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Learn Pork Production at the Iowa State Swine Teaching Farm

For nearly 50 years, the swine teaching farm at Iowa State University has been helping students learn about pork production. The farm was built to provide pigs for the students taking classes at Iowa State as a tool for their education and that continues to play a big role today, according to farm manager Jacob Myers.

“The teaching farm has all stages of production from breeding to farrowing to finishing,” Myers says. “As far as how it’s run, the operation is similar to commercial production, and that’s vital to help prepare students for understanding how today’s operations are structured. Experience is a big thing in the industry, it’s huge!”

Started in the mid-1960s as an entirely outdoor operation, the farm started moving toward indoor production 30 years later. Today, all phases of production are in indoor facilities. In 2012, the farm was named Allen E. Christian Swine Teaching Farm in honor of Al Christian who managed the facilities for more than 50 years.

The primary goal of the swine teaching farm is to educate students about current pork production operations, and this includes student workers at the farm, Myers says. The more modern facilities and having all stages of production at one place are great tools for achieving this goal.

“Animal science graduate student Greg Krahn is the swine teaching farm herdsman. He looks after the pigs and handles day-to-day functions of the farm,” Myers says. “There also are three undergraduate students who help care for the pigs and complete daily chores.”

Myers, who has been manager since April 2012, says he gets enough inquiries about employment at the teaching farm that he hasn’t had to post a job opening yet. Although he is limited to the number of employees he can sensibly hire, he doesn’t turn away those with little or no experience.

“I pair inexperienced hires with an experienced student worker to help them learn about the operations of the farm,” he says. “The experienced students learn some leadership skills and those new to the farm learn correct procedures for everything they’ll do.”

Dan Harmsen, a junior in animal science, started working at the swine teaching farm about a year ago after he inquired about employment. Harmsen says he and his co-workers trade off daily duties that consist of “everything a normal worker on a farrow-to-finish swine farm should expect.”

For example, a typical day starts at 7 a.m. with morning chores of feeding and checking pigs. From there, employees may treat pigs, do heat checks, breed sows, or do facility maintenance such as power washing. The evening chores of feeding and pig checking starts around 5 p.m.

Because employees work in between their scheduled classes, they may only be at the farm for a couple hours at a time. They often try to complete their daily tasks together.

“Having a second opinion when making a decision can be the difference between a right and wrong decision,” Harmsen says.

Although Harmsen brought experience from a commercial farrow-to-finish swine operation to the swine teaching farm, he says he has gained new skills.

“I have had the opportunity to help make breeding decisions on the farm, and therefore, directly influence our school and farm’s reputation and successes in raising quality purebred showstock and seedstock,” Harmsen says.

The Allen E. Christian Swine Teaching Farm has won many awards at state and national level shows for its well-known, high quality, meat-producing Berkshire pigs. The farm sells pigs to market and as breeding stock from its 200 litters per year. Staff and students take pigs to the National Barrow Show, World Pork Expo and the Iowa State Fair, gaining experience in different venues in the industry.

“Many students help with these events, even if they aren’t employed on the farm,” Myers says.

A variety of opportunities, from farrowing to ventilation to marketing, are available for any Iowa State student who wants to learn about modern pork production at the farm. Those interested in learning more can contact Myers at or (515) 290-3742.


Does Biosecurity for PEDV Inconvenience You?

Blogger Mike Brumm of Brumm Swine Consultancy at North Mankato, MN, says the biggest question he heard from a recent sow farm struck by porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) was when can we start keeping pigs alive? Brumm visited to assess ventilation settings and gilt development unit options.

Brumm says, “When these extreme outbreaks hit a production unit, it is very tough on the employees. They are hired and rewarded based on their skills at keeping pigs alive. It really bothers them when you have to say based on current information there are not a lot of good options available to save piglets born in the first 1-3 weeks of a PEDV outbreak.”

He explains that once feedback of the virus has been done to all females in the unit, it still takes 2-3 weeks for the sows to have immunity to transfer to suckling piglets. “Until this immunity develops, those pigs that are born have almost no chance of survival given the extreme pathogenesis of the virus and the ability of the virus to survive outside of the pig.”

In his Dec. 31 blog, "Brumm Speaks Out," at the Minnesota Pork Producers Association website (, Brumm also talks about stepping up his biosecurity protocols.

“While the sow unit was shower-in/out, I have stepped up my biosecurity for all sites I am now visiting. I now routinely put on disposable boots at a site before my shoes touch the ground at the site. I don’t want my shoes/boots to be the transfer point for the virus to a production site. When I get back into my truck I remove the disposables before my feet enter the truck – I don’t want to end up with my truck being contaminated and a potential source of recurring infection for sites I routinely visit.”

Brumm challenges producers to do more with biosecurity. “With PEDV now firmly entrenched in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, what are you doing to reduce the risk of it being transferred to your site?

“Have you modified your loadout areas so truckers don’t have to enter the chute and truck by walking through your barn/office? Do you have clear biosecurity line for pig movement to prevent it being carried back into a barn by a stray pig?

“What about your entry points to your facilities?”

Brumm encourages production sites to consider installation of a bench entry. “This physical barrier keeps street shoes from being the carrier of PEDV (and other possible diseases) into a facility. Do visitors to your site take precautions such as plastic boots over their street shoes when then enter your site?”

He concludes: “The best comment I’ve heard on biosecurity was a statement by Dr Terri Specht, a veterinarian from Ohio who said – “If biosecurity doesn’t inconvenience you – you aren’t doing it right”. Are you being inconvenienced by your daily biosecurity routines?”



USDA Keeps Flexibility in School Lunch Program

Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon announced Thursday that USDA is making permanent the current flexibility that allows schools to serve larger portions of lean protein and whole grains at mealtime.

“Earlier this school year, USDA made a commitment to school nutrition professionals that we would make the meat and grain flexibility permanent and provide needed stability for long-term planning. We have delivered on that promise," Concannon said.

USDA has worked closely with schools and parents during the transition to healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Based on public feedback, USDA has made a number of updates to school meal standards, including additional flexibility in meeting the daily and weekly ranges for grain and meat/meat alternates, which has been available to schools on a temporary basis since 2012.

USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food. Data show that vast majority of schools around the country are successfully meeting the new meal standards.

  • Last month, USDA awarded $11 million in grants to help schools purchase needed equipment to make preparing and serving healthier meals easier and more efficient for hardworking school foodservice professionals.
  • In November 2013, USDA issued an additional $5 million through the Farm to School grant program to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. USDA awarded grants to 71 projects spanning 42 states and the District of Columbia.
  • USDA awarded $5.6 million in grants in FY2013 to provide training and technical assistance for child nutrition foodservice professionals and support stronger school nutrition education programs, and plans to award additional grants in FY 2014.
  • USDA's MyPlate symbol and the resources at provide quick, easy reference tools for teachers, parents, healthcare professionals and communities. Schools across the country are using the MyPlate symbol to enhance their nutrition education efforts.

Collectively, these policies and actions will help combat child hunger and obesity and improve the health and nutrition of the nation's children. This is a top priority for the Obama Administration and is an important component of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to combat the challenge of childhood obesity.

Study Challenges Value of Compensatory Feeding

Sows eating

Compensatory feeding is a method sometimes used by hog producers to increase weight gain of growing pigs. The method involves restricting the amount of feed available for a period of time and then overfeeding. This causes the animal to eat more, thereby increasing growth.

A study reported in 1989 indicated that compensatory feeding during gestation could be beneficial to mammary gland development and milk yield of sows. However, Chantal Farmer and her colleagues at Agriculture Canada recently reported in the Journal of Animal Science very different effects of compensatory feeding of pregnant pigs.

“In the end of gestation, the amount of parenchymal tissue, which is the good tissue that secretes milk, was reduced in treated animals,” Farmer said. “They had lower backfat, lower body weight, and most importantly less parenchyma.”


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Farmer said she thinks the type of fiber used in the sow diets may be the reason their results were different. “Our animals lost more weight, and I think that’s the reason why the animals did not have positive effects on mammary gland development. They lost a lot of weight, more than in the other study, and that may be due to the lower absorption of the fiber.”

These effects were observed during late gestation, but no negative effects on mammary gland development or piglet growth were found. Farmer said nursing appeared to overcome the negative effects observed during the gestation period.

“This shows for the first time that even if mammary glands are not as well developed at the end of gestation, it may be that the piglets suckling manages to stimulate the mammary gland enough so that at the end of lactation there is no more difference,” Farmer said.

The question of whether compensatory feeding improves mammary gland development remains unanswered. Farmer said further research is needed to determine whether different durations of compensatory feeding or varying degrees of diet deprivation have any positive effects.

The research article, “Impact of diet deprivation and subsequent over-allowance during gestation on mammary gland development and lactation performance,” can be read in full at

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Pace of PEDV Cases on the Rise



Pace of PEDV Cases on the Rise

Pace of PEDV Cases on the Rise

The National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service added 66 new cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) to those reported during the week of Dec. 15, 2013, making last week's total of 185 the highest since beginning of the outbreak, reported the American Association of Swine Veterinarians  (AASV).

Interim analysis of a North Carolina biosecurity questionnaire identifies potential risk factors associated with exposure to PEDV. The data from USDA APHIS Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health, are preliminary and will likely change as additional data is collected and analyzed. Below is a table outlining the percentage of case and control herds reporting potential risk factors. Additional preliminary results can be viewed on the University of Minnesota's Swine Health Monitoring Project website.



Percent of case farms with factor

Percent of control farms with factor

Borrowed trailers from another swine site in previous two weeks.



Removed cull sows/gilts/boars/pigs in previous two weeks.



Removed weaned pigs to nursery or wean to finish site in previous two weeks.



Producer/family worked off farm in an abattoir or other swine farm.



Producer/family worked off farm in another area of the swine industry (e.g., feedmill).



Dead haul/renderer visited site to pick up dead pigs in previous two weeks.



Wild birds were seen in pig/hog buildings in previous two weeks.



Other wildlife was seen in pig/hog buildings in previous two weeks (e.g., rats, mice, raccoons).



Had a moderate or severe problem with birds (e.g., buzzards) in previous two weeks



Delivered pigs to communal carcass drop-off spot in previous two weeks.



The PEDV Strategic Task Force has recommended that everyone consider the Good Neighbor Policy when possible with regards to placing PEDV-positive pigs. This includes trying to find a site that minimizes the risk of exposure to neighbors with susceptible pigs and communicating with your neighbors if it is necessary to place positive pigs in close proximity to other pigs.

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It should be noted that, even though clinical signs resolve fairly quickly, pigs may shed virus for 40-60 days post-infection, the AASV report noted. A model for this suggestion is the recommendations proposed by the Indiana Board of Animal Health regarding PRRS-positive pig placement. These recommendations have been posted on the AASV PRRS web page

The PEDV Strategic Task Force is also exploring the development of a “Rapid Response Team” that could investigate occurrences of emerging diseases such as PEDV. Angela Baysinger, DVM, Health Assurance veterinarian at PIC, has agreed to help facilitate an investigation into some recent outbreaks in Iowa as a “pilot project” for future response team action.

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