sows and then injecting them with Pulmotil to reduce the severity of the vaccine response. The result is a high survival rate of protected sows.

PMWS, which strikes Canadian pigs three to five weeks after they enter the finisher, is costing the province $8.8 million a year due to death losses. When treatment costs and culling losses are added in, the total balloons to an estimated $17.6 million.