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Skip the Sorting

Sorting pigs by weight when stocking a grower-feeder barn is a waste of time, says researcher.

A trial conducted by research scientist Harold Gonyou at the Prairie Swine Centre, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, shows the performance of non-sorted pigs was as good, if not better, than pigs sorted into three groups — heavy, middle and light.

Gonyou found no advantage in sorting pigs in continuous-flow management systems, and it actually slowed development in all-in, all-out (AIAO) systems.

Average daily gain (ADG) and behavior did not differ between pigs in weight-balanced pens vs. variable-weight pens. However, the rate that pens and rooms were emptied differed depending on grouping strategy and pig flow management.

“Under a continuous-flow system, pens were emptied in an average of 105.5 days, while under an AIAO system the rooms were emptied in an average of 107.5 days,” Gonyou reports. “Uniform and variable-weight pens emptied at the same rate under the continuous-flow system. Under the AIAO system, rooms of variable-weight pens emptied faster (104.1 days) than did rooms of uniform-weight pens (110.9).

The practice of sorting pigs by size has a long history, dating back to when pigs were commonly fed fixed amounts of feed several times a day.

“When you were limit feeding your pigs, you created a very competitive situation,” Gonyou says. “If you had small pigs in a pen, they tended to fall farther and farther behind.”

Today, pigs in most grow/finish systems in North America can obtain as much feed and water as they want. There is no reason for a dominant pig to defend food and water resources. As long as pigs are able to obtain adequate amounts of feed, dominant pigs appear to adopt a strategy of eating more quickly rather than increasing their defense of the feeder, he explains.

“By taking away competition for feed or water in our pens, we've created a different social situation,” Gonyou says. He believes that sorting pigs stresses the animals until they can find their place in the pen's social pecking order. In unsorted pens, small pigs know they have to defer to larger pigs. There is no need for conflict. However, when they have similar physical attributes — same size, same strength, etc. they become more competitive.

“If you put two pigs together that are within a kilogram (2.2 lb.) in weight, their fights are longer than if you put two pigs together that are 3 kg (10 lb.) apart,” Gonyou says. “If you are close to the weight of another pig, you might lose the first fight. But, two or three weeks later, you might try it again. If you're a small pig, you are not going to get involved in a fight with a big pig and always lose.”

Therefore, weight diversity helps maintain social status and stability in the pens. “Our thought was that if we didn't sort pigs, would we see a reduction of the social stress that happens within a pen and that would be manifested in performance differences,” Gonyou says. “In fact, that's what we find when we are dealing with unsorted pigs that are relatively similar in age, within a couple of weeks of each other.”

Behavior Test, Too

Gonyou also examined whether it made sense to sort pigs by behavioral or personality characteristics. Pigs were divided into one of three groups — aggressive, non-aggressive and a mixture of the two.

“We found that if we put the aggressive pigs together in a pen with just other aggressive pigs, then their productivity was depressed,” Gonyou says. “If we put all the non-aggressive pigs together in a pen, they had good productivity. And, if there was a mixture of aggressive and non-aggressive pigs in a pen, they had good productivity as well.

“You can overcome bad productivity among aggressive pigs by mixing them with non-aggressive pigs. So this study again shows that having diversity or variation within a pen is beneficial to the social hierarchy or the social attitude within that group of animals,” he concludes.

In short, the study shows that it takes all types of pigs to have a productive social structure. Diversity is a good thing if resources are abundant.

“The bottom line is that we probably waste our effort if we spend a lot of time sorting pigs according to body weight when they're going into the grower-finisher barn,” Gonyou says. “I think it's more important to have animals that are fairly close together in age, simply because they'll finish out at the same time.”

Continuous Bin Monitoring

The BinTrac monitor from Novonix Corp. can track up to four feed bins at one time.

The BinTrac monitor from Novonix Corp. uses a direct-contact sensing technology for continuous bin level measurement. It uses three or more sensor cables to register the depth of feed in the bin. The signals from all sensor cables are averaged to minimize errors from voids within the feed. The feed level is then computed and displayed on the monitor's LED bar graph. The BinTrac system is not affected by dust, temperature changes, ice or feed density. It is easy to install and does not require any jacking or complicated mounting. The monitor can track up to four bins at one time. Call (507) 344-8005 or visit

Odor Control

NC is the new odor control product from Delta Environmental, Inc. The unique biocatalyst product stimulates naturally occurring microorganisms to efficiently digest organic compounds, converting them into carbon dioxide, water and other harmless elements. NC is used in the treatment of air, water and soil for purposes of cleaning, odor elimination and other waste management problems. Other features include corrosion control; reduction of chemical oxygen demand, biological oxygen demand, total solids and total suspended solids; and removal of fat, oil and greases. Call (305) 662-9966, ext. 104; or visit

Ultrasound Scanner

The Draminski Animal Scanner from Steuart Labs is a portable ultrasound scanner that diagnoses early-stage pregnancy. The unit features an adjustable, multi-frequency probe, long battery life and clear images so pregnancy can be checked as early as 18 days after breeding. The scanner also has high-impact, aluminum casing; PC data transmission capabilities; built-in memory for 200 pictures; backfat measurement ability; and 9-hour battery life. Call (800) 210-9665 or visit

PRRS Profiling

Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., is offering pork producers a diagnostic profiling service to protect pigs from porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). The service can accurately assess the exposure pattern of the PRRS virus and determine if vaccine use can help reduce the economic impact of a PRRS infection in a herd. The diagnostic service is available for a limited time. Call (800) 325-9167 or visit

Data Collection Tool

FBS Systems introduces PigPen, a data collection tool for pork producers. PigPen uses a low-tech pen and paper interface with a high-tech twist. As production records are recorded on “digital” paper, the keystrokes are stored in a special pen. When the pen is connected to a computer, the keystrokes are converted into data and transmitted to a central database. The pen automatically transfers the time-stamped records over the Internet to a host computer to be reviewed, edited and synchronized with the FBS Smart Feeder management system. PigPen tracks livestock movements, treatments and death loss. Digital signatures and initials can be stored with each record as well. Call (800) 437-7638 or visit

Watering Bowl

Welbourne Innovations, Inc. introduces the Ascend watering bowl, a unique wean-to-finish, float-operated water fountain. Ascend is designed with a valve that causes water to exit in a lateral direction at the base of the bowl, which stirs up water throughout the bowl each time the valve is activated. When water fills a portion of the bowl, the float located in the interior of the valve rises up into a restriction chamber, causing the float to lock the valve stem in the off position. The company says the fountain saves water by 28% over the leading wall-mounted bowl, and over 60% over swing nipples. Ascend is made with a divider rod, allowing two animals to drink uninterrupted. The edge of the bowl is rolled inward, keeping the liquid in the bowl. A unique design prevents pigs from playing with the valve or using it to cool themselves, so pigs won't crowd or loiter around the fountain. Call (217) 285-5276 or visit

Send product submissions to Dale Miller, Editor (952) 851-4661; [email protected]

A New Year's Resolution

We take down the old calendar, recount the year's highlights, then hang a brand spankin' new one. For the more business-minded, this clean slate serves as a good time to review short- and long-term goals.

With that mindset, I think it's time to take a harder look at developing a more congenial relationship with our neighbors to the north.

Clearly, the U.S. and Canadian pork industries have become more integrated. In recent years, 10-12% of the hogs slaughtered and processed in the United States were born in Canada. Eight to 10% are brought in as feeder pigs for finishing; another 2-4% are delivered as market hogs.

Both countries enjoy a reputation of being able to produce abundant supplies of high-quality, safe pork for the domestic and foreign customers we share. Both countries are refining national identification and tracking capabilities centered on premise identification.

Keep a Lid on Expansion

The past 12-18 months have been exceptionally profitable for U.S. producers. Normally, low feed costs and good market prices spell e-x-p-a-n-s-i-o-n. But, as the December Hogs & Pigs report showed, a good deal of self-restraint is being practiced.

The limited growth we're seeing should not be confused with inactivity, however. Truth is, there's plenty of activity on both sides of the border.

No less than a dozen U.S. and Canadian companies have announced plans in the last six months to refurbish existing packing plants or build new ones.

When packers begin talking about new slaughtering/processing facilities or adding shifts at existing plants, we mentally tabulate the impact of the shackle-space shuffle, reworking where sow herds will reside, the flow of feeder pigs and market hogs.

This mental exercise is an important part of short- and long-term planning to ensure the pigs and plants are located in the most efficient, cost-effective proximity.

Yours, Mine and Ours

Considering how intertwined our respective pork industries are, we still tend to aggravate one another with protective positioning.

In 2004, the States charged that illegally subsidized Canadian hogs were being dumped into the States at less than their cost of production — thus harming U.S. pork producers. Months of hearings, court rulings and appeals later, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that Canadian pigs were not harming U.S. producers. In the interim, both sides spent millions on research and legal fees to build their cases.

Recently, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) decided that U.S. corn exported to Canada is being subsidized and dumped. Therefore, a $1.65/bu. duty will be imposed on imported U.S. corn. This action will add an estimated $2 to every weanling pig, $16-18/finisher, and over $40 to the annual cost of feeding a sow in Canada.

In an effort to take the sting out of the imposed duty, the CBSA offered to compensate Canadian producers that finished hogs on U.S. corn — providing those hogs are slaughtered in the States.

This new twist is sure to put downward pressure on the U.S. market, and you can bet your Christmas gift cards that another trade action suit will be filed on behalf of U.S. pork producers because the Canadian subsidy is not available to all producers.

And around and around we go. Is anyone looking at the big picture here?

I bring this discussion to the forefront because I think it is high time that U.S. and Canadian pork industries begin a dialogue that factors in the long-term viability of what has become a North American pork industry.

We are in a transitionary period, realigning who will farrow and raise the pigs, who will slaughter and process them most efficiently. A notable portion of U.S. and Canadian pork producers are dependent upon each other.

The strength and profitability of our industries rely on their abilities to build solid alliances that will present the most economical balance of product and processing.

A good place to start would be to synchronize the respective countries' quarterly pig crop and breeding herd counts. Currently, the U.S. Quarterly Hogs & Pigs report is released, then a month later Statistics Canada reveals their latest hogs, pigs and breeding herd quarterly counts. Surely, it would be mutually beneficial for these reports to be gathered and released at the same time.

The pork industries in the United States and Canada face similar challenges and opportunities. Good decisions require the sharing of good information. A more harmonious trade relationship, joint efforts to solve major production challenges and, possibly, addressing foreign and domestic consumer concerns simply makes sense. It would make an excellent New Year's resolution.

PMWS Cases Rebound

Cases of postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) are on the upswing after declining for several years.

Throughout the early-to-mid '90s, the total number of PMWS cases reported from Iowa State University's (ISU) Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) were barely a blip on the radar screen.

Then they jumped into the hundreds, before peaking at 1,116 in 2002.

Following two years of decline, cases are on their way back to near-peak numbers for 2005 (Figure 1).

Data was compiled by Patrick Halbur, DVM, and Tanja Opriessnig, DVM, ISU's VDL.

Halbur presented an update on PMWS at ISU's 13th annual Swine Disease Conference for Swine Practitioners in Ames, IA.

Disease Signs

One thing that has stayed the same over time, says Halbur, is that the two most commonly diagnosed porcine circovirus Type 2 (PCV2)-associated production problems continue to be due to respiratory disease as part of the porcine respiratory disease complex (PRDC) and PMWS. In 2005, it appears that the number of PCV2-associated cases of PRDC and PMWS will be about equal.

Much less commonly diagnosed diseases include PCV-2-associated enteritis, abortions and porcine dermatitis and nephropathy syndrome (PDNS).

Halbur reports that the group at ISU's VDL recently investigated a couple of outbreaks of respiratory disease and infertility in boar studs naïve for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). The group concluded that PCV2 played a key role, along with Mycoplasmal pneumonia and opportunistic bacteria, in these cases.

PMWS is a chronic wasting syndrome. Current knowledge suggests that for PMWS to cause disease, three things must occur:

  • Circovirus must be present;

  • PCV2 must be associated with lymphoid depletion lesions; and

  • Secondary disease agents must be present to trigger the onset of PMWS.

Most common respiratory disease co-infections that trigger PMWS include PRRS virus, mycoplasma and swine influenza virus.

PMWS typically strikes pigs 2-4 weeks after placement in finishers, or in most cases at 12-14 weeks of age, points out Halbur.

“In most herds that have a problem with circovirus-associated PMWS, we can attribute 5-10% mortality to this syndrome,” says Halbur.

“PCV2 causes sporadic abortions and increased mummified fetuses in the breeding herd. PCV2 infection of suckling and nursery pigs may also cause sporadic cases of heart failure in young growing pigs,” explains Halbur.

It still remains puzzling why a high percentage of pigs are infected with PCV2 but remain clinically healthy.

Strain Differences

Halbur says research has verified major differences in virulence among strains that appear very similar genetically.

“You look at the genome and say there is very little difference, and they shouldn't react differently in pigs. But when we have taken isolates like that and put them in pigs, we have shown there are marked differences in how some of these strains act in the pig.

“So right now we know there are differences among strains, but we don't know how many strains there are, and we don't know how to predict if a strain is virulent or non-virulent,” adds Halbur.

Host Susceptibility

Research at ISU's VDL has also shown clear differences in host susceptibility. Certain lines of pigs within breeds are more susceptible than others to PCV2-associated PMWS, he says.

Additional research into host susceptibility is being pursued, says Halbur.

Management Steps

Follow these steps to treat PMWS:

  • Start with a diagnostic checkup to confirm the problem is PCV2-associated PMWS, PRDC or another manifestation of PCV2-associated disease.

  • Once there is confirmation, identify the co-infecting agents and consider appropriate treatment and control options for those “triggers.”

  • Vaccinating for mycoplasma when it has been identified as part of the syndrome has proven particularly effective in controlling signs of PMWS or PRDC, reports Halbur. Make sure vaccine timing is correct and use a good-quality commercial vaccine.

    In some cases, in addition to vaccination, he also suggests pulse medicating with therapeutic levels of an antibiotic such as chlortetracycline.

  • Focus on pig comfort. Provide appropriate pig density, good ventilation and reduce stress levels.

  • Minimize mixing and moving of pigs. Flow production all-in, all-out.

Vaccine Update

Commercial vaccine trials in Europe have shown effectiveness in reducing both the PCV2 circulation in sows and in improving pig health.

Similarly, a number of U.S. companies have shown promising results in field trials on PCV2 vaccines.

Sow Dentistry 101

Illinois study reveals sow dental problems, raises new questions about impact on culling rates.

In a first-of-its-kind study, Illinois swine veterinarian E. Wayne Johnson has taken on the challenge of learning more about teeth condition in cull sows.

Johnson, also a graduate student working with swine behavior specialist Stanley Curtis at the University of Illinois, has examined the teeth of scores of sows in two packing plants, as well as conducted on-farm dental exams on gestating sows.

Benchmarking Dentition

At the outset, Johnson believes it is important to understand that pigs do not have their full set of teeth until they are nearly two years old.

And, it is important to realize the purpose of the incisors, premolars and molars, and the complications that arise when the deciduous (baby) teeth are retained, and when teeth are chipped or fractured, and the consequences of periodontal disease in sows.

Johnson's baseline studies help identify how widespread teeth problems are in breeding stock and what causes the damage, and, hopefully, provide some solutions.

He references a L.E. St. Clair photo of a sow's skull (redrawn as Figure 1) to show a full set of sow teeth. Table 1 also shows when pig teeth come in (erupt) during their lifetime.

The third incisors (I3) and the canine (C) teeth are present at birth. These are the “needle teeth” that many clip at birth. “If you don't clip them, they fall out somewhere around 3 months of age. If they are clipped, the root stub can be retained for several months or longer,” explains Johnson.

The incisors and most of the pre-molars erupt within three months. These teeth are much like baby teeth in humans. Most are replaced with permanent teeth by the time pigs are 8 to 20 months of age.

“As the dentition table below shows, the first molar tooth (M1) doesn't come in until it's 4-6 months of age. There's a period in a pig's life when that tooth carries the load, and because there aren't any baby molar teeth, M1, M2 and M3 have to last for the pig's whole life,” he says.

This is important to recognize, he continues, because “pigs are 18-24 months old before they get their full complement of molars and they come into wear.” Sows are considered “mature” when all molars have erupted.

“Figure 1 shows a fairly mature animal. The incisors (I1-3, bottom jaw) are designed as scooping teeth; upper teeth are poorly developed and hardly exist at all. The last molar (M3) is just barely coming in,” he says.

“Pigs don't chew their food much,” Johnson explains. “They just get the feed in their mouths and crunch it down with their molar teeth, then kind of wallow it around in their mouths and get it lubricated enough so they can swallow it.”

Cull Sow Study

Johnson examined the heads of cull sows delivered from herds in the Southeast, Midwest and Canada to slaughtering facilities in Momence, IL, and Des Moines, IA. Initially, sow skulls were taken to the laboratory where he drew pictures to document where teeth problems were occurring, much as a dentist marks a diagram of human teeth during an exam.

“After doing that a few times, I had categorized the scope of the problems, then developed a scoring system so I could rapidly score them,” he explains.

Scores reflect incisor wear, molar wear and incisor loss using a subjective five-point scale. Higher scores reflect an increase in severity. Scores of 3-4 were considered “significant.”

Broken, sharp and jagged teeth creating cheek/lip abrasions, and lacerations and abscesses of the gums, lips and cheeks were also recorded.

Tartar levels and presumptive gingivitis were scored, with scores of 2-3 considered to be significant.

Keeping in mind that only cull sows were assessed, and no history on the 82 sows examined was available, about 85% showed significant dental lesions presumed to cause pain or local tissue reaction. More precisely, 63% had molar wear, 62% had incisor wear, 34% had lost incisors and 85% had more than one of these conditions.

“Normally, the deciduous incisors are lost before a permanent tooth erupts,” Johnson explains. “Retention of one or more deciduous incisors often project at abnormal angles, increasing the vulnerability to periodontal disease and tooth breakage.”

Johnson found 15% had retained deciduous incisors.

Over half of the sows examined had significant tartar and gingivitis, which is associated with recession of the gum line and root exposure of the teeth, especially the molars.

Abscesses were found in 4% of the sows, often forming periodontal pockets and resulting in tooth loss.

See adjoining photos and descriptions (page 23) of some of the teeth problems found in Johnson's sample.

What's Causing the Damage?

Some speculate that “bar-biting” causes M1 failure, but the problem exists in sows without anything to bite, including pastured sows. Teeth grinding is another possibility.

Johnson plans to videotape and study how sows interact with the fronts of different gestation stalls. Sows will face horizontal and vertical bars, straight and angled fronts (one severe, another moderate).

“We think that that will give us some idea whether the stall design and the sow's interaction with her environment is a factor,” he says.

Tartar buildup, gingivitis and periodontal disease with gum regression and root exposure are major contributors to tooth loss. Abscesses are common.

Johnson used a dentist's periodontal probe to measure receding gums. The probe measures 3.5 mm to the base of a black mark and 5.5 mm. to the top of the black mark. Johnson says the probe went well below the 5.5 mm. mark in some sows. Bacteria get down in the periodontal cavities and erode the bone that anchors the tooth.

Gingivitis, common in dogs, frequently develops general disease in the body. “A dog with a bad tooth will often develop kidney or liver problems,” he explains. Plaque infected with bacteria develop and circulate in blood vessels and the heart. It's the same bacteria that were found in the rotted sow teeth, he says.

Nutritional Factors

Johnson thinks diets fed to replacement gilts should be studied, too. Molar development is of less concern in market animals than replacement gilts. Are replacement gilt candidates being fed a normal finishing diet or a developer diet during the critical 4-6 months of age when permanent molars are erupting, he wonders.

“There is some evidence that people who have certain diets have better teeth — even in terms of hardness,” he explains. “One of the things that has been shown to improve hardness is molybdenum.” Boron is another mineral that deserves consideration. Calcium-phosphorus balance should also get a second look, he adds.

Johnson also hopes to study whether vitamin C deficiency could be contributing to periodontal disease in sows, as it does in people. He admits that it's difficult to demonstrate a significant effect of the vitamin. Still, pigs with ample glucose in their bloodstream are capable of making their own vitamin C. Johnson thinks it's possible that thin sows (those in a negative energy state) could develop a vitamin C deficiency.

There are no restrictions on vitamin C supplementation, but it's expensive — $2 to $3/ton for the recommended amount. “That's not so much on a per sow basis, but with large numbers of sows, say 5,000, that's $15,000 a year,” he notes.

On-Farm Study

To better understand any correlation between teeth condition and culling rates, Johnson evaluated the oral condition of 53 live sows, Parities 1 through 10, in a commercial herd.

Sows were snared and scored. Later, the number of cull sows with good teeth vs. bad teeth was compared.

“Molar wear had a significant effect on culling,” reports Johnson. “Sows with bad molars were 17 times as likely to be culled as those with good molars. Even when adjusted for age, sows with bad molars were nine times as likely to be culled.”

This sample was statistically too small to make any definitive projections about the impact of teeth on culling levels, says Johnson, “but we do know that those with bad teeth tended to be culled.”

In all, Johnson has consulted with four commercial herds and all had problems with molar wear and broken teeth, confirming the fairly widespread problem he'd seen in his packing plant work.

Taking the Next Step

Recognizing the problem is the first step to solving it. “When I first started looking at these sows in the packing plant, I felt so dumb,” Johnson admits. “I've worked in the industry for over 20 years, and I wasn't aware that this was going on.”

Realistically, producers and veterinarians aren't going to catch sows and examine their teeth with a periodontal probe. Therefore, the advice given by your dentist also fits here — prevention is the best solution.

Studying sows' interaction with their environment and taking a closer look at nutrient requirements as they pertain to dental health may yield some solutions.

“Remember, if the first molar comes in at 4-6 months of age, that tooth is already developed by the time a gilt is placed in the gilt pool. That means we would have to adjust a late-nursery, early-grower diet to have any effect,” he says.

“Or, as is the case with people, genetics may affect teeth quality. Maybe that's a part of the longevity formula, too,” he adds.

“In herds with high cull rates, maybe we should be doing sow slaughter checks, looking at the reproductive tracts, but also looking at the heads and teeth, because there seems to be a lot of pathology, or disease, there,” says Johnson.

“We know that culling rate and mortality rate are too high, and the longevity is too short in our industry,” he continues. “It appears that bad teeth are associated with higher culling rates. This should be a part of the sow longevity research, and I think it is important that pork producers recognize that. It should be on their radar screens.”

Figure 1. Dentition in Hogs

Porcine Dental Eruption Table
Tooth Deciduous Permanent
Incisor 1 2-4 week 12 months
Incisor 2 2-3 months 16-20 months
Incisor 3 Pre-birth 8-10 months
Canine Pre-birth 9-10 months
Premolar 1 5 months 12-15 months
Premolar 2 5-7 weeks 12-15 months
Premolar 3 and 4
upper 4-8 days 12-15 months
lower 2-4 weeks 12-15 months
Molar 1 4-6 months
Molar 2 8-12 months
Molar 3 18-20 months

A Plethora of Problems

To give producers a better picture of what's happening inside sows' mouths, Illinois researcher E. Wayne Johnson reviews a set of teeth maladies he has found:


Severe incisor wear and breakage; the alveolar bone loss is replaced by connective tissue; the arrow shows the retained deciduous incisor (RDI).


Retained deciduous incisors (arrows) have caused permanent incisors to slip behind the “baby teeth” and forced them to come in at odd angles; the permanent incisors were cracked and a repetitive motion has caused them to gradually chip away. Eventually, the bone will be replaced with scar tissue and a pad will develop.


Broken incisors were examined in live sows and found to be painful. Bacteria gets into the socket, causing the bone to recede, which is replaced by scar tissue. Note bone loss and cratering.


This broken tooth was stuck through the sow's gum; this sow probably quit eating, so the producer culled her.


This very bad tooth had hair and tooth fragments poked into the cavity. Hair is the most common item found in periodontal pockets.


Perforation of the lower lip was fairly common in the culled sows. The broken teeth are so jagged that they pierce their lips. Healing at the margin of the upper wound indicates this is not a new injury.


This mature sow (three molars present) shows severe wear and failure of M1. “This is difficult to understand,” says Johnson. “Why are these sows wearing their teeth out chewing feed that's already ground?”

Biosecurity Overhauled to Control PRRS

Christensen Family Farms (CFF), Sleepy Eye, MN, tightened up biosecurity to limit porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) — and it has reduced breaks.

As many hog farms have learned, cleaning up PRRS is the easy part. Preventing the next break presents a much tougher challenge.

CFF has had a biosecurity program in place for many years, which effectively kept out most new diseases — but it didn't keep out the PRRS virus, says Joel Nerem, CFF staff veterinarian.

CFF presents a tough biosecurity challenge with 150,000 sows across five states. Company-owned gilt and sow production has been conventional health status, with PRRS-positive gilts sourcing new PRRS virus into sow farms. Pigs flow to company and contracted nursery and finishing barns.

To keep PRRS out, CFF designed a long-term disease prevention plan based on an aggressively enforced biosecurity program aimed at reducing disease spread between farms, Nerem reports at the George Young Swine Conference, South Sioux City, NE.

The effort has reduced the number and severity of PRRS breaks and has kept out other diseases.

Biosecurity Program Principles

CFF's new biosecurity program:

  • Keep it simple and consistent;

  • Define biosecurity as procedures to keep out new diseases;

  • Consider every farm “clean” to diseases it does not have, therefore, a new disease/strain introduction to a conventional farm can be just as damaging to health and performance as to a high-health farm. Apply biosecurity principles equally to all farms.

  • Realize the vast majority of potential disease breaks are within CFF's control. “The fact is, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to dragging bugs onto our farms,” says Nerem.

  • Set up a recognized barrier to protect the farm's pigs from exposure to contamination by outside disease agents. “In our system, this barrier is called the ‘clean/dirty line.’ In order for anything to move from the dirty to the clean side, it must either be ‘decontaminated,’ or proven to be free of disease contamination,” says Nerem.

Managing Risks

To address specific risks, CFF focuses on three areas for surveillance: replacement breeding stock, boars (semen) and sow farms.

Two types of monitoring are used.

Reactive monitoring measures disease signs such as coughing. Sudden deaths result in immediate site quarantine, submission of diagnostic materials and veterinary followup.

Reactive monitoring is used to identify diseases that can't be monitored serologically because of vaccination status (Mycoplasmal pneumonia, swine flu) or for diseases that can produce pronounced clinical signs (Transmissible gastroenteritis, Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia).

Proactive monitoring is applied to PRRS serology and molecular diagnostics.

CFF's PRRS protocol is to test replacement stock prior to movement, boars prior to semen shipment. Results decide if animals or semen are shipped.

“Any results that do not meet expectations — positive or suspicious — result in quarantining and retesting,” states Nerem.

Pig transportation has been shown to be a key biosecurity risk, and very effective way to spread PRRS virus, based on recent research. To control truck risk areas CFF has:

  • Established dedicated trucks, trailers and drivers for PRRS-positive or PRRS-negative loads. Those vehicles use dedicated truck washes that are positive or negative for PRRS.

  • Assigned dedicated trailers to specific farms, flows or pyramids within the PRRS-negative system. Pigs from a farm with greater potential for disease introduction are hauled on separate trailers from trailers moving replacement stock into a multiplier.

  • Started a strict truck sanitation program. “All trailers dedicated to our PRRS-negative wash/flows are washed, disinfected with a tested disinfectant product, dried and individually inspected,” comments Nerem. “Trailers that don't pass inspection are rewashed and must pass inspection before hauling pigs.”

A second transportation risk is loading areas, which must be washed and disinfected if open to the outside. Pig movement must be unidirectional and all parties must recognize the “point of no return” (clean/dirty line).

The third transport risk area is disease exposure from in-transit contamination due to aerosol spread and road spray. Dedicated truck routes and off-hour deliveries are followed to reduce pig exposure in transit.

Restricting Access

On-farm access is restricted by:

  • Eliminating rendering for dead disposal on sites of high biosecurity importance.

  • Keeping gates to the sites locked and only individuals approved for site access have keys.

  • Notifying employees weekly on the correct order to access sites, from a biosecurity standpoint.

  • Enforcing downtime rules.

To move from the dirty side to the clean side requires:

  • People: Follow the shower-in, shower-out process. Entry requires farm manager approval.

  • Pigs: Incoming animals require quarantine, observation and blood testing to prove they are not bringing in disease.

  • All supplies and other items brought onto the farm must be disinfected, fumigated and a minimum downtime observed.

  • Exceptional items like semen, lunches and certain electronics are double-bagged and handed through the window, which is the clean/dirty line. Double-bagging is a process where items in a “clean” environment are placed within two plastic bags, each individually sealed and delivered to the farm. At the farm, the person delivering the item opens the outer bag, and someone on the clean side retrieves it through the window, grasping the inner “clean” bag and transferring the item into the clean side of the farm.

  • Restrict access by insects, rodents and other pests. Insect netting is placed on inlets and the sidewalls of naturally ventilated barns. Insecticides and rodenticides are used regularly, along with environmental management, to eliminate insect and pest habitats.

Targeting 30 P/S/Y? Use this Checklist

Just a few years ago, a sow farm averaging 26 pigs/sow/year (P/S/Y) was considered a leading performer. But the Danes have demonstrated that more is possible, which has many top managers in the United States targeting 30 P/S/Y and hitting it.

Getting to 30 P/S/Y is not for the faint of heart, according to reproductive physiologist Mark Wilson of Minitube of America. Wilson, the firm's vice president of technology transfer, says achieving the 30 P/S/Y goal requires extreme drive and a laser-like focus on increasing the number of pigs born and weaned, while minimizing non-productive days.

Wilson offers sow unit managers and their staffs this checklist:

  • Start with the right animals

    Genetics affect a variety of factors contributing to pig production. Wilson says sows must possess the genetic potential to farrow 13.4-13.7 live pigs/litter. If your sows consistently come up short of that mark, 30 P/S/Y is probably out of the question.

    But, Wilson warns, there is some data suggesting that 15-20% of sows are having more than 30 ovulations and that embryo losses are occurring later in pregnancy. These two factors — increased number of eggs ovulated and later embryo losses — may impact pig uniformity, muscle development and pig performance later in the grow-finish period.

    Sows must also be bred to be excellent mothers with 14 functional teats. They must be capable of weaning lots of pigs while minimizing loss of body condition and muscle mass (protein).

  • Increase weaning age

    Today, the trend is to wean older pigs — close to 21 days of age. If you haven't moved in this direction, you might consider it because it can impact pig performance, mortality and subsequent litter size, Wilson says.

    Quoting 2004 research in Denmark by L.V. Himmelberg, Wilson notes that with each additional day in weaning age from 15 to 21 days, there is an average production increase of 0.12 pigs/day. However, genetics may impact the magnitude of this response, he adds.

  • Achieve a 4- to 6-day wean-to-estrus interval

    Given that longer lactation periods are beneficial, and the fact that you have relatively little control in adjusting the gestation period, wean-to-estrus interval is a biggie when it comes to shortening the length of the reproductive cycle.

    Good nutrition is essential for a quick return to estrus after weaning, especially among Parity 1 females. If you are seeing wean-to-estrus intervals over six days, Wilson recommends taking a close look at your nutrition program and the factors that affect sow feed intake.

  • Optimize sow nutrition and intake

    Wilson offers six basic tips for encouraging high feed intake in sows during lactation:

    1. Keep ambient temperature below 70° F if possible.

    2. Check water flow to make sure 0.5 gal./minute is being delivered.

    3. Keep fresh feed in front of sows so they get all they want without wasting it.

    4. Feed multiple times per day.

    5. Use flavor enhancers.

    6. Avoid moldy feed.

  • Pay attention to gilt development

    Whether you breed gilts at an older age and heavier weights, perhaps to avoid a second-parity slump, or you stimulate gilts to cycle early and breed on the second or third estrous period to optimize litter size, Parity 1 females have a huge impact on reproductive performance because they make up a large percentage of most herds.

    Successful gilt development helps prevent disease and improves reproductive performance.

  • Be vigilant about heat checking

    Often, boars get too much credit for heat detection, says Wilson. While consistent, dedicated contact with high-libido, mature boars is a valuable tool for identifying females in heat, careful observation by the technician is critical. Standing response to the boar is the best determinant of which animals to breed.

  • Inseminate at the proper time

    A successful mating program can impact litter size and also improve conception rates.

    Although artificial insemination technique is important, Wilson says the exact timing of insemination is even more critical when it comes to fertility. Ideally, semen must be in the sow or gilt 8-16 hours prior to ovulation. Wilson says a review of the literature in the past 10-15 years shows that ovulation occurs about two-thirds (67-75%) of the way through standing heat.

    Another way to look at timing of insemination is that most ovulations occur within 36-42 hours after standing estrus. Wilson says breeding regimens should be farm specific. It is important to understand the total length of time your sows stand in heat in order to figure when they will likely ovulate.

    One simple and practical approach often used is to breed when sows are found in standing heat, and then again 24 hours later.

    You can also verify the exact timing of ovulation by using real-time ultrasound, Wilson says.

  • Use high-quality semen and handle it properly

    Adequate sperm cell concentration is necessary for good litter size. Although only approximately 40 sperm cells are directly involved in fertilization, a larger concentration of sperm cells must be inseminated to ensure plenty of viable cells are delivered in the sow.

    A concentration of at least 2.5 billion viable cells/dose is considered ideal for semen shipped and stored prior to insemination. Handling semen properly is very important, which includes keeping semen stored at 60-64° F (15-17° C) and avoiding quick fluctuations in temperature.

  • Train your employees

    Wilson says it takes just one poorly performing stockperson to have a negative impact on reproductive performance. He believes that formal training to teach all technicians proper procedures decreases reproductive problems and contributes to improved pig production.

  • Keep accurate records

    If you don't have a precise understanding of what's happening with your sows, it is difficult to know where to concentrate your efforts to improve reproductive performance.

For example, you'll want to gauge whether shortening the wean-to-estrus interval or improving insemination timing, or both, will yield the best P/S/Y results. Accurate records are important tools for improving performance levels, Wilson emphasizes.

More New Sows than Reported?

While USDA's December Hogs and Pigs Report indicates very modest growth (0.7% or 42,000 head) in the U.S. sow herd, I keep hearing from people "on the ground" that a significant (or at least "non-trivial," in economics parlance) expansion is underway.

This information comes from the people selling breeding stock, buildings and services directly to the individuals and companies making the buying decisions. I tend to put more stock in the accuracy of those direct-contact reports, while admitting that they may not represent complete coverage of the industry.

Several of these people have lists that show 150,000 to 170,000 new sows and the names of the individuals/companies putting them in. It's pretty hard to argue when they can name names and tell you exactly where they are located. And, the remarkable thing is, the lists are all pretty similar.

One factor that we have to keep in mind, though, is the rate at which these 150,000 to 170,000 new sows are going in. Nearly everyone I've talked to over the past few months has indicated that the expansion is moving much slower than planned. Permitting delays and higher building costs are the most frequently cited reasons. A few projects have been cancelled, but the consensus is that plenty remain in the works and that it is only a matter of time until the units get built.

Finishing Space Growing Too
Recent run-ups in weaned and feeder pig prices (see Figure 1) support the idea that robust growth in Corn Belt finishing capacity. We've heard of 1 to 2 million new spaces in Iowa alone. That's 2 to 4 million pigs/year! Those spaces will need to be filled by pigs from somewhere.

Those pigs did not come from Canada in late 2005, but the Canadian corn duties could put those pigs on the road soon. Data for the first week of 2006 (90,145 head, 8% lower than one year ago) are not alarming, but this situation warrants close observation.

Growth is not bad unless it is too large and/or too fast. This expansion could be pretty large by today's standards, but it could come slow enough so that it doesn't cause a huge train wreck -- perhaps just a prolonged, minor one. That doesn't sound too good either.

Tough Week at CME
To say that it has been a tough week for Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Lean Hogs futures would be an understatement. Two limit-down days and another with significant losses have left February futures nearly $5 below last week's close. The early declines were blamed on fund selling and the roll of commodity index funds (most notably the Goldman-Sachs fund) out of February and into April.

Those factors were important, but a big negative for short-term price outlook is what is happening with chicken. News of bird flu infections in Eastern Europe has cast a negative pall over the chicken market. Even more important, it appears that eastern Europeans are shying away from chicken regardless of its source in much the same way that Asians did in 2005.

That is bad news for the U.S. chicken industry and it is showing up in product prices. Thursday's USDA Northeast Broiler/Fryer Parts Price report ( showed boneless/skinless breasts at $1.00/lb. and bulk leg quarters at $0.22-$0.23/lb. That is very cheap protein and, given the close substitute relationship between chicken and pork, a very negative situation for pork demand.

While deferred Lean Hogs futures are also lower this week, they haven't been impacted nearly as much as has the February contract. That is encouraging except for the fact that broiler egg sets continued to run 2-3% above 2004 levels during non-holiday weeks in November and December. Broiler companies have shown no signs of blinking, yet.

I have urged readers to lock in profits for 2006 marketings and continue to do so. The down-price years of 1994, 1998 and 2002 all saw some reasonable pricing opportunities early in the year. While not as good as last week at this time, there are still some profitable prices being offered. Evaluate them in terms of your costs and capital situation and at least make a conscious decision to not take action. Do not let inaction make the decision for you.

Click to view graphs.

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

Timing Good for New Plant Opening

This week brings news of an actual increase in North American slaughter capacity with the commencement of slaughter operations at Triumph Foods in St. Joseph, MO. The company announced there are currently 500 workers and another 500 will be added over the next 18 months as the plant ramps up operations to slaughter and process 8,000 head/day. The plant is designed to handle a second shift of that size, but there has been no announcement about when a second shift might be added.

The plant's opening had been delayed since October when a natural gas explosion killed one construction worker and injured 14 others.

It's an interesting dynamic for St. Joseph. The town has a long history as the home of a major terminal market and, at one time, several packing plants. There had been no slaughter facility in St. Joe since the 1995 closure of the Swift pork plant.

The new plant is built on the same site as the Swift plant. In a real sense, it's a "back to the future" event.

The business arrangement of this firm is interesting. Several large U.S. producers and a cooperative of over 400 smaller producers own the plant. Seaboard Foods -- a company that was unsuccessful in locating a plant in St. Joseph just a few years ago will handle product marketing. Triumph's CEO is Rick Hoffman, a former CEO at Seaboard.

That business arrangement suggests that the effect of this plant's opening may be quite different as well. New slaughter facilities face three main challenges: hog supply, sales and operations.

Triumph's producer ownership means that hog supply will not be a significant problem. The shift of the owners' hogs to the Triumph plant will cause other packers to chase hogs. In fact, other packers have been trying to build relationships with new suppliers. Rearranging hog supplies will likely keep packer demand for hogs strong for much of 2006.

Sales are usually the biggest hurdle, but that may be solved by the arrangement with Seaboard. Though Seaboard has the sales system and contacts in place, it still has never sold this amount of product.

The key to how smoothly the sales hurdle is surmounted will likely depend on how well Seaboard identifies customers of other packers who may not be getting enough product. While not nearly as high as the hurdle facing a completely new entrant in the packing business, this aspect of the startup will still be a challenge.

That leaves only operations. Every plant has to work out the kinks in the equipment, get the workers trained, discover those ideas that looked great on paper but don't look so great in reality, etc. All of us have been through similar challenges in our businesses, but this packing plant is probably far more complicated than anything we do!

Market Impact
The timing of the entire issue may still be very good. We didn't have a capacity crunch last fall. At present, we are looking at a very modest increase in hog supplies this year, although supplies could increase sharply given the Canadian corn tariffs/rebates and the incentives those create for shipping hogs to the United States. And, productivity gains could increase supplies further. Add all of that up and we will need the plant.

It is still questionable if we need this plant PLUS a new one in Canada PLUS another Triumph plant in Illinois PLUS some other expansions. On that last point, Triumph's Missouri neighbor, Premium Standard Farms, announced last week its plans for a 2,600-head/day expansion of its Milan, MO, plant.

February and April Chicago Mercantile Exchange Lean Hogs futures have been in choppy trading ranges since mid-December and it will probably take some significant move in the cash market to drive them out. That doesn't often happen in January and February where there is really no pork cut that has much seasonal strength.

Summer Lean Hogs futures have seen a nice rally the past two weeks and are all within shooting distance of the contract life highs set back in early November. Those highs are meeting resistance at this point and any break of that resistance will be a sign to look for selling opportunities.

October-December Lean Hogs futures have not shared the summer contracts' strength -- yet. There is a strong historical tendency for fall hog futures to rise from Jan. 1 to early April. The caveat to that tendency (the "on the other hand" we economists are so famous for) is that just the opposite happened in 1994, 1998 and 2002. Among those three years, only 1998 saw significantly higher breeding and market herd inventories in the December 1997 report. The other years reflected only modest increases in the December reports -- much like this year.

The fall futures contracts are priced at levels that would be profitable for many producers. If you fear that this could be a '94 or '02, perhaps some sell stops one to two limits below the market make sense. Options are, at least theoretically, an alternative but they carry a lot of time value this early and the market nine to 11 months out is very thin.

"Marketing by inactivity" is not a good option this year. Make sure that "waiting" is an action step and not just procrastination.

Click to view graphs.

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