Articles from 2006 In November

Pork Storage Rise No Surprise

USDA's November Cold Storage report, released Tuesday, really contained no surprises or shocking changes in meat inventories. Total pork in cold storage was 4.5% higher than one year ago and 5.9% higher than last month (see Figure 1). While 466.7 million pounds of pork is not a small issue, and these stocks are above the longer-term average, I don't see them as terribly burdensome, especially given the large decline (11%) in chicken inventories.
The largest category of pork in this month's report was "Other" which, at 112 million pounds, was the largest since the early 1990s. That category also was up 28% from last year and accounted for 14 million of the total 20-million-pound increase from October 2005.
Ham inventories were the second-largest category of pork stocks at 101.3 million pounds. That is 4.7% higher than last year and 2.6% higher than last month. However, as can be seen in Figure 2, October's ham stocks were still nearly 20 million pounds lower than the average of 2000 through 2004. These lower stock levels are a testament to improved export trade with Mexico. Ham stocks will drop quickly over the next two months as packers and processors move hams into holiday trade.
Belly inventories were 9% larger than last year, and 63% larger than last month, but remain relatively low at 16 million pounds. The month-to-month increase is not too surprising either since the seasonal low in belly stocks almost always occurs in September.
<b>Chicken Still Stiff Competitor</b>
As was mentioned earlier, chicken inventories were 11% lower than last year -- thank heavens! Breast meat inventories were 13% lower, but there is still nearly 130 million pounds of breast meat in freezers. Stocks of thigh meat and paws (i.e. feet) were also substantially larger than one year ago, indicating some difficulties for exports. On the other hand, stocks of leg quarters (another big export item) were only half as large this year.
Chicken part prices are still very soft relative to one year ago (see the Competing Meats table). Boneless/skinless breasts at less than $1.00/lb. and leg quarters under $0.40/lb. are formidable competition at the retail meat counter. Egg sets and placements, though, are still running below year-earlier levels, so it appears that chicken companies are certainly trying to rein in supplies and drive prices upward.
<b>Feed Costs Threaten Profit Streak</b>
Hog prices continue to struggle though today's national negotiated base price did gain $1.40 to reach $58.86. With higher feed costs now coming into play on breakevens, extending the string of profitable months on the Iowa State University Estimated Costs and Returns series is going to be very close.
<b>Slaughter Data Right on Target</b>
Figure 3 shows slaughter vs. one year ago and the level predicted by the September Hogs and Pigs Report. While large slaughter runs may be putting some pressure on prices, we certainly cannot say the runs were unexpected. In fact, since Sept. 1, actual federally inspected slaughter has exceeded the levels predicted by the USDA report by just 0.32%. I don't recall any actual data being closer than that to the expected levels.
These data suggest that our largest slaughter week is now behind us, but I would never bet against the week after Thanksgiving or the week before Christmas. This year's lower slaughter weights, though, suggest that producers are quite current, so I think it is very likely that the peak is in.
Happy Thanksgiving!
<a href="" target="_new"><img align="left" valign="top" src="" vspace="0" border="0" hspace="3"></a><br><br> Click to view graphs.<br><br>
<font color="red">Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.<br>
Paragon Economics, Inc.<br>
e-mail: <a href=""></a></font>

Market Slippage No Surprise

This week's cash hog market is somewhat of a head-scratcher. Not that I didn't expect lower prices. Anyone who has been around the hog business for long expects lower cash prices come late November.
The usual culprit this time of year is a declining cutout value. The push for Thanksgiving hams is well behind us and any momentum left from preparations for Christmas ham sales is waning quickly. The seasonal strength of those grilling cuts is definitely past and there are no more fresh tomatoes to maintain much strength in the belly (bacon) market, even though that is not as big a seasonal factor as it once was.
But cutout values have been relatively stable for the past few weeks (see Figure 1) and have actually risen this week. That is certainly a good sign for pork producers given the fact that boneless/skinless chicken breasts, a major competitor for loins at the retail level, are back below $1/lb. again.
In addition, slaughter rates are not reflecting a huge flood of hogs. Sure, daily slaughter runs of roughly 420,000 head are astounding from a historical perspective, but the U.S. slaughter sector has shown that it can handle those kind of numbers with relative ease, provided there is a margin to be earned.
My estimates show that packer margins have been about normal through the week that ended Nov. 4, the last week for which by-product value data are currently available (see Figure 2). I suspect that we will see margins grow when data for this week is published, but that should surprise no one. Packers' highest margins almost always occur in late November or early December.
What I suspect is happening is this: A good number of producers are now feeding expensive corn to hogs. Even those who planned ahead may well have missed the lower-priced corn of August when they were quite logically waiting for harvest lows that never happened. High-cost corn means high-cost feed and a strong incentive to move hogs to slaughter. Average carcass weights last week were 3 lb. lighter than one year ago.
Even though slaughter levels are close to those predicted by the September pig report, I think they are really a function of an awareness by packers that hogs are moving to slaughter earlier and that any run-up in slaughter could cause real shortages later on. The logical reaction is to take advantage of producers pushing hogs by keeping slaughter levels near expected levels and increasing margins by simply bidding lower for the pigs.
<b>Don't Panic</b>
Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Lean Hog futures have fallen largely due to cash price weakness at the same time that commodity funds (most notably the Goldman-Sachs fund) were rolling out of long December positions. Put the two together and you have a significant break in futures prices.
If you missed selling on the contract life highs last week, don't panic. Cash markets and the front month heavily influence futures prices. If we are, in fact, selling hogs earlier than normal due to high feed prices, it will catch up to this market at some point and give some support to cash prices. Chicken producers are working hard to reduce supplies as well, and any support they can give to breast prices will be positive.
I expect some recovery in the futures markets and would urge producers to take some price protection on rallies. Again, selling into a rally is almost always a good move provided the actual price represents a profit!
<a href="" target="_new"><img align="left" valign="top" src="" vspace="0" border="0" hspace="3"></a><br><br> Click to view graphs.<br><br>
<font color="red">Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.<br>
Paragon Economics, Inc.<br>
e-mail: <a href=""></a></font>

Ethanolmania Driving By-Product Research

Swine nutritionists are scrambling to keep up with nutrient profiles.

One of the hot topics concerning dried distiller's grains with solubles (DDGS) these days involves carcass fat quality, says a University of Minnesota animal scientist.

DDGS is a good energy source for pigs, but it has its limitations, Jerry Shurson told participants of the recent Minnesota Nutrition Conference. Shurson is an expert on DDGS, having studied the by-product of ethanol production for eight years.

DDGS is the dried residue remaining after the starch fraction of corn is fermented with selected yeasts and enzymes to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. After complete fermentation, the alcohol is removed by distillation and the remaining fermentation residues are dried.

“Nutritionists and producers want to feed more than the typical 10% level of DDGS for greater cost savings, but little research has been done to evaluate the effects on growth performance and carcass quality in grow-finish pigs,” notes Shurson.

There are three DDGS issues the swine nutritionist and his Minnesota colleagues are currently investigating:

  • Impact on pork fat/quality, especially in pork bound for Japan;

  • How to deal with variability of by-products between plants; and

  • The circumstances under which intake drops as DDGS levels increase.

Several studies of these issues regarding DDGS have just been completed and two more studies are underway.

Ten Percent Level on Pork Fat

One field study, funded by Land O'Lakes/Purina Feed, evaluated the impact of feeding conventional corn-soybean meal diets, with or without 10% DDGS, on pork fat quality.

The study was conducted in two, typical 1,000-head commercial finishing barns in southern Minnesota. Both were stocked with Monsanto genetics.

Feed was formulated and provided by Land O'Lakes/Purina Feed. One producer fed typical diets; the second fed 10% DDGS. A seven-phase, mixed feeding program was fed and the last finisher diet contained 4.5 g./ton of Paylean (Elanco Animal Health).

Diets within each phase contained similar nutrient levels. All rations contained the same level of choice white grease as a fat source, ranging from 1.25 to 3.75%, depending on the diet phase.

Pigs were slaughtered at Hormel Foods in Austin, MN, and a sample from each group was evaluated for carcass traits. Mid-belly samples were taken and a visual color score was determined by a group of panelists using the National Pork Board's Japanese pork fat color standards.

Complete fatty acid profiles were also conducted on belly samples. Iodine value and mean melting point were calculated using fatty acid data from each sample.

As shown in Table 1, pigs fed the 10% DDGS grew as well, consumed less feed and had better feed conversion and lower feed cost/lb. of gain than pigs fed the corn-soy diet without DDGS.

At slaughter, there were no differences in carcass weight, backfat or percentage of ham, loin and belly relative to total carcass weight (Table 2). In addition, there were no differences in loin depth or percentage of lean muscle in the carcasses between the two groups.

These results are in agreement with performance and carcass composition results in initial studies at Minnesota, Shurson says, and show 10% levels of DDGS have no negative effects on growth or carcass of grow-finish pigs.

When belly fat was evaluated, there was no difference in color score based on the Japanese pork fat quality standards, nor were there any differences in the melting point of the fat (Table 3).

However, bellies from pigs fed the 10% DDGS had a higher iodine value than pigs fed diets without DDGS. Iodine was still below a suggested maximum threshold of 70.

“Iodine value is a ratio of unsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids. Since it is a ratio, it has no units. Think of it like feed/gain,” explains Shurson.

Carcass Iodine Values

Iodine value is used as criteria for measuring pork fat quality. A maximum iodine value of 70, established by the Danish Meat Research Institute is considered standard in Europe. In addition, European dietary specifications generally include a maximum dietary level of 1.6% linoleic acid for finisher pigs.

Similar thresholds have not been established for pork produced in the United States, explains Shurson. It has been suggested that an iodine value limit for pork fat be set at 74, and dietary linoleic acid levels be set at a maximum of 2.1% of the diet, because pigs fed a corn-soybean meal diet with no added fat could exceed an iodine value of 70, he says.

“Some packers don't want to go over an iodine value of 72, some 70,” Shurson continues. “The question becomes, if iodine value indicates pork fat quality, what number should we use? If 72 is the target, our data shows we can feed 30% DDGS.”

Soft fat is the number one factor for downgrading and reducing price for pork bound for Japan, Shurson says. He adds there is no evidence that feeding 10% DDGS will hurt the quality and acceptability of U.S. pork destined for the Japanese market.

Other Feed Value Concerns

Shurson and his colleagues recently completed a sow lactation study, where diets contained up to 30% DDGS. They found the dietary DDGS level had no significant effect on average daily feed intake.

In studies where feed intake has been affected, Shurson says it is unclear whether mycotoxins were involved or other quality problems existed, such as overheating of the DDGS, which could contribute to reduced feed intake.

They have identified other limitations to feeding DDGS:

  • A slight reduction in dry matter digestibility, which means slightly more manure.

  • An increase in nitrogen excretion. However, phosphorus excretion may be reduced.

  • Low particle size from some ethanol plants, which can cause problems with flowability.

  • Ability to pellet DDGS is a concern, particularly to integrators in the southeast, who use pelleted sow feed.

  • Quality variability and a perceived risk of mycotoxins.

New Processes Yield Less-Valuable Product

“From ethanol conferences I've attended, it appears plants are moving toward fractionalization,” says Shurson. He explains that due to high natural gas prices and the challenges of getting rid of the syrup or solubles that are produced, Minnesota ethanol plants have modified their processes to burn the solubles as a fuel source for the plant, and subsequently, are producing dried distiller's grains (DDG), a less valuable product.

Other upper Midwestern ethanol plants are using various fractionation processes to remove the germ, bran and perhaps other components of the corn kernel before going into the fermenter to increase efficiency of ethanol production. Along with fractionalization, changes in enzymes and heat used in the process are also altering the nutrient composition and digestibility of distiller's by-products.

“These are new ingredients we've never seen before. Some will be good for the pig and some not,” Shurson points out. “The challenge will be identifying high-quality, consistent sources of DDGS and evaluating the feeding value of new fractionated by-products as they enter the market. We'll have to hustle to keep up.”

The Minnesota swine nutritionist offers several strategies to help deal with variability in nutrient content and quality among DDGS sources:

  • Identify sources that have implemented a comprehensive DDGS quality assurance program, preferably ISO 9000 and HAACP certified;

  • Limit the number of sources used;

  • Question generic nutrient specification values provided by the supplier when formulating diets;

  • Request current, complete nutrient profiles from sources being considered. The University of Minnesota has nutrient profile information for several DDGS sources on its DDGS Web site:

  • Request evidence of consistent quality and nutrient content from each source.

Studies will continue looking at feeding higher levels of DDGS and the effect on carcass traits and intake. Shurson has partnered with Hormel Foods to study the effect of DDGS on fat quality. Results should be available by the end of the year. They also hope to establish net energy values.

“The ethanol industry is here to stay,” says Shurson. “We are going to have piles of the stuff for all species of livestock. We need to figure out how to make it work without compromising performance, cost or quality.”

Table 1. Performance, Feed Usage and Feed Cost of Grow-Finish Pigs Fed Diets Containing 0% or 10% Dried Distiller's Grains with Solubles (DDGS)
Item 0% DDGS 10% DDGS
Average daily gain, lb. 1.81 1.84
Average daily feed intake, lb. 4.94 4.62
Feed/Gain 2.73 2.54
Pounds feed/head 570 554
Feed cost/lb. gain, $ 0.17 0.16
Table 2. Carcass Characteristics of Grow-Finish Pigs Fed Diets Containing 0% or 10% Dried Distiller's Grains with Solubles (DDGS)
Item 0% DDGS 10% DDGS
Carcass weight, lb. 212 210
Last rib backfat, in. 1.09 1.11
Tenth rib backfat, in. 1.01 0.99
Ham, % 11.74 11.74
Loin, % 7.93 7.91
Belly, % 10.51 10.41
Loin depth, in. 2.72 2.72
Carcass lean, % 56.36 56.47
Table 3. Mid-Belly Fat Quality Characteristics of Carcasses from Grow-Finish Pigs Fed Diets Containing 0 or 10% Distiller's Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS)
Measurement 0% DDGS 10% DDGS
Japanese fat color score 1.76 1.81
Mean melting point, °C. 29.3 (84.7°F) 28.7 (83.7°F)
Iodine value 66.7 68.3
Oleic acid (18:1), % 47.39 45.12
Linoleic acid (18:2), % 11.94 13.98
Saturated fatty acids, % 33.99 34.26
Monounsaturated fatty acids 51.78 49.47
Polyunsaturated fatty acids 14.02 16.11
Total omega-3 fatty acids 0.98 0.96
Total omega-6 fatty acids 13.02 15.14
Omega 6:omega 3 ratio 13.28 15.78

DDGS Quality Assurance an Issue

Bankers and investors in ethanol plants realize that 10 to 15% of their revenue stream is from sales of distiller's by-products, says Jerry Shurson, University of Minnesota swine nutritionist.

He believes plants are looking for by-products marketers who are more customer sensitive and willing to develop production systems that ensure more consistent, high-quality by-products.

At least one major ethanol plant is implementing a DDGS Quality Assurance Program to improve consistency, quality and transparency of their by-products, according to Shurson. However, many are still unconcerned or unaware of the importance of product quality.

There are no distiller's by-product quality standards in the ethanol industry. Instead, many are moving toward branding their by-products to differentiate ingredients, he says.

As ethanol plants pop up around the country, producers know they must compete with the industry for corn. Based on ethanol prices and production costs (September 2006), many modern ethanol plants can afford to pay as much as $7 to $8/bu. of corn to break even, adds Shurson.

“It's understandable why pork producers are getting nervous about their current and future feed costs,” he notes. “Our challenge is to identify high-quality, consistent sources and evaluate the feeding value of their by-products.”

Database Developed for Residue Tolerance Limits Issue

The National Pork Board and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) have jointly developed a searchable database with pharmaceutical manufacturer information on recommended withdrawal times to meet the new Japanese maximum residue limits (MRL).

The database can be accessed at the Pork Board's Japanese MRL Web page at

The Japanese market specifications require imported pork products to comply with modified withdrawal periods for certain animal health products.

“In cooperation with the AASV, withdrawal information on specific products is now available on a much more simplified, searchable, sortable and printable database on the revamped Web site,” says Paul Sundberg, DVM, vice president of science and technology for the Pork Board. “The information on the Web site will be updated each time an animal health product company provides us with updated or new information.”

$1 Million Granted to Iowa Pork Industry

Settlement with Smithfield Foods funds projects over the next 10 years.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has announced that $1 million in grants over the next 10 years are available for projects that advance and enhance pork production in Iowa.

The grants, $100,000/year for 10 years, are being provided by Smithfield Foods, Inc.

With the announcement, Miller released a “Request for Applications” (RFA), which will be used to identify and support innovative projects that are eligible for the grants.

The RFA is the result of an agreement reached in 2005 between the Iowa attorney general's office and Smithfield Foods, Inc., Murphy Farms, LLC, and Prestage-Stoecker Farms, Inc. The agreement calls for Smithfield to fund grants for projects that benefit the Iowa pork industry.

“This grant program is part of a landmark settlement under which Smithfield made substantial financial commitments to Iowa's pork industry and agreed to provide their contract producers with a ‘contractor growers’ bill of rights,” explains Miller.

Smithfield also agreed to pay $1 million to Iowa State University (ISU) for a 10-year environmental training program, and $240,000 over a four-year period to fund Smithfield-Luter scholarships at ISU.

The RFA program calls for projects that address environmental issues, improve profitability, focus on contract feeding, assist independent producers and improve price discovery and availability of market information.

Deadline for the first round of proposals is Dec. 1, 2006. Grant application information can be found at, by e-mailing the Farm Division of the attorney general's office at or by calling (515) 281-5351.

Portable Data Loggers

Compact monitors track temperature and humidity.

Onset Computer Corp. has released the HOBO Pro V2 series family of four compact, battery-powered, weatherproof data loggers to be used to monitor temperature and humidity in a variety of outdoor settings. Slightly larger than a pocket-sized flashlight, the new portable data logger withstands harsh environmental conditions. Features include an RH sensor that withstands condensation problems; fast, reliable data offload via a high-speed optic USB interface; and compatibility with Onset's HOBO Waterproof Shuttle for convenient transport in the field. Four logger models are offered: a temperature/internal sensor, a temperature/external sensor, a dual external temperature sensor and an internal/external temperature sensor. Visit for more details.

Weighing Equipment

Avery Weigh-Tronix, Inc. unveils its 640 Series family of indicators for agriculture weighing applications. Three high-performance models are available. The 640 provides a wide variety of general applications; the 640XL features the industry's largest 2-in. display; and the 640M is 72% smaller, ideal for tight spaces in a truck or tractor cab. The 640 Series indicates gross and net weights; the backlit LCD displays come with 10 adjustable brightness levels. Data is stored in over 100 memory accumulation channels, useful for identifying and sorting groups of livestock or amounts of feed recipes batched and fed for large-scale farming operations. Standard printouts can be transferred to a computer, printer or data transfer system with the optional RS-232 bi-directional serial port. For more information, go to

Manure Spreaders

Kuhn Knight Inc. introduces the new 1212, 1215, 1219, 1224 and 1230 EasySpread box manure spreader models. The five models of small box spreaders are designed to haul and spread solid material from compost piles, gutter manure, yard scrapings and bedding pack. The spreaders feature all-steel welded construction, one-piece solid poly floor, single T-bar apron chain, mechanical V-belt drive, rooster comb beater and a new, streamlined design. The EasySpread box spreaders range in size from 117 to 295 cu. ft. capacity. Kuhn also offers the new 2044 and 2054 ProPush box spreaders with VertiSpread beaters. They feature all-steel welded construction, solid poly floor and sides, piggyback hydraulic cylinders and removable beaters. The ProPush box spreaders come in 440 and 540 cu. ft. capacities. More information is available at

Environmental Controller

The Rotem Piguard Plus from Diversified is the latest advancement in environmental controllers specifically designed for pig barns. Piguard Plus features accurate inputs for temperature and humidity control, the capability to transmit data securely in noisy environments and the convenience of seven, heavy-duty output relays and four analog outputs. Water and feed controls are included. Piguard Plus has programmable outputs with a large display. It comes with an alarm system, static pressure control, variable speed fan output with bypass and curtain and/or ventilation automatic calibration. For more information, call (732) 363-2333 or visit the company's Web site,

Battery Charger

A universal charger from VDC Electronics handles battery charging needs for cars, trucks, equipment and utility vehicles. Model 12248 BatteryMinDer allows batteries to be safely charged 70% faster than conventional, constant-voltage type chargers, without fear of under or overcharge. It comes with three charging rates (2, 4 and 8 amps) and different voltage settings. The watertight enclosure with built-in mounting tabs and non-slip pads allows the battery charger to be used as a dedicated charger or for multi-use in home or shop. The unit comes with two types of battery attachments and an optional 12-volt power plug for indirect, easy access connection to the battery. For more information, go to

Send product submissions to Dale Miller, Editor (952) 851-4661;

Circovirus Remains Formidable Foe

Several steps have been taken in the past year to clear porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD) from Kansas herds, all with limited success.

Swine veterinarians Steve Henry and Lisa Tokach have virtually pulled out all the stops in a crusade to lessen PCVAD's strong grip on swine herds in their Kansas practice.

The typical treatment and management schemes normally used to thwart swine disease have yielded less than sterling results.

The veterinary team reported the only thing that has truly worked (at the time of their presentation at the Leman Swine Conference in September, has been the limited use of vaccines available for trial implementation.

Positive results have been seen in several groups of finishers vaccinated at 4 weeks of age. In one vaccinated group, death loss was virtually eliminated all the way through the nursery and finisher phases. In other groups in that same trial, the mortality of vaccinates vs. non-vaccinates was approximately 80% less.

In two groups similarly vaccinated, finishing death loss due to PCVAD has been just under 1% so far. The trial was about halfway through finishing when the report was given.

What's needed now is the approval of more PCVAD vaccines, plus a ready supply of vaccine for U.S. pork producers severely impacted by porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2), stresses Henry.

Encouraging early results reported by many veterinarians in limited vaccine trials provide optimism. But biologics companies and regulatory agencies need to work together to speed vaccine approvals, he urges.

Producer Frustration Builds

There's no doubt that producer frustration has grown since many Kansas producers saw a dramatic increase in herd mortality starting in the fall of 2005.

Henry says problems typically start 4-5 weeks after placement in the finisher, when pigs are 13-15 weeks old.

In many cases in Kansas, finisher mortality runs 10-20%. Losses decline after the disease runs its course over 6-7 weeks. Deaths and culls can affect 30% of a finisher pig flow, he explains.

High mortality rates are very common with PCVAD, but are not predictable from barn to barn or flow to flow, points out Henry.

Herds with and without porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) both seem at risk, he says. But co-factors such as PRRS, Mycoplasmal pneumonia and swine influenza virus certainly elevate mortality in porcine circovirus type 2-infected pigs.

Differences in the type of production system and flow, genetic source, semen supply and biosecurity measures all appear to have little impact on whether a herd will experience an outbreak of PCVAD, the Kansas veterinarians agree.

Unique Clinical Signs

Observed clinical signs of PCVAD appear to be somewhat different in Kansas from reports in other states, says Henry. Almost all affected herds have dermatological problems associated with PCV2, with numerous skin lesions in some but not all pigs.

PCV2-affected pigs appear very distressed, lethargic and depressed. Meanwhile, penmates and other pigs in the barn often appear completely normal, achieving expected feed consumption and growth.

Adult animals in breeding herds and nursery pigs of affected farms have not shown recognizable signs of disease that can be ascribed to PCV2 by physical or laboratory examination, he notes.

Henry's list of the 10 most common, detectable signs of PCVAD in individual animals includes:

  1. Growth stops, wasting and dehydration start as a result of sharply reduced feed intake. “Many of these pigs will stand by the feeder and look at the feed but they won't eat.”

  2. Gross enlargement of many major lymph nodes.

  3. Pallor of the skin and indication of oxygen depletion, marked by a bluish discoloration along the rear flanks and margins of the ears.

  4. Respiratory distress with open-mouth breathing after activity, but without a cough in most instances.

  5. Skin lesions, with the most dramatic and common being porcine dermatitis and nephropathy syndrome; about 30% of fatalities tracked had skin lesions.

  6. Nervous condition with noticeable tremors in the rear legs, ranging from subtle signs of weakness to an inability to stand on the rear limbs and dragging the legs when attempting to move. This is observed in a lesser proportion of pigs during PCV2 infections.

  7. Prostration and rapid progression to death.

  8. Pigs avoid exercise, and after even mild effort will immediately drop to a prone position and be reluctant to rise.

  9. Enteritis with pasty diarrhea containing undigested grain.

  10. Ear tip necrosis or damage in affected animals and unaffected animals in some cases.

Attacking the Problem

Henry and Tokach praised the committed efforts of researchers at Kansas State University and Iowa State University in helping define PCVAD pathologically.

A $48,000 grant from the National Pork Board has helped characterize the affliction in Kansas herds.

In addition, producers from the Kansas Swine Alliance committed $32,000, or 50 cents/pig marketed, toward efforts to define and research the issue. “The power of producer commitment to solving emerging problems cannot be overestimated — these producers made a huge difference in progress on this disease,” says Henry.

Intervention Steps

In their efforts to slow the progression of PCVAD, Henry and Tokach, his swine practice partner at the Abilene Animal Hospital in Abilene, KS, have tried feed and water medications, as well as individual pig therapies with a wide variety of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories — all without discernable value, in their estimation.

Sorting pigs into hospital pens at the first signs of disease and intensifying therapy were both attempted, but these efforts provided no measurable benefit.

That led them to develop the following guidelines:

  • Provide comfort and reduce stress.

  • Stop use of injectable therapeutic interventions because of the lack of efficacy, stress of handling pigs and economic cost of using antibiotics.

  • Understand that the lymphoid damage seen in pigs makes recovery very unlikely, and that disease signs can vary widely.

  • Identify affected pigs early and euthanize if suffering, or move to a “hospice” pen and reevaluate status; nearly all affected pigs will die or must be euthanized.

  • Focus on environmental management — comfort, hygiene and sanitation — especially in preparing a previously affected facility for the next group of animals. While PCVAD is a very difficult virus to kill in the environment, producers report that cleaning and disinfecting between groups appears the most effective tool they have utilized.

Cirovirus Vaccine Approved

Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica (BIVI), Inc. received word in mid-October that its new vaccine for porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use in swine.

BIVI's vaccine is called Ingelvac CircoFLEX. It is a single dose, 1-ml. vaccine to be injected intramuscularly into pigs as young as 3 weeks of age, according to Klaas Okkinga, company marketing manager for swine.

The vaccine provides active immunity that will protect growing pigs during the age period when PCV2 typically strikes (late nursery and grow-finish phases).

Company field trials have shown that vaccinating commercial pigs around 3 weeks of age helps producers more effectively manage porcine circovirus-associated disease, says Okkinga.

Ingelvac CircoFLEX carries a 21-day withdrawal period prior to marketing to ensure an adequate margin of food safety.

In extensive field safety studies, the PCV2 vaccine was shown to be very safe, and no elevated systemic and/or injection site tissue reactions were reported, says Okkinga.

He projects that the vaccine will become widely available to the industry in the first quarter of 2007.

For more information, contact BIVI at (800) 325-9167 or visit

Omega-3 Pork Cites Health Benefits

Canadian pork, enhanced with Omega 3, will soon be available in select U.S. supermarkets.

Manitoba-based Prairie Orchard Farm's Omega-3 pork received USDA approval in June. The company plans to market it under their Verdancia pork label in New York, parts of California and several central states.

Canadian Omega-3 pork is created through a simple shift in diet, using feed enhanced with flax seed. No changes in production, technology or machinery are required. Omega 3's are fatty acids, which are lodged in the pork fat. Pork cuts with more fat will, therefore, have more Omega 3's than leaner cuts.

Flax, also called linseed, has been closely associated with oil-based paints and as the source of linen fabrics. Lately, it has been recognized as a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids and is being promoted for its health benefits in both food and animal feed. A host of new flax-enhanced products are starting to hit the marketplace.

Canada is the world's top producer of flax, raising about 700,000 tonnes (770,000 U.S. tons) annually. The crop is also grown in northern plains states.

Health Benefits Tug O'War

Consumers' desire for healthier food is generating a lot of interest in Omega-3 pork. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids, essential to one's diet. But not all Omega 3's are created equal. Their nature depends on their origin.

Alpha-linolenic fatty acid, also known as ALA, is an Omega-3 fatty acid and is mostly found in vegetable sources such as flax seeds, walnuts and soybean and canola oils. It delays platelet aggregation and may also reduce heart arrhythmias.

ALA, while still desirable, is not as beneficial as the very long chain Omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — that come from the sea.

While flax-enhanced Omega-3 pork has a relatively high level of ALA compared with regular pork, it would only contain minimal amounts of EPA and DHA. Still, all mammals, including humans, have the ability to convert some of their ALA into EPA and DHA.

These very long-chain Omega 3's, more likely to be found in fatty fish, have been found to lower plasma triglycerides (amount of fat in our blood supply). However, as Nora Lee, in charge of the Nutrition Evaluation Division at Health Canada, points out, not everyone eats fish — therefore, some may want to look elsewhere for sources of EPA and DHA.

“Consumers may be able to increase their overall Omega-3 fatty acid intake slightly by eating Omega-3 pork instead of regular pork,” Lee says. “But they should be aware that in order to get Omega-3 pork's benefits, they need to eat the pork fat. It is therefore important for consumers to read labels and compare lipids and saturated fats of Omega-3 enhanced pork with regular pork before deciding to buy the product.”

“It's been suggested that all fat is bad and that's not true,” says Willy Hoffman, president of Prairie Orchard Farms. “Many fats have different health aspects; a person cannot be healthy without having fats or oils or something in their diet required for different body functions. We're not suggesting that eating a pound of Omega-3 bacon will save your life, but if you're going to have bacon, you have a choice.”

A big part of promoting Omega-3 pork is educating consumers about polyunsaturated fats, explains Hoffman. “When we promote our Omega-3 pork, we also suggest that people consume Omega-3 eggs, Omega-3 dairy products, the margarines, the breads and the fish, so they can have the amount of Omega 3's needed to promote human health and have the ideal ratio between Omega 3's and Omega 6's.”

According to the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC, there is evidence to suggest that excessive amounts of Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio, as is found in today's Western diets (15:1 to 16.7:1), promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

In contrast, increased levels of Omega-3 PUFA (a low Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio) reduce the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies.

A new genetically modified German linseed might change everything. The plant, produced by Ernst Heinz at Germany's University of Hamburg, has shown to accumulate high levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids after having received DNA coding sequences for genes responsible for the production of long-chain PUFAs from algae (Phaeodactylum tricornutum) and borage. This discovery, if introduced in Canadian flax, would then make Omega-3 pork even more interesting.

Easy, But Not Simple

While adding flax to a hog diet sounds simple enough, the process took Prairie Orchard Farms six and a half years to develop.

“Our Omega-3 program had to accomplish a number of things,” explains Hoffman. “We had to work through our processes to make sure that the pork would be a very flavorful, tasty product. The other thing we had to work on was shelf life.”

Products that contain flax are typically less stable, he explains. Their goal was to increase the shelf life of Omega-3 pork to match that of typical pork.

The Omega-3 pork is sweeter, darker and more marbled than regular pork. “Actually, we've been told by chefs who've sampled our products that it is a little sweeter tasting than typical pork, and it is more tender and juicy because it is well marbled,” he adds.


Since the Omega 3's are stored in the fat, and each cut has a different percentage of fat, labeling is tricky and different in Canada than the United States.

Prairie Orchard Farms submitted whole-hog samples to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Omega-3 values ranged from 0.4 grams (0.014 ounces) to 2.0 grams (0.07 ounces)/100-gram (3.53 ounces) serving, which met the CFIA requirements of each serving having at least 0.3 grams (0.01 ounces)/100-gram (3.53 ounces) serving. All cuts submitted received Omega-3 certification.

“For the USDA approval, although they don't have specific criteria, we had to submit every muscle group separately and get approval for each,” adds Hoffman. “We've also received the allegation for the side ribs and tenderloin and, most recently, for our Omega-3 bacon.” The company is now in the process of having its ham certified.

Prairie Orchard Farms is currently working with three Manitoba hog producers to supply 50,000 lb. of pork weekly for the Canadian and U.S. markets. A $6-10/hog premium over regular market prices is paid to producers raising the Omega-3 pork.

“It is quite a challenge to do what we do, to market meat products that promote human health,” adds Hoffman.

“Being the first can be challenging, but I think we're making headway. We've had some really good response in Canada. We just came back from a trip into the United States and we're hoping to move everything forward.”

Pork with Selenium Approved by USDA

USDA recently granted Prairie Orchard Farms, Winnipeg, Manitoba, permission to market its Verdancia Farms-branded pork in the United States as “an excellent source of selenium.”

The company is awaiting similar approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Company nutritionist Amy Johnston explained that plant life in many parts of the world, including parts of Asia and the southern United States, are deficient in selenium content due to highly acidic soil, which prevents the absorption of the mineral from the soil.

Selenium is an antioxidant believed to help prevent major cancers such as prostate cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer, as well as Alzheimer's disease.

Mortality Rates Inching Upward

The number of pigs dying around the globe appears to be on a slow but steady climb in the last decade.

While the number of high-health herds being established is on the rise, the number of growing pigs dying is also on the rise, according to reports presented at the Leman Swine Conference, St. Paul, MN, in September.

This seeming paradox appears to be due to shifts in production practices and disease complexes, and not just to recent outbreaks of porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD).

Production databases tell the story of this apparent contradiction, says Nashville, TN-based swine veterinarian Bill Christianson:

  • Agrimetrics Associates Inc. represented 15-20 large companies in the United States that comprise about 20-25% of U.S. sows. A 10-year trend of wean-to-finish mortality from 1996-2005 shows a slow but steady increase of less than 0.2%/year.

  • The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) surveys production practices and disease levels of farm animals for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In three swine surveys in 1990, 1995 and 2000, death loss of growing pigs averaged about 4.5 to 5%. NAHMS surveys smaller swine herds.

  • Wean-to-finish mortality in Danish herds during 1996-2005 suggests an increase of almost 2.5% (Figure 1). Christianson says this dataset is considered among the most reputable because of the way it is organized, and the controlled fashion in which industry results are reported. He says the upward trend in pig death loss began long before the ban on growth-promoting antibiotics in Denmark took effect a few years ago.

Those mortality rates are in line with the losses incurred in the United States. Losses in Denmark and across Europe the last 3-4 years reflect a more upward spiral due to greater losses associated with PCVAD, he adds.

Productivity Growth Overshadows Losses

Agrimetrics data reveals that despite the fact that more pigs are dying, overall sow productivity is increasing. Pounds produced/sow/year has gone from 4,600 in 1996 to more than 5,200 lb. in 2005 (Figure 2).

“This is the dilemma — sow production performance is booming, but yet, more pigs are dying. That is unacceptable to the public, and to producers as they continue to strive to make pig production more efficient and compete with other protein sources around the world,” explains Christianson.

“Throughput and efficiency are improving, yet more wean-to-finish pigs are dying today than ever before,” he adds.

Health Purchases Paradox

The other part of the paradox — an increase in health expenditures — is harder to pin down, says Christianson.

Data from Agrimetrics for the last 10 years (through 2005) shows that overall medication costs have remained relatively flat, but routine feed medication costs are becoming an increasing part of total medication cost/pig (Figure 3).

Large-scale production systems in the Midwest typically will average $2/finished pig in health costs, he says.

Causes for Increased Mortality

Christianson speculates there are a number of potential reasons for the pronounced growth in pig mortality:

  • Genetics has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. The proliferation of lean pigs and selection for production traits has been correlated over time with a decrease in livability.

  • Herd size has grown substantially in the last 15 years, allowing, on the positive side, for greater use of all-in, all-out pig flow. This has also led to the common use of multi-site production systems. But size of operations and pig flow dynamics may have negatively impacted overall herd immunity.

  • Disease issues are somewhat different today than 15 years ago. Around 1990, pseudorabies had not yet been eradicated in the United States and swine dysentery was still an issue. Today, pseudorabies has been eradicated in domestic swine and swine dysentery is much less of an issue.

Atrophic rhinitis, Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia, Transmissible gastroenteritis, mange and salmonellosis were major players in 1990. Many diseases in this group remain issues today, but are far better controlled.

Mycoplasmal pneumonia and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) were major problems then, and are arguably bigger problems today. Swine influenza virus was a known pathogen in 1990, but is a major issue today. Haemophilus parasuis causes more problems. PCVAD was unknown in 1990, but is increasingly frustrating to producers today.

“On the face of it, the disease situation is better today — we have better control systems — but we still have big looming issues out there,” says Christianson.

There may also be more non-infectious disease problems today, such as gastric ulcers and torsion, than were present earlier.

Addressing Health Issues

That's not to say that today's serious swine health concerns aren't correctable, he stresses. For instance, one operation that raises 400,000 pigs/year was virtually overwhelmed in 2001 with a variety of diseases, including PRRS, mycoplasma, influenza, Haemophilus parasuis and a variety of other common swine pathogens. Mortality rates were high and debates were common as to whether the owners could continue in pork production.

“However, they reduced their mortality back to acceptable levels, and they did it by management changes and vaccination programs,” says Christianson.

In short, they implemented early gilt development, developed sow farm vaccination programs to increase pig immunity downstream, increased weaning age, provided single-source flows of pigs to wean-to-finish facilities and improved timing of nursery vaccination.

Poultry Industry Progress

Christianson urged the swine veterinary community to emulate the great strides the poultry industry has achieved in reducing mortality while bettering performance.

In 1925, it took 112 days for a chicken to reach a market weight of 2.5 lb.; mortality was 18%. In 2005, average age at marketing was 44 days, weight was 5.25 lb. and mortality was just 4%.

He acknowledges that veterinarians are being bombarded with more information than ever before. Their challenge is to turn that information into knowledge by using discipline, tackling new disease problems head on and working on details in the production system that can be controlled to reduce pig mortality trends.

Diversity Defines Finishing Mortality

The days of simple answers to health challenges causing finishing mortalities are probably over, according to Matthew Turner, staff veterinarian for Prestage Farms Inc., Clinton, NC.

Preventing and treating a single bacterial or viral infection has given way to disease complexes that are far more challenging, he says.

A case in point is an outbreak of respiratory disease and mortality in a single flow of pigs that occurred at Prestage Farms in the fall of 2005.

Prestage Farms consists of 110,000 sows; 87% of the sows are in farrow-to-finish, three-site production systems, with the balance in farrow-to-feeder production.

Health of the sows and nurseries in 2005 was above average, says Turner. He described the quality of piglets placed into finishing sites as “average.”

At the time, three, 750-head, farrow-to-wean sow farms were undergoing depopulation to change genetics. All three groups were positive for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and Mycoplasmal pneumonia, plus Pasteurella multocida Type A and Haemophilus parasuis.

Piglets were weaned at 14-24 days of age and commingled into all-in, all-out (AIAO) nursery rooms, then moved at 50-55 lb. into finishing barns managed AIAO by barn on a continuous-flow site.

In early 2005, periods of high mortality were sporadic with diarrhea as a key component, linked to salmonella and ileitis.

The pattern of mortality changed by the fall of 2005, to predictable high mortality caused by persistent respiratory challenge, including swine flu, porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD), interstitial pneumonia and related lymphatic system problems.

Weight loss and death loss occurred from 14 to 18 weeks of age; survivors were near normal condition by 20 weeks of age.

During the outbreak, total mortality rates were 5% higher than normal, says Turner.

“The clinical presentation was unusual because the sow farms were in the process of depopulating. Generally speaking, the health status tends to improve as sow farms stabilize for multiple pathogens during depopulation; however, health in this flow diminished over time,” he explains.

Turner says the outbreak taught him several lessons:

  • Herd closure will not stop PCVAD;

  • Porcine circovirus Type 2 (PCV2) is not the only cause of high mortality in a herd, but it certainly can play a big role;

  • Diagnostic support is required to make an accurate diagnosis of PCVAD; and

  • It takes a lot of necropsy examinations to really know the health status of your herd when it comes to PCVAD.

Setting Finishing Mortality Targets

Determining what is an acceptable level of mortality in the finishing phase of production is a difficult task, says John Deen, DVM, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Swine Center.

“The problem is that unlike reproductive problems, where most of the challenges are noninfectious, mortality rates and morbidity rates are closely related to the disease status of the herd. Therefore, making a generalized benchmark across the industry (for growing pig mortality rates) just creates frustration,” Deen says.

When high-health, high-quality pigs flow to grow-finish, some systems regularly report 1½ to 2% mortality. “That can be used as a benchmark to aim for if system-level factors are under control. Similar levels can be reached in the nursery,” he notes.

A second problem with benchmarking mortality is that the process should also cover morbidity, usually measured as cull and lightweight pigs.

Deen stresses producers shouldn't cull pigs that need to be euthanized just to minimize mortality rates. These marginal pigs are usually shipped to a secondary market that accepts poor pigs, and thus, are excluded from mortality rates.

Disease control practices are another concern. The challenge is to not only lower mortality rates, but also lower morbidity or symptoms of disease in pigs, he adds.

Understanding PRRS Serology Diagnostics

Valuable diagnostic tools aid in PRRS control strategies.

Since diagnostic tests are performed on serum (the liquid portion of blood), samples can be easily obtained to determine the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) status of live pigs.

Serology testing consists mainly of: 1) those tests that detect the pig's response to exposure to PRRS (immunity) and 2) those tests that detect the presence of the actual virus circulating in the pig's bloodstream.

Several tests detect the pig's immune response to PRRS. The most common is the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), sold commercially as HerdChek. As the name implies, this test determines the PRRS status of the herd. The veterinary community quickly accepted this test for both population-based testing and for examining individual animals.

The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test detects the presence of PRRS virus in the serum or blood. Automated, computerized methods of PCR speed turn around time and have substantially lowered the cost of this test.

Few, if any, serological tests reach 100% accuracy, and the PRRS tests are no exception. Tests are rated to measure specificity and sensitivity. Specificity defines the test's ability to avoid “false positives,” while sensitivity measures how often the test would miss a true positive.

All serological tests have some degree of error. Some tests have a known false-positive error rate of perhaps 0.5 to 1%.

In populations of expected negative pigs, finding even 1% positive animals using the ELISA test can be cause for concern. Lesser-used “back-up” tests are initiated to confirm or deny the presence of virus in the herd.

At times, these back-up tests are only used to clear up unexpected results. But there are also testing protocols that take a “belt and suspenders” approach, whereby they utilize two tests simultaneously to help account for test discrepancies. The best example is requesting ELISA and PCR tests at the same time on the same set of sera. The negative results on the PCR test may help refute a single positive on the ELISA test.

Another commonly used back-up test for the ELISA is the indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA). The IFA also tests for the presence of specific antibody within the pig's system, but in a different way from the ELISA. It serves as a confirmatory test for an unexpected positive on ELISA. It is generally accepted as less specific and less sensitive than ELISA, but remains the best choice for confirming ELISA results.

It is very important to know the vaccination history of the pig population before testing for PRRS, since the tests that measure immunity will not differentiate between a field strain infection and that produced by the modified-live-virus vaccines. A sample that is PCR positive, however, can sometimes be differentiated by sequence analysis.

Another key aspect of understanding PRRS serology is the timing of the sample in relation to time of exposure to the virus. Realize there is normal variation among individual animals, and differences in how individuals of various ages respond to exposure to the PRRS virus.

Case Study No. 1

Client A maintains a PRRS-naïve herd and monitors a cross-section of 30 sows every quarter. On this quarterly test, two samples were positive on the PRRS ELISA test. The client called because he was concerned these positives signaled problems ahead.

We immediately requested IFA testing on the two samples that were ELISA positive, and happily confirmed the IFA tests were negative, indicating the two ELISA samples were indeed “false positives.”

Case Study No. 2

Client B purchased PRRS-naive replacement gilts from a multiplier four times/year. Each shipment of gilts was isolated for 45 days and serologically tested for PRRS to prevent the introduction of PRRS virus.

About two weeks after the last group of gilts arrived and were isolated, the client called to schedule testing of gilts.

Instead of testing all the gilts, we sampled a statistically valid subset of 30 animals, and requested both ELISA and PCR tests for PRRS from the diagnostic laboratory.

The lab results revealed two samples were positive for PRRS virus on the PCR test. The lab retested the results and I resampled the gilts. This time, I made certain to resample the positive gilts as well as several of their penmates in isolation, again requesting both ELISA and PCR tests.

Unfortunately, the follow-up samples were all PCR positive and one third of the samples were also positive or suspicious on the ELISA test. These gilts were likely exposed to PRRS in transit to the isolation barn or shortly after arrival. They were immediately removed from the premises, and fortunately for the client, PRRS virus was not introduced into his sow herd.