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Articles from 2003 In November

Major Advances Seen for Swine Genomics

Swine genomics — the genetic mapping of the pig — will provide the tools to build healthier, more productive pigs, according to a University of Illinois swine geneticist.

Animal scientist Lawrence Schook made these predictions for swine genomics during the mid-September Leman Swine Conference in St. Paul, MN:

  • Disease resistance selection will be developed by 2005.

  • A quick diagnostic test to identify “at risk” animals for stress at shipment time will be available in a few years.

  • A food security system, driven by consumer interest in product traceability and producer interest in animal identification and traceback, will be implemented by 2005.

  • With more knowledge about immune expression, researchers will formulate new, non-antibiotic ways to manage health, shunning conventional antibiotics.

  • The pig genome will be sequenced by 2007, transforming herd health programs. Gene markers will be identified with specific genetic suppliers with breeding stock carrying natural resistance to infectious diseases.

Genome Mapping Progress

Low-cost diagnostics are on the way. Tools and information have been developed to permit application of genomics to improve the health and performance of pigs, explains Schook.

Swine genome mapping harkens back to 1994, when the first maps were published. They identified chromosomal regions that influence key traits affecting growth, body composition and reproductive and immune responses.

The pig genome is of similar size and complexity as the human genome, says Schook. Techniques are being developed to improve human-pig comparative maps. Using a Genome Positioning System, Schook says a map of the human genome can be used to help identify the genome of pigs.

The bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) is a resource providing coverage of approximately 35% of the swine genome. These BAC resources have afforded development of high-resolution maps of specific chromosomal regions.

A coordinated international effort has been initiated to develop a porcine BAC map involving the Agriculture Department's Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, NE, the Roslin Institute in the United Kingdom and the University of Illinois.

High-density maps are being developed to help map difficult traits such as animal health, says Schook.

Besides the animal's genetic makeup that determines inherent resistance or susceptibility to disease, housing, stress of moving and nutrition also provide strong impact into the expression of genes, points out Schook. A process called microarray technology analyzes host-pathogen interactions to determine the cause of change in the cellular state of the pig.

Application Challenges

Two challenges facing the use of genomic information to improve pig health are being addressed. First, the need for content information is being studied experimentally and on the farm. Second, genetic markers have been identified to address the need for developing fast, low-cost technology platforms to permit the broad utilization of genomic data, he says.

Recently, the National Institutes of Health have added the pig to the list of high-priority animals for complete genome sequencing.

“When finished, this sequencing will permit rapid identification of genes to create new screening tools for the development of new drugs and medicines that promote animal health and performance,” concludes Schook.

Gene Mapping Project Funded

Three University of Illinois scientists were awarded $3 million in a five-year project to create comprehensive genome maps of the pig and cow.

“It took a billion dollars to sequence the human genome. The National Institutes of Health had this huge investment in technology, people and equipment and they finished early,” says Lawrence Schook, University of Illinois animal geneticist. “So they decided to use the remainder of the resources to sequence the genome of other species.”

The research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be the first step toward sequencing the pig and cow genomes.

For a decade, Schook and fellow animal science geneticists Jonathon Beever and Harris Lewin have been studying genes for disease resistance, lactation and growth. Schook and Beever work on pigs and Lewin studies cows.

Cows, pigs and humans all share something in common, a placenta, but also have enough differences to make contrasting easy. “Having the gene maps and sequences of other species, particularly other mammals, will help us better understand the human genome,” says Schook.

Small variances in DNA coding appear to account for the differences between pigs, cows and humans. By looking at the differences and similarities, scientists believe they can better understand how all three species evolved.

Blood Proteins Saving Pigs

Call it an unconventional management tool, but a blood plasma product may be the only effective treatment for gastric ulcers in pigs.

It only takes 12 to 24 hours for a pig to get an ulcer. Once they do, many either become chronic slow-doers or die. Ulcers are listed among the top 10 disease concerns for market hogs, according to the NAHMS (National Animal Health Monitoring System) survey released in 2002. Mortality can be 5% or higher in grow-finish pigs.

A water-soluble plasma product called Solutein contains bovine serum concentrate and other blood products. Its source of globulin proteins — alpha, beta and gamma — are derived from serum. The proteins are termed “functional” for their biological activity and are composed of diverse fractions consisting of immunoglobulins, albumin, lipids, enzymes and other growth factors.

Exactly how it works is a mystery. But Solutein stimulates appetite in any off-feed event, says Mike Eisenmenger, a veterinarian with the Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN. He adds that they not only use the plasma for treating ulcers, but it appears effective in saving bottom-end and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS)-sick nursery pigs.

Tackling Ulcers

“Ulcers are a significant problem,” Eisenmenger says. “It happens fast. The pig is a great acid producer. If there is no food in the front part of the stomach, acid immediately begins to eat that part — the pars-esophageal. And it's amazing how often pigs are out of feed. If we find pigs in an early ulceration stage or early off-feed stage, we can save them by feeding Solutein.”

Clinical signs of ulcers include lethargy, anemia and resulting pallor, anorexia, rapid tissue loss and melena, or black vomit or stool. Pigs often have respiratory disease symptoms prior to ulcer formation.

Pigs that aren't eating are moved to treatment pens and administered Solutein for four days. One pound of product per 5 gal. of water is mixed daily in a barrel fitted with two nipple waterers. The product adds about $5.28/pig to finishing cost, or $105.60 per pen of 20.

“Based on our experience, we'll save 8 to 13 pigs (in a pen of 20), which is $400 to $1,200 we would not have received based on the percentage that go to a primary market vs. a light market. That would be a 4:1 to 12:1 return on investment,” notes Eisenmenger. There is little benefit to feeding it longer than four days, he adds.

A study presented at this year's American Association of Swine Veterinarians annual meeting showed that adding the product to water reduced the extent and severity of symptoms associated with gastric ulcers in growing pigs. Within three days, rate of ulceration was reduced and new tissue growth was evident in pigs receiving Solutein in their drinking water. It also appeared to stimulate feed intake and growth rate compared to pigs not receiving the product.

Eisenmenger is starting to use the product on sows. “We think it has value in off-feed sows — if we can find an efficient and convenient way to get that done in a production setting.”

Bottom-End Pigs

Lightweight, young or PRRS-viremic pigs at weaning can also benefit from the blood product. Veterinarian Jeff Feder, also with the Swine Vet Center, has multiple nursery systems that use Solutein at weaning.

As an example, he used a production system with 4,000-head nurseries that sorts out the bottom 25% of pigs. Solutein was an easy fit in the system since younger, lightweight pigs are segregated into one room. The product is injected through water lines over an eight-day period. They receive .03 lb./day for the first four days, and half that amount, or .015 lb./day, for another four days. The cost is about 75-80¢/head, but mortality rate is cut in half, from 6% to 3%.

“We segregate the at-risk pigs to use the product more cost-effectively. It's important to get it started at weaning or as quickly after weaning as possible for best results.

“It also makes sense to use Solutein on starve-outs,” Feder says. Pigs that go off-feed later in the nursery are pulled out into a ‘sick pen’ and fed Solutein (either alone or with starter feed as a gruel) in a bowl for several days to get them eating again.

Pigs that come from sow farms showing clinical signs of PRRS are also targeted because they are a challenge to get started on feed. “We expect those piglets to struggle with PRRS early in the nursery phase,” notes Feder. “In that situation, all pigs are put on Solutein.”

The bottom line is there are fewer fallouts, he adds. “It helps make the transition easier from milk to solid feed. It's a plasma product and plasma is a key ingredient in starter feeds. But we have to give producers realistic expectations and target the pigs at risk for the best return.”

Not Just for Lightweights

Nebraska swine practitioner Tom Petznick uses the product to treat nursery pigs suffering from Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE). A trial conducted at a Progressive Swine Technologies unit in northeast Nebraska showed Solutein aided in diminishing clinical signs of F18 E. coli and the associated death loss.

Their current game plan calls for 14 days of administration to the smallest 30% of piglets via a separate medicator. That way, Petznick says, they're targeting the most challenged piglets at the most challenging time. The total cost is about 76¢/pig.

At a cost of 56¢/pig, he also uses Solutein for a seven-day period to combat TGE. The cost benefit after improving death loss is about $2.50/pig, notes the Nebraska veterinarian.

Web Site for More

Solutein is sold by APC, Inc. (American Protein Corp.), Ames, IA. See for more information on Solutein.

Influence of the Gilt Pool on Overall Swine Production

Gilts are as much of an investment as they are a gamble in determining a swine operation's productivity. They can cost as much as $250 per head, and their true breeding ability often is unknown. Because gilts are the largest breeding group in most herds, successful conception and farrowing of gilts is essential to meeting production targets.

Identifying gilt heat cycles is an important component of successful breeding. It is critical to recognize first estrus so subsequent periods of estrus can be determined. Otherwise, gilts will be observed as randomly cycling, which causes poor conception rates. Consequently, when gilts fail to conceive and farrow, producers face irrecoverable costs from excessive feed, housing, labor, vaccination and non-productive days.

Increase Profits by Decreasing Gilt Pool Size

Inefficiencies in gilt pool performance can be resolved by bringing gilts into heat together through estrus synchronization.

Studies indicate MATRIX (altrenogest) effectively synchronizes estrus in sexually mature gilts for a more focused and predictable breeding herd. MATRIX provides two key economic benefits for progressive swine producers. Primarily, MATRIX improves precision in providing the number of service eligible gilts needed for each breeding. Secondly, it reduces the amount of labor required to meet those targets by minimizing cost and optimizing production.

Multiple studies report that when gilts are fed MATRIX (altrenogest 0.22% solution) for 14 days, up to 85 percent of the treated gilts exhibited estrus, compared with 18 percent of the controls 4 to 9 days after MATRIX was withdrawn. Thus, fewer gilts are needed to fill vacant spots in the breeding group. A smaller MATRIX-managed gilt pool reduces replacements needed, feed, overhead and vaccination costs and non-productive days.

MATRIX synchronizes estrus in a predictable time frame, which helps producers identify which animals have the capability of being bred. Other gilts not showing signs of estrus within the predicted time frame can be removed from the gilt pool and sent to finishers, possibly at a premium.

While each operation will need to configure their economic evaluations based on individual inputs, MATRIX definitely provides an excellent return on investment for producers.

Additional benefits of MATRIX include: Consistent stream of service-eligible gilts; Predictable breeding span; Reduced pig flow variation; Reduced weekend mating and weaning; Reduced heat detection; Increased labor efficiency and improved semen delivery scheduling; Improved artificial insemination scheduling; Improved farrowing rate

Learn more about MATRIX, the first and only product approved for synchronization of estrus in pubertal gilts, by contacting your veterinarian or animal-health provider. Or, call Intervet at 1-800-441-8272.

Dr. Charles Francisco is Senior Technical Services Specialist for Intervet Inc. This is the first in a series of three articles by Dr. Francisco discussing how MATRIX maximizes efficiencies in the breeding segment. The second installment will focus on how MATRIX helps operators meet breeding targets.

Focus on Real Biosecurity Risks

Gaps in on-farm biosecurity programs are often caused by focusing too much attention on the threat of disease posed by visitors, wildlife, birds and rodents, and not enough attention on staff and transport vehicles.

Pigs remain an obvious source of introduction of disease onto hog farms today. And area spread is still causing major headaches for producers trying to clean up diseases like porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

However, the industry's focus on some other elements of biosecurity is misguided, professes Carlos Pijoan, DVM, director of the Swine Disease Eradication Center at the University of Minnesota, who spoke at a biosecurity seminar during the mid-September Leman Swine Conference in St. Paul, MN.

Visitor Restrictions

People are an unlikely source of disease spread on hog farms that follow shower-in, shower-out principles. Work at the University of Minnesota and Purdue University has clearly shown that a shower and a change of clothes are adequate to prevent spread of diseases like PRRS, Mycoplasmal pneumonia and Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE), he says. In many cases, the Danish system of a change of clothes and hand washing appears to stop transmission.

“There is no documented need for any ‘downtime’ between farms,” Pijoan asserts. “This is an onerous practice that is costly and places undue emphasis on procedures that do not solve the problem.

“It also puts the producer in a false state of comfort, by believing that a simple and obvious procedure will be enough to control the problems.”

Walter Heuser, DVM, Provis Swine Health Services, Steinbach, Manitoba, says downtime rules have created added costs for service personnel and employees, and restricted prompt access to units by veterinarians for diagnostic workups.

In western Canada, pig breeding company units still require three nights downtime prior to entry, but there is a gradual movement to one night downtime between commercial systems, he says.

Worker Concerns

Unlike visitors to the farm, staff workers pose a major threat to farm biosecurity, says Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, DVM, Poultry Health Management Team, North Carolina State University. In a survey of biosecurity measures on 52 turkey farms, he found that only 21% observed biosecurity measures. In another survey of biosecurity measures on 23 poultry farms, he found disagreement on what should be or is happening on the farm.

Biosecurity compliance often falls on the shoulders of farm workers who do not have a good understanding of the importance of certain procedures and who generally do not profit from their compliance, says Pijoan.

Transportation Problems

Transport vehicles are becoming recognized as a major threat to successful biosecurity, according to Pijoan. Trucks should be properly cleaned and inspected before they are allowed back on the premises.

But even this may not be enough. “There have been several recent outbreaks of TGE that appear to be related to infected commercial truck washes, suggesting that even properly washed trucks may be a problem if the truck wash itself becomes the infection source,” he remarks. Pijoan suggests:

  • Use only farm-owned vehicles for all trucking done inside the premises;

  • Wash these vehicles on the premises and avoid commercial truck washes. An exception might be a truck that travels to a highly contaminated site such as a slaughter plant. Then, Pijoan advises prewashing the truck in a commercial facility with a final wash on the premises to avoid bringing an infected, dirty truck onto the farm; and

  • Allow all vehicles to completely dry before entering premises. “Dryness may be the single most important thing to audit for when inspecting trucks.”

Disease Control Strategies

To enhance the effectiveness of biosecurity, pork producers should think about changing production schemes and disease control strategies. Maintaining a clean herd in the midst of a hog-dense, infected region is difficult due to the uncertainty of area spread, says Pijoan.

A better approach would be to return to a “river of health” strategy where sites are kept separated and flowed all-in, all-out, much like the original concept of segregated early weaning, he says. This eliminates health challenges caused by filling units through multi-sourcing and commingling pigs of different ages.

Better yet, eradicate certain diseases from entire regions, he concludes.

COOL Rule Released

The Agriculture Department (USDA) has released the proposed rule for mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL). Meat and fish products and perishable farm commodities must be labeled at retail.

Pork products are exempt if derived from an animal that was born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.

Comments on the rule must be sent by Dec. 29 to or mailed to Country-of-Origin Labeling Program, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, 1400 Independence Ave., SW Stop 0249, Washington, DC 20250-0249.

USDA also released an official forecast that COOL will cost $3.9 billion a year. That forecast reinforces that there is no evidence of benefit to pork producers, meat packers, retailers or consumers, says National Pork Producers Council President Jon Caspers.

Two Common Drugs Pose Low Risk to Humans

Elanco Animal Health contracted for an independent analysis of its two most popular animal antibiotics to dispel public concerns about their safety.

A comprehensive risk assessment conducted on antibiotics in food animals reveals that the risk of consumers in the U.S. acquiring foodborne bacteria from eating meat or poultry treated with either tylosin (Tylan) or tilmicosin (Pulmotil) is very low.

The chance of acquiring a resistant infection from eating pork, resulting in treatment failure, is extremely low. The risk is less than one in 53 million people/year for resistant campylobacter and less than one in 21 billion people/year for E. faecium, according to the report's findings.

“Our risk assessment scientifically addresses questions regarding the potential impact antibiotics may have on human health, and shows that current uses of tylosin and tilmicosin in food animals are safe,” observes lead author Scott Hurd, DVM, Hurd Health Consulting, Roland, IA.

“Clearly, for these two products, I think the message is clear that they are safe,” says Hurd, who conducted the trials independent of his work as an epidemiologist for USDA's National Animal Disease Center in Ames, IA.

“The numbers were strikingly low in this study. You would be 10 times more likely to die from a bee sting, and the risk of death from a bee sting in the U.S. is one in six million,” he explains.

In the independent study, a team of eight researchers reviewed the use of tylosin and tilmicosin in food production in the U.S., analyzed the risk for antibiotic resistance and determined the potential for ineffective human antibiotic treatment as a result.

Antibiotic Resistance Growing

“While antibiotic resistance in humans is growing in the U.S., the major factor affecting resistance development is human antibiotic use, not food animal use,” says study researcher Ronald Jones, MD, The Jones Group/JMI Labs, North Liberty, IA. “Surveillance data from the Antimicrobial Surveillance Program and other monitoring programs clearly shows a disconnect between antibiotic resistance patterns in humans and animals. Government authorities should continue to review global resistance patterns and use scientific methods, such as risk assessment, to make decisions,” he says.

The findings were presented recently in Chicago at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

GAO Addresses Issue

The General Accounting Office (GAO) is developing a report on antimicrobial uses and potential impact on human health and foreign trade, reports the National Pork Board.

The GAO report is due out in the spring of 2004.

Antibiotic Resistance Study Underway

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has contracted with Michigan State University (MSU) to study antibiotic use in farms and its role in the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are pathogenic to humans.

“Although the use of antibiotics in livestock is at most only a minor contributor to the problem of antibiotic resistance in human disease, the livestock industry is concerned and seeks ways to reduce this minor contributor to even less of a threat,” observes MSU veterinary researcher and project leader Barbara Straw, DVM.

Straw is reviewing results of trials of three different finishing pig antibiotic feeding regimens to determine if a reduction or modification could influence the level of antibiotic resistance.

Pigs in 20 wean-to-finish barns were placed on one of five protocols from 50 lb. to market: low-level tylosin; pulse, high-dose tylosin; low-level, continuous chlortetracycline; pulse, high-dose chlortetracycline; or no antibiotics.

Slaughter samples are being tested for the presence of pathogens (salmonella and campylobacter). Other work on bacterial isolation and antibacterial sensitivities is ongoing, says Straw. Project completion is slated for spring 2004.

“Much of the work on effectiveness of growth promotants was done years ago in systems that are not representative of today's facilities and flow,” says Straw. “It is time to reassess the impact of antibiotics on performance, health and the development of resistance in the grow-finish period.”

NSIF Meeting Scheduled

The National Swine Improvement Federation (NSIF) Annual Meeting and Conference will be Dec. 4-5 in Des Moines, IA.

This year's conference will be combined with a USDA/industry workshop on Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) and marker-assisted selection. The workshop will update methods for identification and use of genes for economic traits in the pig.

The workshop will feature results of a Iowa State University and University of Illinois study on detection and use of QTL for meat quality.

For registration, contact Ken Stalder, NSIF secretary-treasurer by phone, 515-294-4683; fax, 515-294-5698, or e-mail,

Low Test Weight Corn Cleared for Hogs

Anticipated low test weight corn has been cleared for feeding to hogs, according to research at several universities.

Corn that has a low test weight appears to have the same feeding value for hogs as normal test weight corn, says Lee Johnston, University of Minnesota Extension Service animal scientist.

Johnston compared “normal” test weight corn of 57 lb./bu. with low test weights ranging from 47.5 to 49.5 lb./bu. in trials at the University's West Central Research and Outreach Center at Morris.

“There was no statistically significant difference in daily gain, feed intake or feed efficiency between normal and low test weight corn,” he says. Pigs went on trial averaging 77 lb. and ended at 229 lb.

At Michigan State University, researchers analyzed corn with test weights of 42 to 49 lb./bu. and found no difference in feeding value for hogs.

Similar results were seen in South Dakota trials on grow-finish pigs and in Canada with nursery pigs. In both cases, no negative or positive effects of feeding low test weight corn were found, reports Johnston.

If corn is not contaminated with mycotoxins or other quality problems, low test weight corn does not affect feeding value, he reports.

“Corn with test weights as low as 40 lb./bu. apparently supports pig performance as well as test weights of 56 to 59 lb./bu.,” says Johnston.

Animal Identification Plan Advances

A mandatory national animal identification system received strong endorsement at the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) annual meeting last month in San Diego, CA.

A draft plan forged by the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and a national animal identification development team promises several benefits: enhanced disease control and eradication capabilities, rapid (48-hour) containment of foreign and domestic animal disease outbreaks and better response time for biosecurity threats.

There is a 60-day comment period on the plan, which can be viewed at The program calls for all states to have a premises identification system in place by July 2004. By 2006, all group or individual identification systems should be in place.

The USAHA also passed a resolution that the U.S. will be declared free of pseudorabies two years after the release of the last quarantine and one year after all states have implemented disease management plans for feral swine.

Only four states — Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Texas have not achieved Stage 5 or “free” status in the eradication program. With all states in Stage 4 (surveillance) or 5, there are no known cases of PRV left in the U.S., adds Paul Sundberg, DVM, National Pork Board.

Pork Checkoff Ruling Stands

A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a 2002 ruling by a Michigan federal judge that the pork checkoff program is unconstitutional, reports the National Pork Board.

Congress created the pork checkoff so pork producers could provide promotion, research and consumer information about pork. Producers invest $.40 for each $100 value of hogs and pigs sold.

The court action stems from a federal lawsuit focusing on whether the checkoff program violates the First Amendment rights of producers who disagree with the messages contained in checkoff-funded promotional messages.

“This is disappointing news for America's pork producers,” says Craig Christensen, Pork Board president and a 2,000-sow, farrow-to-finish producer, Ogden, IA. “At the same time, we recognize this is just one more step in a lengthy legal process in which the pork checkoff is represented by the U.S. government.”

“I am disappointed that the U.S. Court of Appeals did not overturn the lower court's ruling,” says Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. “USDA regards such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement.” USDA is consulting with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which has 45 days from the Oct. 22 ruling to ask for a rehearing by the Sixth Circuit Court. DOJ can also request a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pork Board member Danita Rodibaugh of Rensselaer, IN, adds it is vital to the industry's future for the checkoff to withstand the court challenge. “The checkoff was established so that producers could accomplish together what we cannot do individually. I personally believe, as an independent producer, losing the checkoff would be a detriment to my ability to remain competitive,” she says.

The checkoff has helped make the U.S. a net exporter of pork, with 11 consecutive years of increased exports, says Christensen. Before the pork checkoff, the U.S. was a net importer of pork.

Maybe the biggest impact of losing the checkoff would be the inability to tell consumers how pork is raised and that it is safe, high quality and nutritious. “If we lose that, we lose a big advantage to other food and protein sources,” says Christensen.