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Articles from 1999 In November


Direct Sales Take Some Sting Out Of Low Prices

Plummeting pork prices last year were the last straw for many independent pork producers.

"I'm not raising any more pigs without a contract for production with a guaranteed minimum price," said one medium sized, central Iowa finisher recently. "My banker and my wife insist on it."

While contracts take some of the sting out of low prices, there may be better ways to move market hogs at prices above the local slaughter price.

When prices fell last year, demand for custom processing at small local slaughter plants skyrocketed. Pork producers near an active custom processing plant found they could improve their profits by selling cuts or whole hogs to consumers.

When the big price drop hit last year, Schafer Farms, Goodhue, MN, had already taken the first steps to buffer their business.

Lowell and Pat Schafer and their sons and daughters-in-law (Brandon and Monica, Brian and Heather) have a 1,500-sow, farrow-to-finish operation, a 300-cow beef herd, plus row crops and hay.

When a local slaughter plant offered a class in selling direct to consumers, they jumped at the chance to learn. "We decided we were going to do this when the prices took the big plunge," says Heather.

The class, sponsored by Lorentz Meats, Cannon Falls, MN, outlined just about everything they needed to get started. "We developed a brand name with a logo, started making contacts with grocers and other places we could sell pork and beef and by the first of April, we were in business," Heather says.

Cattle and hogs are slaughtered, processed, packaged and frozen at Lorentz Meats. The Schafers purchased two used refrigerated trucks to transport the meat to clients. Not only do they provide meat to grocery stores, they also sell direct at farmer's markets and from the trucks at convenience store parking lots and other locations in their area. Some customers now come to the farm to purchase meat. And, for orders of $100 or more, they'll deliver as far away as the Twin Cities, just 50 miles or so to the north.

The Schafers aren't the only farmers working with Lorentz Meats in this way.

Farmer To Consumer Sales "For years, we were a small, custom processing plant, serving local customers and farmers," says Mike Lorentz, who manages Lorentz Meats with his brother Rob. "We were looking for a different way to build our business and help our farmer customers to survive."

The Lorentzes put together a curriculum to teach livestock and poultry producers how to sell their farm-raised meats to consumers. Their program is called Branding Your Beliefs.

The Branding Your Beliefs program and curriculum is copyrighted and was developed with funding from USDA's Fund for Rural America. Land O'Lakes Cooperative helped Lorentz receive the funding by writing the grant proposal.

The Lorentz program helps producers establish their sales by offering advice on everything from getting all the right state and federal permits and clearances to tips in designing brochures and advertising to build business.

"We want people to believe in their product, and market that belief," Lorentz says. "Most producers are doing a good job raising their livestock. This allows them to explain and share their enthusiasm with consumers, who love to hear that farmers produced their products with a purpose. They're more willing to buy from the farmer who can tell them 'I made the best hog or beef or chicken I can make and I feed this to my family, too.' "

One Branding Your Beliefs participant, a 4,000-head/year finishing operation is now putting 25 hogs/week through the Lorentz facility. Every pound of meat is sold from trucks similar to the Schafers'. Although they're reluctant to disclose their names, much less net income figures, they estimate they're grossing more on 25 head sold direct than they would have received on 60 head sold to the slaughter plant.

Still, Heather Schafer cautions that there are a lot of costs involved in selling direct. Start-up costs include market research, developing logos and promotional materials (banners, signs, lettering on the trucks, brochures, letterhead and business cards, etc.). The used trucks cost around $10,000 each. And, of course, they have to pay slaughter, processing, packaging and transportation costs for the meat.

The Schafers also incorporated the meat sales business separately from the farm to protect the farm from any liability aimed at the meat business.

Branding Your Beliefs has worked so well that Lorentz Meats is planning a $2.2 million expansion to double its slaughter capacity.

Heather Schafer says when the expansion is completed, they'll be increasing their volume, too. "We've been able to sell about 200 hogs and 50 steers through this program and I think we could do a lot more when Lorentz is able to handle more for us," she says.

Heather, who quit her full-time job off the farm to work in the meat sales venture, says while they've sold a lot of meat and have built up a good list of clients, they may have to wait a couple of years to see a profit. But, she adds, the potential is there to make considerably more profit selling their branded meats than they'll make selling finished hogs and cattle to a slaughter plant.

They have a Web site under development and soon will offer their farm-raised meat products on the Internet.

Cooperative Packing Plant The Alma Cooperative Locker Association took a different tactic in trying to better business for itself and its farmer members.

The customer slaughter, cold storage plant and meat market is located in Alma, MO, a small rural town in the eastern shadow of greater Kansas City.

While it was once just a small town locker plant, the Alma Cooperative Locker now sells primal pork, beef and even elk cuts to some of the top restaurants in the metropolitan area under the brand name, Alma's Farm Fresh Meats.

When he took over as general manager of the company in late 1996, Don Stoll says it was immediately apparent that if it was going to survive, it had to do more than process and store meat for a local clientele. The local population was declining and the non-farmers were going to Kansas City to look for work.

Stoll followed them to Kansas City, looking for a market. Backed by the cooperative's nine-member board of directors and armed with a promise of a consistent supply of high quality meats from local farmers, Stoll marched into restaurant after restaurant - and came away with a surprising number of orders.

Most of those initial, one-time orders have turned into standing orders. The co-op also provides pork and beef to several meat markets in the area and sells both fresh and frozen meat at its Alma location.

The co-op just added elk to its meat line. "Elk producers are still building breeding herds, so there aren't many slaughter animals yet," Stoll says. And the meat is still considered exotic, so there's not a lot of demand, either. But so far, they've shipped processed elk to restaurants in larger markets to the east and even provided meat for the North American Elk Breeders Association's annual meeting last year in Orlando, FL.

Stoll sees serving the premium meat and restaurant market as a benefit not just to local farmers but to the viability of their community. "We're not just meeting the demand for meat," he says. "We're providing jobs - jobs that will keep people and other small businesses here in the community."

A Better Pork? Low hog prices were the second strike against Kelly Biensen and a number of other Berkshire raisers in central Iowa. The first was the Asian economic crash in 1998.

Biensen produces some market hogs but the mainstay of his business is purebred Berkshire breeding stock. Several of his customers are involved in American Berkshire Gold, a certified Berkshire pork program from the American Berkshire Association. Through this program, producers were exporting Berkshire pork at premium prices, mostly to Japan and other Pacific Rim countries. When Asian economies crashed, the market for Berkshire Gold shrunk significantly, almost immediately.

Biensen has long believed that Berkshire pork is superior in taste and other eating qualities to the meat from most other breeds - and he can cite taste tests that bear this out.

So he decided the best way to save his business was to save his customers. And the way to save his customers was to find them a better, more reliable market.

Eden Farms Certified Berkshire Pork is the outgrowth of that decision. Biensen began by contacting meat buyers and chefs at some of the better restaurants in central Iowa. After countless hours in telephone calls and personal visits and a number of taste tests and cooking demonstrations, he gradually built a customer list of nearly 20 restaurants.

Biensen then set out in search of a slaughter plant that could meet all necessary health requirements and, at the same time, give him and his product some individual attention. The Iowa Packing Co., Des Moines, a small slaughter and meat processing plant with a history of supplying special cuts for food service institutions, agreed to work with him.

Iowa Packing cannot, however, custom slaughter livestock. So Eden Farms sells Berkshire slaughter hogs to the packer and then buys back the cuts it needs to meet the needs of its restaurant clientele. Demand has gradually increased to the point that Eden Farms needs 30 market hogs weekly.

Considering the supply of Berkshires in central Iowa alone, Eden Farms' volume is a drop in the bucket. Biensen is exploring a number of ways to move more pork, including expanding his restaurant clientele beyond central Iowa, selling to meat markets and grocery stores and selling direct to consumers.

Currently, though, what all these seemingly successful ventures have in common is the ability to meet their customers eye-to-eye.

The Schafers are always answering questions about how they raise livestock. "People want to know but they're not all looking for meat that comes from an organic farm, free range or the like," says Heather Schafer.

Biensen adds that "small-farmer raised" or "antibiotic free" are terms that appeal to many consumers and help restaurant owners, meat buyers and chefs justify paying a higher price for Eden Farms' pork. "They see it as helping save family farms," Biensen says.

Keeping it personal, Stoll says, allows him and his crew back at Alma to immediately address customer satisfaction issues. Of course, some of the requests need to be funneled back to producers, such as the need for smaller finished animals for smaller cuts, or more or less marbling in the meat, and so on.

* Kelly Biensen, 2454 Binford Ave., State Center, IA 50247-9674; (515) 483-2292 or e-mail biensen@marshallnet.com. * Don Stoll, Alma's Farm Fresh Meats, Alma, MO 64001; (660) 674-2231 or e-mail almameats@almanet.net. * Mike Lorentz, Lorentz Meats, 305 Cannon St. W, Cannon Falls, MN 55009; (507) 263-3617 or www.lorentzmeats.com. * Schafer Farms, 37740 240th Ave., Goodhue, MN 55027; (651) 923-5415 or e-mail sfig@means.net.

E-Markets, an Ames, IA, company, has worked with a number of different groups to help develop electronic marketing systems whereby producers, elevators or end users can contract with people who need what they're growing or can grow what they're needing.

In a recent article on the E-Market Internet page, president Kevin Kimle noted that the company has experience in helping poultry producers who need high-oil corn contracts for production with growers; finding quantities of specific hybrids with superior milling characteristics for corn processors; and helping food manufacturers track detailed information about how, where and with what inputs their ingredients were produced.

The Web site (www.e-markets. com) contains links to information on the company as well as information on processors seeking specific types or qualities of grain and/or oilseeds for food or feed processing. If you're seriously interested in producing on contract, it's a good place to start.

Some of E-Markets' services are fee based. NetContract allows growers to contract with end users. NetMarket is an electronic site where processors, shippers and country elevators can post prices being paid for specific identity-preserved commodities. With this information, growers can shop for highest prices for their products.

Look for special-trait livestock - organic, chemical-free, free-range, family farmer raised, specific-breed (i.e., Angus beef, Berkshire pork), etc. - to be traded electronically soon.

Matching Diets To Immune Status

It's accurate to say that the Iowa State University work on the need to match diets to immune status in the growing pig caused - and is still causing - enormous interest worldwide.

This is certainly true in Europe where we like to think we have the world's leanest stock. We have taken to heart the wide differences in lysine requirements of a pig enjoying only a modest need to build a protective wall against disease, compared to one less fortunate, heavily challenged by pathogens (Table 1).

Table 2 shows why we are concerned. I've boxed the figures we think apply to us. In other words, we have very lean genotypes in pretty old and decrepit housing, a spin-off from years of low profits. This has dissuaded our producers from renewing or refurbishing their buildings. The potential difference is enormous. But how do we know?

And farmers, always pragmatic realists, are asking, "How do I know and more importantly how does the nutritionist know where the farmer is on the immune activation ladder?"

Good question. An absolutely vital question, in fact because getting it wrong could erode, in U.K. terms, 8 British pounds/pig (about $13.30 U.S.) or 90% of our profits.

Three Options I see three possible solutions. 1. Serology. This one uses the veterinarian to collect blood samples and establish a herd disease profile. But even the cutting edge of serology cannot identify certain diseases. This is also expensive and could be time consuming.

2. Challenge or test feeding. This concept takes 50 typical growers, feeds them on what the nutritionist calls a "non-limiting diet" and monitors growth, feed conversion ratio and lean gain (by using a deep muscle scanner). In this way, along with carcass data at slaughter, the nutritionist has a good idea of the grow/finish herd's lean accretion curve. Therefore, a farm-specific diet can be built twice a year to satisfy the curve.

One snag - the scanner is very expensive, so it is the province of a feed manufacturer who can organize it and whose clients have a computerized, wet feeding facility.

Wet feeding is recommended because with this equipment any diet can be made on farm from only two (or three) basic diets. This cuts down a custom mix inventory drastically. In fact, one feed manufacturer I know reduced his normal pig diet list by 50% in two years, despite increasing his custom mix clientele by 60% and his pig business by 300%!

3. Measuring growth rate. There seems to be a possible link between growth rate and immune activation (Table 1). Measuring growth rate accurately is something the producer can do if hesets his mind to it. And it doesn't cost much.

Another potential snag - there are, of course, other things besides immune stimulation which can affect daily gain. Temperature, stress, feeder management, overcrowding, water and wet/dry feeding are just a few. We need research to confirm this is indeed a viable option.

Matching Diets Most commercial nutritionists view the subject as a "nightmare" to quote a leading European. When pigs encounter pathogenic challenge, cytokines (a type of protein chemical messenger) are released. They re-program the animal's metabolism to divert nutrients away from growth, especially lean growth, in order to ensure the immune process is prioritized. Cytokines alter nutrient intake and utilization which - first headache for the nutritionist - need to be compensated to lessen the damage to productivity.

At the same time - second headache - metabolic changes are occurring which both increase and decrease disease nutrient requirements. Fever places demands on energy and while the consequences of fever - reduced activity and more sleep - lessens it, a reduction in growth rate lowers it still further. On top of this, appetite goes down when immune response is high, even if the animal feels healthy enough.

I quote Paul Toplis, a leading European commercial pig nutritionist responsible for making sense of it all: "Appetite changes can be unpredictable. For example, if a healthy, growing pig with an appetite of 1.5 kg. (3.3 lb.) a day requires 15 g. (0.5 oz.) of lysine, then the diet specification for lysine should be set at 1%, l0 g./kg. (0.35 oz./lb.). Now, if this pig encounters an immune challenge, its lysine requirement might fall to 12 g. (0.42 oz.), 13 g. (0.45 oz.) or perhaps 14 g. (0.49 oz.) per day and the feed intake might fall to 1 kg. (2.2 lb.), 1.2 kg. (2.64 lb.) or 1.4 kg. (3.08 lb.) per day, giving the nutritionist nine possible diet specifications to work with." See Figure 1.

But does it matter? Yes, it could well matter. Taking the variables Toplis quotes and the reduction in performance quoted in the Iowa State results, even for the less extreme differences under U.K. prices at September 1999, this could reduce saleable meat sold per U.S. ton of feed fed to slaughter by 26 lb., add 12 days to achieve slaughter weight and might cause you to pay an unnecessary 6% more for your feed.

I don't know what that is in U.S. profit terms but over here using moderate returns, it is a 38% reduction in gross profit - all for getting it modestly wrong.

Where Do We Go From Here? First, understand the considerable drag on performance which a strong immune defense wall requires.

Second, redouble your efforts to provide conditions which do not require the pig to boost these defenses needlessly. A whole book could be written on what to do.

If European calculations are anything to go by, good genetics and poor animal health could be costing us 90% of profits. It must be happening today, on your farm because it sure is on ours. That added profit pays for a lot of improvements.

Third, make sure all future work on nutrient requirements contains some assessment of immune activity. Indeed, an international standard is needed. Meanwhile, researchers, please confirm and refine that linkage between growth and immune status so that we can start to exploit the fruits of your worthy discoveries.

Aftermath of Floyd's Fury

It wasn't bad enough that live hog prices plummeted to record lows. Now producers in the country's No. 2 pork-producing state are reeling from the pain and shock of the devastating blow delivered by a hurricane named Floyd.

Floyd blew through eastern North Carolina during the early morning hours of Sept. 16. Although communities that experienced the eye of the storm survived with minimal wind damage, the big story was the rain Floyd brought - an incomprehensible 19 in. during a 24-hour period.

What's more, Hurricane Dennis had dropped at least 8 in. of rain in the same region just two weeks earlier. And, a front two days prior to Floyd's arrival accounted for yet another 8 in. of precipitation.

The resulting flood was what some folks are calling the country's worst weather disaster in 500 years.

"It's hard to imagine unless you saw it in person," says W. G. Simmons, a swine Extension agent who serves four eastern North Carolina counties. A handful of producers in his area suffered devastating losses. One independent, 350-sow, farrow-to-finish operation is a total loss (see sidebar).

"It's so depressing," Simmons says. "Our producers are really struggling to make ends meet right now. And the homes of some of their employees were completely flooded."

The floodwaters have subsided. As of Oct. 13, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) figured losses in the state's agricultural sector at $799,193,134. The NCDA estimated 28,000 hogs of all ages perished in the flood. The majority drowned, while some died from the stress of standing in water for two or more days.

"We are still determining the exact number of animal fatalities," says Todd See, North Carolina State University Extension swine specialist.

Long-Range Impact It's tough to pin down the long-range impact of the flooding on the Tarheel State's pork industry.

With electricity off on some farms, and flooded roads making feed delivery impossible for several days, a lot of pigs suffered temporary setbacks from food and water deprivation. Fortunately, See reports, only a few animals in a handful of herds suffered more serious effects.

"Some hogs are suffering respiratory ailments and feet problems and a number of sows are aborting now," he elaborates. "Some will breed back but we anticipate a lot of culling, with animals being evaluated on an individual basis."

See says that even if sows don't abort, increased stillbirths could be expected in the current production cycle. "We won't know the ultimate production losses among animals that survived for some time yet," he adds.

"Most of our producers are back to normal now and we don't expect any disease epidemics because of the flood," says Randy Jones, a Kinston, NC-based swine veterinarian who serves 30 to 40 pork-producing clients. "The biggest problem some producers are discouraged about is the lack of support from the federal government."

Howard Hill, director of veterinary services and multiplication for Murphy Family Farms, headquartered in Rose Hill, NC, reports the company and its contractors suffered minimal animal losses during the storm. "A few baby, nursery and finishing pigs died from hypothermia and we lost some breeding opportunities," Hill says.

Hill doubts the hurricane will have any effect on Murphy's merger with Smithfield Foods.

"As an industry, pork producers were more fortunate than other farmers in North Carolina," says Beth Anne Mumford, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Pork Council (NCPC). "There are about 2,500 hog farms in our state and 98% of them were not flooded.

"But, just because the flood waters have receded doesn't mean all of our producers have recovered," Mumford continues. "There's lots of clean-up work to be done on many farms and in many communities and it will take some time for everyone to fully recover."

Government Aid According to Mumford, it is still unclear how much, if any, federal disaster funds will be available to North Carolina farmers, particularly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We'll have to wait and see what happens in the weeks and months ahead before we are able to fully assess the long-range effects of the flood," she adds.

"Right now we're primarily trying to get information out to producers. There will be delayed effects for some producers and undoubtedly some will elect to exit the industry."

The NCPC recently established a toll-free assistance line: (888) 633-5926. Environmental Concerns

"Relative to the big picture, we currently are evaluating how best to provide assistance and incentives for pork producers," says Don Reuter, public affairs director for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR). To that end, NCDENR has three major goals.

The first goal is to help producers relocate their facilities outside the flood plain if they desire to do so. However, anyone relocating would have to comply with current guidelines for siting and design.

Secondly, if and when producers do rebuild, NCDENR wants to help them develop new, innovative waste management systems, in accordance with the governor's Lagoon Conversion Plan. (For details, check the Web site: www.ehnr.state.nc.us/EHNR.)

"Finally, for producers interested in pursuing an alternate career, we hope to implement a buyout opportunity," Reuter says.

NCDENR officials are in the process of developing more specific policies relative to these goals. (For updates, check the Web site, listed above.)

"Ultimately, our objective is that people who want to continue farming should be able to do so," Reuter emphasizes. "But as they rebuild and recover, they should do so in the most responsible way."

On Aug. 30, 1999, the inventory at M & R Livestock, Trenton, NC, totaled 4,522 head. The independent, 350-sow, farrow-to-finish operation is owned by cousins Allen and Phillip McCoy.

Hurricane Floyd's floodwaters rose over 10 ft. at McCoys' and, despite exhaustive efforts by many friends, the partners were able to save only 125 animals from drowning. The survivors were ultimately culled. Allen McCoy points to the high-water mark at right.

What remains of this nightmare is more ghost town than farm, a total loss by any name. A lone gilt that swam to high ground roams in the woods that surround the 38-acre property. The McCoys have no flood or livestock insurance and preliminary calculations suggest losses from $800,000 to $1 million. Allen is co-owner of another 700-sow, farrow-to-finish farm but Phillip has no other source of income.

Exhibiting remarkable class and dignity in light of complete devastation as they approach retirement, the McCoys are grateful their homes (located off the flooded farm) were spared. "Many other people are worse off than us," they say.

"At this point, we have no sense of direction," Allen admits. "This has been the wildest ride that anyone could imagine. We don't have any desire to re-build. The flood has taken a lot out of us and we don't have any fight left."

Band Production Offers High-Health Status

A modification to old-fashioned batch farrowing could provide small pork production facilities the high-herd-health advantages that larger operations enjoy.

Carlos Pijoan, research veterinarian at the University of Minnesota, and Montserrat Torremorell, DVM, with PIC Health Assurance, have put together a booklet on band production and high-health systems for small farms.

"The concept is old, but we've tweaked it to fit a more modern type of production," Pijoan says.

Band production, which Pijoan calls "glorified batch farrowing," is modified from successful farm operations in Europe. The Europeans use a 28-day weaning schedule, which requires more farrowing space than this model.

Here's how the modified band production works: the number of sows is limited only by the number of farrowing crates available and are divided into six rotating groups. Farrowing is every 21 days and pigs are weaned from 12 to 17 days of age (average 14 to 16 days).

While maximizing the use of the farrowing capacity, the system has a few drawbacks. It requires good stockmanship, allows only two to three days for all sows in a group to farrow and only allows four to six days to empty, clean and re-fill the crates with the next group of sows.

Band production generates segregated early weaning (SEW) pig groups three times the amount of a weekly farrowing schedule and, therefore, allows producers to adapt all-in, all-out for nursery/finishers or for wean-to-finish feedin g.

Smaller farm operations can also move into a three-site production operation under the plan, Pijoan says. The sites can be separated by barriers as simple as a fence. Another key to the three-sites-in-one farm is paying attention to personnel and one-directional pig movement.

"More than anything, you are making sure that the personnel who attends each of the sites is either different or is shower-in, shower-out in between the sites," Pijoan says.

Pijoan and Torremorell estimate that the band system could yield 2.4 farrowings/sow/year. Good genetics could yield 23 pigs weaned/sow/year and the high-health status could mean 21 pigs sold/sow/year. For more information about band production, contact Pijoan at (612) 625-1233 or pijoa001@tc.umn.edu.

Curing Low Farrowing Rates

To solve depressed farrowing rates, most times you've got to take action in several areas of the breeding herd.

Using a combination of diagnostic serology, evaluation of records and effectively following breeding herd programs, you can boost farrowing rates, sow performance and pig numbers out the door.

That's the view of Mark Hammer, DVM, who oversees 40 farms of Carroll's Foods of Virginia.

Diagnostic Serology, Records One of the toughest questions related to low farrowing rates is whether the problem is due to disease, management or both, states Hammer.

The fact is, they often overlap. Using both diagnostic tools and a records program, managers can identify and treat major diseases and make the management changes needed to improve a low farrowing rate, he says.

In the closed production system at Carroll's, serology tests uncovered three major diseases: Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), swine influenza virus (SIV) and leptospirosis.

For PRRS, a gilt vaccination program coupled with proper isolation and acclimation of incoming breeding stock was instituted. Gilts were vaccinated up to three times before entering the breeding herd, says Hammer. The vaccination program in particular has been very costly. But so is uncontrolled PRRS, and its affect on farrowing rates and pig production. And the treatment program, using a modified-live-virus PRRS vaccine, has been very effective in maintaining herd stability for PRRS for three years, stresses Hammer.

It appears now that SIV started with an outbreak in a multiplication system. But before it was recognized, it swept through that whole multiplication system. Conception rates fell to 35-40% in some parts of the system, he recalls. Records showed a rise in irregular returns to estrus from first to second heat periods.

"The animals were conceiving but they were falling out as a group," explains Hammer. A sow vaccination program for SIV (H1N1) was started. Performance bounced back in just 6-8 weeks. The commercially available SIV vaccine is designed to provide uniform gilt protection and maintain sow immunity through vaccination at weaning, he adds.

Because PRRS was uncontrolled before vaccine and management steps were introduced, leptospirosis (bratislava and pomona) problems had to be addressed. Two steps were taken. First, a bratislava vaccine program began. Second, an antibiotic was added to the sow feed to deal with pomona. The protocol for six months was to add and remove chlortetracyline (CTC) in two-week intervals.

"It looks like it has improved conception rates," observes Hammer. Internal research suggests CTC improves conception rates 3-5%.

"That was good enough for me and I started adding CTC throughout the whole system and it has paid off," he says. During the protocol, CTC was fed at 400 grams per ton in lactation and gestation rations. Use of CTC continues in a strategic fashion to medicate for leptospirosis.

Once major diseases are under control and if there is still a conception/low farrowing-rate problem, check the wean-to-service interval and repeat-breeding report. These reports will lead one to other areas within the breeding herd to intervene. Wean-to-service averages 5-6 days for normal farrowing groups.

Feeding Sows Longer wean-to-service interval indicates a lactation intake problem. Hammer suggests that once it's determined the sow rations are properly formulated, look at sow feed intake.

There are two major reasons for underfed sows in Carroll's operations in the Southeast: over-heated sows and sows not offered enough feed, says Hammer.

Sows will get hot in farrowing barns as temperatures hit 95-100 degrees F outside, says Hammer. "You can't keep them cool all day. They are going to get hot at some point. The thing I tell my managers is, I don't want that animal to get hot until 4-5 p.m.," he says.

Managers need to check sows and adjust the ventilation system as needed.

Don't gauge sow comfort based on outside temperature. Check respiration rates. "If I go into a farrowing house at 10 a.m. and sows have respiration rates about 40 (breaths per minute), that's too high. We get tunnel vision on temperature. Even if it's 80 degrees F outside, if you get sows with respiration rates about 40, that's too high," points out Hammer. Train people to evaluate the farrowing house based on the sow and piglet comfort, not only the temperature.

Feeding lactating sows ad lib means providing as much feed as they will eat. The industry is doing a poor job of meeting this challenge, he charges. "If you go into a farrowing house three hours after sows are fed and all the feeder pans are empty, that is not ad lib feeding," he says.

Monitoring lactation feeding levels is an important management job. Feed usage can best be checked by monitoring amount of lactation feed delivered to the feeders and sow feed consumption cards. The cards are a training device which helps management gauge staff's ability to feed sows. Breeding Details Breeding reports can help evaluate heat check efficiency. Watch to make sure estrus ratios are normal for first estrus (18-21 days post-breeding) and second estrus (36-42 days post-breeding), says Hammer.

Give the boars enough time with the females to stimulate expression of estrus. Even with artificial insemination (AI), boar exposure is vital, he stresses. Fence-line contact is a good way to provide increased exposure.

Hammer stresses the industry needs to take a different look at the AI programs. "Routine monitoring by management of the entire AI process is required for consistent breeding herd output." He divides that monitoring into the following areas: semen handling, breeding stimulation (see Table 1), AI technique, breeding schedule and breeder training. The system was devised by Carroll's employee Roger Nelson.

Semen handling extends from collection to insemination. For the producer, delivery, on-farm storage and insemination are three keys to an AI breeding program, observes Hammer.

"Delivery is extremely critical," he declares. "If the personnel are not close at hand when that semen is delivered, it's a potential time for that semen to warm up and the producer could have problems with semen viability." Delivery-to-use problems are common. "Semen may sit for 2-3 days on that farm before it is used. Has it been handled right since it was dropped off? Is it picked up and put in a safe place quickly? If not, that can be a special problem area," he points out.

Maintaining temperature control, delivering proper nutrients to the semen during storage and reduction of bacterial contamination are the biggest factors affecting semen quality during storage time, stresses Hammer.

"Basically, that box we are storing all the boar semen in needs to be looked at as all the boars on the farm," he says. "When you are doing 100% AI, that's where all of your boars are. You should be checking the temperature of the semen several times a day to make sure it is not below 60 degrees F or above 70 degrees F.

Swirl semen three times a day to remove waste products and deliver fresh nutrients. A proper rocking technique of the container must be employed.

Make sure employees understand breeding stimulation and insemination techniques. One way Hammer advises to maintain breeding performance is through quarterly evaluation of efficiency. Operator efficiency is defined as the number of sows serviced by one person, divided by the number of sows conceiving or farrowing for the period. Personnel below a 75% breeding efficiency rating are re-trained and re-evaluated at the end of the next period. Should a poor AI breeding performance be repeated, the employee would lose certification required to breed sows and be reassigned to another area of the farm.

Try and provide a central location for AI to standardize the breeding process. At Carroll's Foods, weaned sows or estrus gilts are brought to a 4 x 8 ft. breeding pen. Two pens are side by side to provide fence-line boar contact.

"This standardizes the breeding process and makes boar exposure during breeding consistent," says Hammer. To streamline the breeding process, all necessary equipment and supplies are in one location within reach of breeding personnel.

Post-Breeding Movement Hammer takes a strong stand on post-breeding movement. Don't move sows 5-35 days post-breeding, he says. Put bred sows in a place where they don't have to be moved until after 35 days post-breeding.

"I have seen it time and time again. We've bred too many females. We get pushed on space and we violate this moving rule. We end up with sows falling out and a low farrowing rate," says Hammer.

Prewean Program Payback

Talk to Rick Howe about his collegiate football days and you pick up a lot more than football anecdotes. You start to understand what makes him so successful at managing sows and their piglets.

"Actually, I was a walk-on at Iowa State University," the former defensive tackle confides. Making the team, even the starting lineup, wasn't enough. In 1974, he was named the Cyclones' team captain and earned All-American honors. He even went on to play professional football, but he doesn't like to make a big deal about it.

Howe's "set-high-goals-and-do-what-it-takes-to-attain-them" attitude was a key to his football success. It also serves him well in his current position as director of sow operations for Pork Tech - a 23,000-sow operation based in Ames, IA.

His two primary goals at Pork Tech are: 1. Increase the percentage of sows bred by seven days postweaning. "To me, this directly influences subsequent litter sizes," he says. "While 90% is good, our numbers are climbing to 93-96%."

2. Boost weaning weights. "An extra pound at weaning translates to a 7-lb. heavier pig coming out of the nursery," Howe explains. "This correlates to getting pigs to market weight 10 days to two weeks earlier, which is critical because that's when pigs are consuming a lot of feed."

Healthy Pigs Grow Faster In 1998, the average prewean mortality rate for piglets farrowed and weaned on U.S. farms was more than 13%, PigCHAMP records reveal. While this high percentage is not due to a single reason, veterinarians agree infectious disease is a major contributor.

"From the minute piglets are born, they constantly are challenged by a number of bacteria," says University of Minnesota veterinarian, Scott Dee. "No matter how good the operation is, it's tough to eliminate bacteria from the environment."

Terry Cowan, technical service veterinarian for Pharmacia & Upjohn Animal Health, agrees, adding that pigs battle two major sources of infection: those present in the environment and the shedding of bacteria from the sow.

Common pig processing procedures such as castration, taildocking and needle teeth clipping help pigs get off to a better start. But, Cowan points out, "they also cause wounds, providing another avenue for bacterial infection."

When baby pigs are challenged by infection, it affects their performance and survival rates, as well as sow productivity, Howe says.

"If piglets become sick, their appetite often is suppressed. This results in smaller pigs at weaning, which can be reflected all the way to market.

"It's also important to note that not only is the prewean pig affected, the sow's productivity is, too. When sick piglets stop drinking the sow's milk, which she already has produced, the sow may go off feed. This creates a lot of problems in our system and makes it difficult to reach our number-of-sows-bred-by-Day 7 goal."

Antibiotic's Role Howe's answer to controlling prewean infection is to incorporate an antibiotic in the prewean pig health program. "By giving piglets a broad-spectrum antibiotic and using good processing techniques, we minimize the chance for prewean infection," he says. "Healthier pigs grow better, resulting in increased weaning weights."

A recent worldwide trial confirms the benefits Howe is finding at Pork Tech. The study involved 5,427 pigs and six operations in China, Japan, Spain and the U.S. It focused on the effects of an antibiotic on prewean pig survival rates and weight gain of medicated pigs vs. a non-medicated controls.

Pigs in the treatment group received Naxcel Sterile Powder intramuscularly at a dose of 3 mg./kg. once on Day 1, Day 7 and at weaning (Day 20). Pigs in the placebo group were injected with sterile water.

Cowan, who helped conduct the Pharmacia & Upjohn-sponsored trial, says that piglets given the antibiotic showed these results:

* A significant reduction in prewean death rate. Death losses dropped from 11% in the non-medicated control group to 7.5% in the treatment group, an overall reduction in prewean mortality of 32%.

* An increase in average daily gain (ADG) from birth to weaning, attributed to healthier pigs. This effect continued through to the end of the trial (seven days postweaning) for an overall improvement of 8.5%.

* A decrease in lightweight pigs at weaning, attributed to healthier pigs. Using the antibiotic reduced the number of lightweight pigs, those weighing less than 8 lb., by 16.2% (see Figure 1).

Derald Holtkamp, Iowa State University veterinarian, reviewed the data and explained the benefits in dollars and cents.

"For a 1,000-sow operation averaging 10.5 pigs born alive/litter and weaning 2.3 litters/female/year, this represents an extra 1,260 standard pigs sold and 410 fewer substandard (lightweight) pigs per year," he says.

"If the market value of a standard piglet at weaning is $32, and substandard pigs are valued at $16, adopting the program with Naxcel can increase revenue by $33,766 per 1,000 sows/year.

"The investment required for a 1,000-sow operation is approximately $9,577 (43 cents/pig includes cost of the antibiotic and labor). As a result, the return for every $1 invested is $3.53," Holtkamp notes.

Those results are consistent with his field experiences, says Dee, who has done consultations for both U.S. and international producers.

"We ran a trial with Naxcel in Spain with 5,000 pigs," he says. "The results mirrored the ones we're finding in the U.S. We had up to a pound of daily weight gain in the nursery, reduced the days to market by 25 to 30 days and reduced medication costs by $2 per pig."

Diagnostics Are Important Experts agree on the importance of working with a veterinarian to thoroughly diagnose problems, so an antibiotic program can be selected using solid information. "We typically try to identify the bacteria, so we know what disease agents we are dealing with," Dee says. "Then we select an antibiotic based on its susceptibility to those agents."

Pork Tech's Howe and his assistant, Kevin Neumann, oversee 18 sow units. "Each farm is unique and has different health challenges," Howe says. "Our strategy is to proactively evaluate each herd and address challenges before they turn into major problems."

To be effective, antibiotic usage must be coupled with proper management techniques. While the first 48 hours of a pig's life are critical, Howe says the first two hours are the most important.

"That's prime time," he explains. "Attending farrowings is very important because it's the only way to ensure that the pigs are warm and getting ample colostrum. Making sure the pigs have colostrum and the antibodies to protect them makes a big impact on weaning weights."

To avoid stressing piglets, Howe waits 24 hours before clipping tails and needle teeth. "That's also when we give the first injection of Naxcel," he adds.

Good processing techniques are invaluable. "We invest a lot of time training employees to properly castrate pigs and clip their needle teeth and tails," Howe says. "We want to make sure they do what's best for the sow and piglets."

Howe's demand for good husbandry skills has paid off. So has his relentless drive for improvement. "Last quarter, PigCHAMP recognized us for raising the most pigs per sow per year in Minnesota," he says. "The previous quarter we placed sixth. We keep getting better."

On-Farm Environmental Program Focuses On Management Details

When assessors for the On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program walk through a pork producer's barns, their eyes, ears and nose are focused on the little things.

The amount of dust accumulated on the top of a farrowing crate, a slow drip from a nipple waterer and feed spilled from a bulk bin are all little signs of how a producer manages his or her operation.

"Is this dust from one cycle through the farrowing barn or is it a build-up?" Don Peterson asks as he wipes the dust layer from the top of a crate in David Bentley's barn.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) used Bentley's 140-sow, farrow-to-finish operation near Marshall, MO, to show how the on-farm program works and how it can assist producers in their water quality and odor management.

Nationally, about 700 pork producers have completed the on-farm assessment, according to Dan Uthe, director of the program for NPPC. Missouri pork producers are leading the way with 175 assessments completed. In Iowa, 58 producers have completed the program and in North Carolina, 37 farms have been assessed.

The program, launched by NPPC last spring, offers producers a free assessment by private and public agency consultants who are trained and certified by NPPC. The $5 million in funding for the program comes as an Environmental Protection Agency grant from America's Clean Water Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation based in Washington, D.C.

The assessors begin with a "windshield tour" around the farm, explains Dennis Speichinger, a certified assessor who works for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Missouri. Driving around the section offers the assessors the same view of the farm that the neighbors have every day.

The team of assessors commonly spends from four to eight hours on a farm. They begin by interviewing the producer and then work their way through all of the barns, the manure storage and handling systems and fields where manure is applied. The team also looks at the general farm appearance and how the producer handles dead animals.

After the farm visit is complete, the assessors and the producer have an exit interview to discuss their recommendations. In addition, the producer receives a written report outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the operation.

The program doesn't tell producers what problems they have on the farm but instead identifies "challenges," Uthe says. The terminology is used for a reason.

"You'll step up to a challenge but you'll avoid a problem," he explains.

The assessors are finding many more strengths on the farm than challenges. Uthe explains that the program can identify potential problems before they become a regulatory concern. In addition, the program affirms what producers are doing right.

Doing Things Right "This is one thing that can make you feel good," Uthe says. "Producers are doing things right. That can be a good shot in the arm."

Bentley completed the program in July 1998. His farm is less than two miles outside of Marshall and is about a mile from the community's municipal golf course. There are 15 houses within one mile of his hog barns.

"Perception is very important to us," Bentley says. He admits that all of the recommendations haven't been implemented because of the cost.

After the assessment, Bentley had the freeboard checked on the 300,000-gal. lagoon to see if it could handle a 25-year rain event. He also added a measure to ensure the lagoon would not be pumped below its minimum treatment level.

Bentley keeps the assessment report and his nutrient management plan together with the annual manure application records. He reviews the documents often.

"There are things in there that I have literally marked 'done,' " he says.

Costs Limit Changes NPPC plans a follow-up program to check if producers have implemented suggested changes. From 50% to 60% of the recommendations are being implemented, Uthe says. Producers want to follow all of the recommendations but often can't because of costs.

"The producers are saying 'I'd like to do them,' but because of the times, they aren't," Uthe says.

America's Clean Water Foundation (ACWF) became involved with pork production issues and the environment in 1997 when it convened the National Environmental Dialogue on Pork Production.

Allan Stokes, chief operations officer for ACWF, says, "We are interested in the data that is going to be generated as a result of these on-farm assessments, as well as continuing dialogue with the National Pork Producers Council and others to focus a bit more on water quality issues."

The aggregated data from the program will document the real impacts and potential benefits of employing certain best management practices on farms.

"It is very interesting for us to know what are the common risks, what are the common strengths that are found within a particular state, possibly within a particular geographic area of the state, perhaps by size, type and nature of facility," he says. "If we can identify those, we can take that information and turn it into useful educational materials that can be used by production areas or by state or federal agencies."

Another goal of the ACWF is educating the general public about pork production and the environment.

"We are not here to put a pretty face on the swine production industry, we are here to honestly broker the information," Stokes says. As NPPC developed the assessment program, officials discovered the ACWF had similar research and education goals, but reached a different audience.

"The only way we are going to get understanding on both sides is by communicating, and the clean water foundation has provided an avenue into some places that we were not able to get into as directly as the National Pork Producers Council," Uthe says.

"We can coordinate our delivery programs and get the two groups together and come about to make some real effective and positive changes for the pork industry."

For more information about the On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program, contact your state pork producers association or call Dan Uthe at NPPC, (515) 223-2600 or (800) 456-7675 or go to www.nppc.org/PROD/ Environmental Section/OFO EAP.html.

Dan Uthe, director, On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program, National Pork Producers Council, says the most common challenges the program's assessors are finding as they conduct site visits are not costly problems to fix. The top five challenges include:

Lack Of Written Nutrient Management Plans - Uthe says producers either don't have a plan, or have a plan, but aren't familiar with what is in the plan. "The nutrient management plan needs to be written down," he says. "Everyone involved with the operation needs to be familiar with the plan. We need to see documentation in our industry today."

Inadequate Ventilation System Maintenance - Keep dust off of shutters and fan blades. Uthe says many producers forget about the importance of regular maintenance when it comes to keeping ventilation equipment in good working order.

Poor Drainage Around Site - Good drainage and grading can prevent puddles of water from forming, concentrating odor.

Proper Manure Containment Operation - Typically, producers may say they have a lagoon but what they really have is an earthen containment structure because it is not being operated as a lagoon, Uthe says. The reasons for that may vary but in many cases it is because a producer was never really taught how to operate a lagoon. "It is not that they don't want to," Uthe explains. "They may never have been told that there is a minimum treatment volume in a lagoon."

A lagoon should never be pumped down below a certain point because then bacteria doesn't have the opportunity to work properly. Along those same lines, if the lagoon is pumped down too low and the plugs are pulled on all the buildings at the same time (if it is a pull-plug situation) you "slug-load" the lagoon, according to Uthe. If the lagoon is loaded too fast at any given time there may not be enough dilution in the lagoon.

Uthe says assessors have gone to operations with a number of building and to increase efficiency all the plugs are pulled on Monday morning. "It would be better to pull one plug every morning until they were all pulled for that week, instead of pulling them all at once," Uthe explains. "It may seem minor but it can have a major impact from an odor standpoint."

Garbage In Manure Storage - Producers shouldn't be using the manure containment as a garbage can. Uthe says the assessors are finding too many AI pipettes, rubber gloves, etc. in the manure containment system.

Taming Pneumonia Outbreaks

There used to be lots of pneumonia outbreaks due to Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia (APP).

Today those numbers have dropped. But when APP does strike, from 2% to 10% death loss in 2-3 weeks is common. Death loss often strikes 60- to 120-lb. animals. But it can also hit market-age animals.

Commonly, a respiratory outbreak is preceded by coughing and animals off-feed along with sudden death. If it is linked with other diseases, pseudorabies (PRV) or Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), it lingers on.

Current thinking targets disease elimination through negative selection of breeding stock or movement in three-site production systems. In a three-site system, weaning under 18 days of age, nursery pigs will be negative as they are moved off site still under maternal protection.

That protection may be due to active infection and/or sow immunization. Often, nursery pigs on infected sow farms are put on water and feed medication during the move. Denagard (BI/NOBL) is a common water medication and Pulmotil (Elanco) is often used in the feed.

When an APP outbreak occurs at a later age, feed and water medications often don't help due to animal flow or environment. Thus, we need to look at disease elimination.

APP serology or blood testing is done by drawing blood samples and having them analyzed for antibodies to APP. There are 12 serotypes. The three most common in the U.S. are 1, 5 and 7. Type 1 tends to be severe and causes acute death loss. Type 5 causes death loss, but is less severe. Type 7 tends to be non-clinical.

When selecting seedstock from units where there may be a concern about APP, blood tests should be run on the serum from the parent herd along with an evaluation of the clinical history. Tests include the complement fixation test, which is done at certain university diagnostic labs. The ELISA blood test tends to be more sensitive and specific. Cross-reactions can occur with certain ELISA tests.

Case Study No. 1 A producer reported an outbreak in the finishing unit. It killed 18 of 230 head in 24 hours. The dead hogs were found with blood running from their noses. The outbreak was confined mostly to 2 to 3 pens. Animals were feverish and coughing.

The number affected reached 30%. Animals weighing 200-240 lb. were overcrowded in an open-front building. We immediately moved a third of them to an open lot. We injected them with penicillin and gave follow-up injections the next few days to problem animals. The animals recovered well.

Case Study No. 2 A producer called with an outbreak in a finisher. The animals had just been moved from nursery to finisher. One finisher room of four began to break with APP symptoms. Animals were put on water and feed medications. All pigs were immunized with an APP oil-in-water vaccine. Excenel (Pharmacia & Upjohn) was injected.

All postmortem tests showed APP Type 1 to be the cause. The first room was boostered with vaccine two weeks after the first immunization. A second room began to break two weeks after the first room. We then began to immunize the last two rooms ahead of the break. All rooms were immunized twice. The animals responded well for a time but then broke down again. We found they were positive for PRV. After vaccination for PRV and continued treatment, the animals finally recovered.

Case Study No. 3 Replacement gilts were brought onto a farm. They were negative for APP but the sow farm was positive. These new gilts were isolated, immunized twice and added to the herd. They broke with respiratory problems and were treated.

Animals ran fevers. In most cases, it was the gilts that were sick. But a few sows developed respiratory problems. The problem stemmed from bringing 90 vaccinated animals into a positive herd.

Even though animals were put on an immunization program, it wasn't 100% protective. APP immunizations aren't the total answer.

During the respiratory outbreak, gestating sows were given Pulmotil in the feed for a short time. The feed antibiotic was removed after two weeks.

In all, it took 45 days for the disease to quiet down. We treated a lot of gilts and sows. There was some death loss. All incoming gilts were vaccinated three times. Re-breaks occurred one month later and continued to be a sporadic problem. The system was depopulated after six months of battling the problem.

Summary There are different APP vaccines on the market. Most of the vaccines contain killed bacteria with an oil-in-water emulsion, which tends to give a better immunization than the killed bacterins with aluminum salt carriers.

This is an acute respiratory disease. The success of immunization depends on the amount of challenge organisms and if other diseases are present.

The best way to avoid APP is don't buy the problem when purchasing new gilts. Screening new gilts serologically is extremely important.

Hiring Illegal Workers Is Risky Business

The most inexpensive labor force can be the costliest for an employer if it involves illegal workers, underage workers or child laborers used in hazardous activities.

It is illegal and morally wrong to hire these employees. Plus, heavy penalties are imposed on employers violating the labor laws.

Regarding each prospective employee, a producer must ask the question: "Is it legal for me to hire this worker?" If the answer is no, it is risky business for the producer who goes ahead with the hiring. Here's why.

Illegal Immigrants Illegal immigration concerns have resulted in lively congressional debates over solutions to the problem and demands for increased enforcement measures to identify and deport illegal immigrants. Enforcement measures focus more on employers, since most illegal immigrants are drawn to the U.S. for jobs and some employers have taken advantage of unauthorized workers as a cheap labor supply.

The number of illegal, unauthorized immigrant workers in the farm labor supply is hotly debated. Estimates range from 25% to over 50%. Regardless of the estimate used, the number is substantial.

Further Employee Relations Reading:

Although many people associate unauthorized immigrant workers with the harvesting of perishable field crops, illegal workers can be found throughout agriculture, including pork, beef and poultry production.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act, as amended by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, controls the entry of immigrants into the U.S. The IRCA governs the employment of aliens not lawfully admitted to the country. The IRCA also applies to all employers, regardless of the size of their business.

The 1986 amendment was enacted to stem the tide of illegal immigrant workers to the U.S., especially from Mexico. Instead, it increased the problem.

The IRCA, as amended in 1986, gave legal status to one million Mexicans, but did not do the same for their wives and children. The men, however,illegally brought their wives and children into the country, which was to be exp ected and increased the pool of illegal immigrant workers.

In addition, other immigrant workers continued to come into the U.S., resulting in an ever-expanding, illegal, labor pool.

The IRCA does not exempt agricultural employers. It also applies to agricultural associations and farm labor contractors who hire, recruit or refer individuals to work for a fee.

A farmer violates the IRCA if he/she knowingly hires an unauthorized alien or continues to employ an unauthorized alien after learning of the worker's illegal status.

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Pork producers must verify a laborer's employment eligibility. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Form I-9 is used for this documentation. The producer/employer must complete this form within three business days of when an employee begins working. If the employment lasts less than three days, the form must be filed by the end of the first working day.

Verification is valid for three years, even if employment is not continuous. The producer is required to update INS Form I-9 upon the expiration of any employment eligibility document in order to verify that an employee is still authorized to work in the U.S.

There are many ways to determine an individual's qualification to work in the U.S. They include examining an individual's current U.S. passport certificate of U.S. citizenship, a certificate of naturalization, an unexpired foreign passport, an unexpired attorney general's endorsement for work in the U.S. or an unexpired Form I-94 authorizing employment, a resident alien card (INS Form I-551) or registration card (INS Form I-151) with a photograph and unemployment authorization, a temporary resident card (INS Form I-688), or an employment authorization card (INS Form I-688A).

A birth certificate or social security card can prove employment eligibility. But additional proof, such as a driver's license or other state identification with a photo, must be provided to establish that the document belongs to the person. Employers have the duty to inspect employment authorization documents and ensuring the documents appear to be genuine.

Further Employee Relations Reading:

Penalties Producers employing aliens not lawfully admitted to the U.S. are subject to substantial monetary fines and possible imprisonment. For a first offense, an employer is subject to a civil penalty not less than $250 and not more than $2,000 for each unauthorized alien. A second offense carries a civil penalty of not less than $2,000 and not more than $5,000 for each unauthorized alien.

After the second offense, the employer is subject to a civil penalty of not less than $3,000 and not more than $10,000 for each illegally employed worker. Multiple offenses also subject an employer to criminal penalties. An employer who engages in a pattern or practice of violating the law is subject to a criminal fine of not more than $3,000 for each unauthorized alien with respect to whom a violation occurs and/or imprisonment for not more than six months.

The IRCA provides employers with a good faith defense. An employer who proves that she/he made a good faith effort to comply with the IRCA establishes an affirmative defense that they did not violate the act.

Recordkeeping is an important IRCA requirement. Employers must keep an individual's I-9 Form for three years after hiring an individual, or one year after the date the individual's employment is terminated, whichever is later.

Failure to keep proper records subjects an employer to a civil penalty of not less than $100 and not more than $1,000 for each individual with whom a violation occurred. Before the penalty is determined, consideration is given to the size of the employer's business, the employer's good faith, the seriousness of the violation, whether or not the individual was an unauthorized alien, and the employer's history of prior violations.

In one case, an employer was fined $13,500 for failing to correct 135 recordkeeping violations following a routine inspection in which 183 violations were found. The employer's failure to correct all of the initial mistakes was discovered during a second inspection, therefore constituting a second violation for which new penalties were assessed.

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The federal government has a pilot program that allows industries attracting undocumented immigrant workers to access a database constructed for INS records. The pilot program consisted of 234 companies, including Disneyland, in two southern California cities. These companies checked the immigration status of over 11,000 job applicants. About 25% turned out to be illegal workers.

The Clinton administration recently expanded the program to the meat-packing industry, which now attracts large numbers of illegal workers. A similar program was recently instituted in Iowa.

Beware Of Discrimination A pork producer cannot avoid the verification requirements of the IRCA by refusing to hire persons whom they suspect is an unauthorized alien. Under the IRCA, it is an unfair immigration-related employment practice to discriminate against any individual (other than an unauthorized alien) when hiring or discharging an individual because of their national origin.

The IRCA provides for special counsel to investigate complaints of an employer engaging in unfair immigration-related employment practices. An employer's first offense results in a civil fine of $1,000 for each individual discriminated against. An employer is fined $2,000 per individual if previously found to be in violation of the act.

Violators are also subject to back pay (up to two years) and an award of reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing party (unless the prevailing party is the U.S.).

To avoid having to document the legality of their immigrant workers, some agricultural employers have turned to farm labor contractors (FLC). The FLC checks and verifies workers' documents, fills out government-required paperwork, and releases employers from any liability. FLCs are used extensively by vegetable growers and now by livestock producers and processors.

In the past, the use of FLCs effectively shielded employers from IRCA claims. Recently, however, some courts have found FLCs and employers using them to be joint-employers of laborers and have held both parties liable for IRCA violations.

More Ag Scrutiny Agricultural operations are receiving increased scrutiny from the INS. Surprise inspections conducted at agricultural facilities have been conducted throughout the U.S.

A 1996 INS inspection at an Ohio agribusiness' egg farm resulted in the deportation of 20 workers to Mexico and charges of IRCA violations against the business. Charges included health and safety violations in improperly operated migrant camps.

Large agribusinesses have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for IRCA violations. Even small employers have been fined tens of thousands of dollars.

The IRCA's provisions on unfair immigrations-related employment practices exempts employers with three or fewer employees from its provisions.

All employers, however, have to be concerned about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 whose provisions overlap those of the IRCA. If a charge has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on the same set of facts subject to the IRCA, then the complainant proceeds under Title VII. The converse is also true. The EEOC will not accept a complaint under Title VII, if the complainant has already proceeded under the IRCA.

Oppressive Child Labor The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibits the employment of "oppressive child labor" in commerce or in the production of goods for interstate or foreign commerce. The FLSA defines "oppressive child labor" as the employment of an employee under 16 years of age by an employer in any occupation other than in agriculture. The act sets a 16-year-age minimum for employment in agriculture during school hours and for employment in agriculture declared to be particularly hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. An exception is made when the person is employed by a parent or a person standing in the place of his parent on a farm owned or operated by the parent or person.

The minimum age for agricultural employment outside school hours is 14 years. At age 12-13 years, a child may be employed outside of school hours, if they have written permission from a parent or legal guardian. Minors under the age of 12 may be employed outside of school hours by a parent, or a person standing in place of the parent, on a farm owned by the parent or the other person.

The FLSA sets an 18-year minimum age for employment in an occupation considered particularly hazardous or detrimental to minors. Again, this determination is made by the Secretary of Labor. The list of agricultural occupations is extensive. Activities common to swine production include:

* Working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by a boar kept for breeding or a sow with suckling pigs.

* Working inside a manure pit.

* Operating a tractor of over 20 hp with a PTO or connecting or disconnecting an implement from such a tractor.

* Operating or assisting to operate a corn picker, feed grinder, crop dryer, auger conveyor, or the unloading mechanism of a nongravity-type, self-unloading wagon or trailer or forklift.

* Working inside grain storage designed to retain an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere, or an upright silo within two weeks after silage has been added or when a top loading device is in operating position, or a horizontal silo while driving a tractor for packing.

* Transporting, transferring or applying anhydrous ammonia.

Violation of the FLSA carries a penalty up to $10,000 for each violation. A violator is also subject to state law penalties. States have their own fair labor standards and prohibitions against oppressive child labor.

In addition to federal and state statutory penalties, employers who violate fair labor standards by employing underage workers also face other legal pitfalls. In some states, an employer's violation of child labor laws imposes absolute liability on the employer if a minor is injured at work. This means that the employer cannot raise causation or the minor's contributory negligence as a defense to any cause of action for bodily injury filed on one minor's behalf against the employer.

For example, if an illegally employed minor is injured in a producer's manure pit, the producer cannot raise the minor's negligence as a defense, even if the minor entered the pit in violation of the producer's safety instructions. To find the producer liable, the plaintiff need only prove the extent of the child's damages.

Liability Insurance Employers who violate child labor laws face increased exposure to liability claims filed on behalf of injured minors and do so without liability insurance coverage. Liability insurance policies exclude coverage for accidents involving minors employed in violation of child labor law provisions.

A worker seriously injured or killed while working in or near a producer's manure pit, exposes the producer to hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. If the injured worker is an adult, the producer's liability insurance carrier is obligated to provide the producer with a defense attorney, pay all defense costs, and pay any judgment against the producer within the policy's financial limits.

But, if the injured worker is a minor, the producer must pay all defense costs, including attorney's fees, and bear the full financial burden of any adverse judgment.

Even those employers who have taken advantage of state workers' compensation laws face additional penalties if an illegally hired minor is injured. In some states, a miner's compensation is automatically doubled as a penalty to the employer. In other states, the minor may sue the employer outside of workers' compensation.

Although most producers follow the laws protecting their employees' safety and civil rights, they may still be exposed to legal liability for hiring illegal workers.

Undocumented immigrant workers are often dedicated workers, and relatively inexpensive to employ, but their use is legally indefensible.

Children under the age of 18 years can be effective and enthusiastic workers, but their hiring and use must be kept within the legal limits. If not, the pork producer is liable for "oppressive child labor" violations. - L

Further Employee Relations Reading: