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Articles from 2008 In November


Export Demand, Less Production Expected to Fuel Higher Prices

Despite economic turmoil, moderately high feed costs and weak domestic demand, U.S. hog prices may record gains in 2009, thanks to strong export demand and less pork production, says Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economist.

That does not mean, however, that raising hogs will be profitable next year, he explained in a keynote speech at Kansas State University’s annual Swine Day in Manhattan on Nov. 20.

“It’s hard to be optimistic about domestic demand with the economy the way it’s going right now,” says Plain.

The economist forecasts Iowa-southern Minnesota negotiated price per carcass, hundredweight, in 2009 to average $67 to $72.

The 2009 average price prediction compares to the projected 2008 average price range of $63-64/carcass cwt., and the actual average price in 2007 of $61.91, he says.

Plain’s forecast, by quarter, calls for a price range of $58 to $63 in the first quarter; $70 to $75 in the second quarter; $73 to $78 in the third quarter and $66 to $71 in the fourth quarter.

Live hog prices in the Iowa-southern Minnesota market are projected to average $51 to $55/cwt. for 2009, slightly above the projected price of $48-49 in 2008 and the actual average price of $47.05 in 2007.

According to Plain, production of all four meats typically consumed in the United States – pork, beef, chicken and turkey – is expected to decline next year. If that happens, it would be the first time since 1973 that production in all four categories was less than the previous year.

Overall, hog slaughter is pegged at 113.670 million head in 2009, down 2.7% from 116.830 million head projected in 2008, but up from 109.172 million head in 2007.

Plain says the economy is expected to keep U.S. pork demand weak, but U.S. pork exports and fewer farrowings expected next year offer bright spots in the industry.

“Export demand is what’s driving hog prices; 2007 was the 16th-consecutive record year for U.S. pork exports, and 2008 will mark the 17th year,” he notes.

January-September U.S. pork exports were valued at $3.114 billion or $36.11/hog slaughtered, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The other bright spot in the hog market is continuing improvements in efficiency.

“The number of litters/sow/year has been increasing since 1930 and carcass weights also have been increasing,” Plain says. “The average slaughter weight has been going up one pound per year for the last 50 years.”

Since 1930, the United States has reduced sow inventory by 42% but increased annual pork production by 21%.

That trend is expected to continue with further improvements in swine genetics.

Poultry Testing Uncharted Territory

When my eldest son was 5 years old, we saw a giraffe being born at the St. Louis zoo. His response was something along the lines of: “Eeewww! That’s yucky! It has really long legs. Can we find the arcade now?”

His response was, of course, completely unacceptable to me as I tried to convince him of the rarity of this occurrence, especially its being witnessed by a kid who at the time lived in central Missouri. He might grasp that concept now, at 25, but I’m not certain he would even today.

We may be witnessing something about as rare as the birth of that long- and wobbly-legged spotted baby 20 years ago – that being the equally rare and dramatic reductions in chicken output. Figures 1, 2 and 3 show three perspectives on this noteworthy occurrence.

Figure 1 shows actual egg set numbers for 2007, 2008 and the average for 2002-2006. Broiler egg sets dropped below year ago levels in late March and have been lower, year-over-year, in every week but one since. The magnitude of the reductions grew in early July and then exploded in early September.

Figure 2 shows the year-over-year percentage changes for broiler egg sets. Note that much of 2006 saw small reductions in egg sets before higher broiler and chicken parts prices encouraged a resumption of growth for much of 2007 in spite of higher feed costs. Growth rates of roughly 4% for Q4 ’08 and Q1 ’09 finally came home to roost this past spring and summer when steady chicken prices ran head-long into record-high feed costs.

Those factors have done monumental damage to Pilgrim’s Pride, the nation’s largest broiler producer and have hurt Tyson Foods, Sanderson and others as well. The economic pain has finally driven some producers to reduce output even though Dick Bond of Tyson stated over and over last week that Tyson views the supply-demand balance position in the broiler industry as about right. I think that is code for “We did the cutting back in 2006. It’s y’all’s turn now.”

Figure 3 puts this in the proper historical perspective, which is: “The U.S. broiler industry has never seen anything like this!” In fact, the industry had hardly ever (at least since 1987 when my data set begins) seen any weeks below one year earlier until late 1999. It had never seen a 5% year-over-year reduction until October 2002, when it finally responded to Russia’s chicken embargoes – and then there was a whole two weeks of draconian cutbacks.

This appears to be the “real deal” and it will have some major impacts on U.S. chicken prices. The lower sets since March have already driven slaughter reductions this year and the summer cutbacks have caused slaughter to be 3% lower since Sept. 1. Part of that reduction has been offset by an increase in bird weights, but even production is lower by 2.6% over that period. And the slaughter and production reductions will get larger any day now as the birds from those lower September egg set weeks reach market age.

Propping Up Pork
What does this mean for pork? I think it means some much-needed help in the meat case. Checkoff-funded research conducted by Texas A&M University in 2005 showed that the substitute relationship between pork and chicken has increased over time. That relationship is a big reason that the Russian embargo on chicken imports in 2002 had such a huge impact on pork and hog prices. This situation should be the opposite – higher chicken prices will cause some consumers to switch to pork, thus driving up prices. The big question is whether that positive impact will outweigh slowing exports as the U.S. dollar increases in value.

Then There’s Ethanol
What is going to happen to the ethanol industry? That’s a widespread and important question at the moment. Falling oil prices beget falling gasoline prices which beget falling ethanol values. And, ethanol plants are getting caught between falling output prices and nasty corn prices.

Figure 4 illustrates a point that I think we are going to see repeated often. It contains a simple computation of the profitability of converting a bushel of corn into ethanol. The parameters come from a spreadsheet developed by Iowa State University’s Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (www.agmrc.org/), although I was unable to find the spreadsheets on the site Thursday night. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders why they are no longer there. But alas! I had saved a copy a few weeks ago and plugged in corn, ethanol, DDGS and natural gas prices for last week.

Isn’t it curious that the price of corn last week was such that the net profit from turning corn into ethanol was practically ZERO? That is exactly what a competitive economic model would suggest. Ethanol makers should bid enough for corn that their “economic profits” (i.e. profits above “normal” returns on invested assets) are zero. Economic returns in this instance are actually slightly negative since this model does not include a payment (i.e. normal return) to the 50% of investment that is assumed to be debt capital.

The result may not happen every week, but efficient markets should result in corn being priced off its highest valued use and that is still ethanol. Neither $50/cwt. carcass hogs, nor $80 broilers, nor, for sure, $90 and lower fed cattle would support $3.75/bu. corn. But even a struggling ethanol business will. Don’t expect corn to go much lower unless oil and gasoline do so. That could happen, but the point is that ethanol is still driving the corn price train!

CORRECTION: In the Nov. 14, 2008 North American Preview, I incorrectly listed JBS-Swift as a company that plans to use the multi-country label for pork and thus would buy Canadian-born market hogs. They have not done so since mandatory country-of-origin commenced and do not plan to do so. I apologize for any inconvenience the error may have caused.




Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.
e-mail: steve@paragoneconomics.com

USDA Announces Request For Checkoff Referendum

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has announced that it will conduct a Request for Referendum next month to determine if producers want a referendum on the Pork Checkoff program.

USDA will only conduct a referendum on the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Order if at least 15% of the total number of eligible pork producers and importers request a referendum.

There are about 69,446 producers and importers who are eligible to participate. Based on that number, at least 10,417 must request a referendum.

Once a referendum is requested, it must be held within one year after the results are announced.

The Request for Referendum will be held Dec. 8, 2008 through Jan. 2, 2009. Producers and importers at least 18 years of age who engaged in pork production or the importation of hogs, pigs and pork products between Jan. 1, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2007 are eligible to participate.

For producers, the Request for Referendum will be conducted at the USDA County Farm Service Agency (FSA) office where their farm records are kept. For producers not participating in FSA programs, they can participate at the county FSA office where they own or rent land.

Eligible producers may obtain form LS-54-1: Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Request for Referendum from the FSA office in person, by mail or fax. Forms may also be obtained at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/LSMarketingPrograms.

Participants must include supporting documentation of their eligibility to vote to the appropriate county FSA office by the close of business Jan. 2, 2009.

Importers may obtain LS-54-1 through the Marketing Programs Branch, Livestock and Seed Program, AMS, USDA or via the Internet at http://www.ams.usda.gov/LSMarketingPrograms.

For more information, contact Kenneth R. Payne, chief, Marketing Programs Branch, Room 2628-S, Livestock and Seed Program, AMS, USDA, Stop 0251, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20250-0251, or by calling (202) 720-1115, faxing (202) 720-1125 or e-mailing Kenneth.Payne@usada.gov.

Safeguarding Your Health and Safety

Twenty-three percent of pork producers (those working more than six years and more than two hours per day) have one or more documented respiratory problems.

That's the report from Kelley Donham, DVM, and professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa's (UI) College of Public Health, Iowa City.

Donham also serves as director of Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH), and has monitored worker health and safety at more than 600 farms in Iowa and Nebraska as lead researcher in the Certified Safe Farm (CSF) project.

Respiratory Problems

The most prevalent respiratory problems include chronic bronchitis and asthma-like wheezing symptoms, which can result from exposure to dust, endotoxins and ammonia.

“The best defense is to decrease the source of exposure to dust,” Donham explains. Feed, microbes, dried manure and pig skin cells in the air are main culprits, he says.

Using an extra 1% of oil or fat in the diet and reducing the distance between feed drops and feeders can also help reduce feed dust. Added fat also reduces the amount of debris sloughing off the pigs, he says.

Slotted floors should allow manure to quickly flow into the pit without collecting or drying. Oil sprinkling systems and power washing every 3-4 weeks have also proven effective for cutting dust levels.

In addition to reducing dust, Donham says respirators (disposable masks, half-faced masks or powered air-purifying respirators [PAPR]) should be used by the following persons:

  • Anyone who works more than two hours/day in a swine barn;

  • Operators who experience chest tightness, wheezing, cough or a feeling of constant cold or flu-like symptoms;

  • Those working in rooms where dust levels over 2.5 mg/cubic meter and ammonia greater than 7 ppm, or engaged in heavy dust exposure activities such as loading, feeding or power washing.

Disposable masks filter inhaled air so long as they create a tight seal around the person's nose and mouth, he says. Half-faced masks may be more effective for those whose symptoms aren't controlled by disposable masks.

Manure Gas Exposure

PAPR use a battery-powered blower to force air through a filter into a plastic helmet with a face shield. These are recommended for persons with difficulty getting a good seal with other masks (due to scars, beards or size), or for those with preexisting heart or respiratory problems who require stronger protection or have trouble breathing through a disposable or half-faced mask. The cost is about $600/unit, but Donham says they are a job-saver for some people. “We have kept some people with health problems in business for years by fitting them with a PAPR,” Donham says.

A study in Canada suggests that approximately 10% of producers who leave hog production do so because of respiratory problems.

Keep in mind that wearing a dust mask is not a cure-all. “Never rely on a mask to replace doing things in the environment to reduce dust exposure,” Donham says.

Accidental Needle Sticks

When manure stored in pits deeper than 2-3 ft. for long periods of time is agitated, a dangerous gas called hydrogen sulfide is rapidly released. “It is like a champagne bottle being shaken,” Donham says.

Move outside of the building (even if doors and windows are opened) during agitation and for at least 30 minutes afterwards to avoid toxic exposure, he suggests.

If you detect a problem when agitating or pumping is started, one option is to raise the pH of manure by adding hydrated (also called slaked) lime. This can help keep hydrogen sulfide from escaping from the pit. Emptying the pit frequently — three or four times per year, if possible — also helps suppress gas build-up.

Accidental Needle Sticks

Avoid jabbing yourself or a co-worker with a needle when treating animals. Veterinary products for large animals are more concentrated than human medicine, so even small inoculations can cause severe reactions, he reminds. The trauma itself can be nasty because of the large, multi-use needles commonly used in livestock facilities.

Infection is always a concern, and many vaccines contain additives that can be extremely irritating and inflammatory, Donham notes. Certain live vaccines can also cause illness in humans.

Women of child-bearing age should not handle hormones, such as prostoglandins or oxytocin. “If a pregnant woman happens to get inoculated with either of those products, it may have an adverse effect on the fetus,” he warns.

Donham lists these preventative measures:

  • Use single-dose syringes (if practical);

  • Keep needles covered until use;

  • Do not carry loaded syringes in your pocket or mouth; and

  • Change needles frequently.

Training employees on safe inoculation procedures and sharps handling is essential, as is having plenty of help on hand during treatments to help prevent accidents. Larger animals, especially sows or boars, should be restrained in chutes or pens for treatment. Needleless injection technology is another promising option.

Noise Exposure

Anyone who visits a hog facility knows they can be noisy places. Michael Humann, also of the UI department of occupational health and environment, has studied noise exposure and hearing loss among workers on hog farms. He ranks power washing, heat checking, processing or bleeding pigs, loading pigs and feeding time among the noisiest jobs.

It is not uncommon for sound to average above 90 decibels during these tasks. (See Table 1).

There are also episodes when, “noise can get so intense, so quick, there is a risk of people damaging their hearing instantly,” Humann says. This is especially true during piglet processing when sound can hit 140 decibels.

But Humann says noise-induced hearing loss usually happens gradually from routine exposure to decibel levels of 85 or higher. Signs you might be suffering include difficulty hearing women's voices, understanding conversations in noisy rooms and being told the TV is too loud.

Humann urges workers to wear hearing protection, such as muffs or formable ear plugs. Also plan your work to avoid exposure as much as possible. For example, do not enter the barn during feeding time, rotate between noisy jobs and quiet jobs and perform recordkeeping or other mobile tasks away from the barn. Sound engineering in hog facilities is difficult because of the dust and rugged conditions.

Other Injuries

Injuries can happen in a split second — anything from getting your finger pinched in a gate to having a sow back up and put your knee out of joint. “There are so many opportunities for trauma,” Donham remarks.

Operator safety should be a high priority in designing facilities, equipment maintenance, development of animal care practices and ongoing employee training.

For more information, visit www.public-health.uiowa.edu/ICASH or call I-CASH at 319-335-4065.

Table 1. Noisiest Tasks in Sow Units and Finishing Facilities

Sow Units
Task Decibels (dB)
Heat checking 92
Processing pigs 91
Moving pigs 84
Feeding pigs 83
Cleaning pens 82
Ultrasound monitoring 82
Inoculating 81
Inseminating 78
(Humann, University of Iowa)
Finishing Facilities
Task Decibels (dB)
Power washing 97
Bleeding 96.8
Truck washing 88.9
Vaccination 89.5
Loading 92.5
(Miller, University of Iowa)

Novak Named CEO By National Pork Board

If you were drafting a list of job qualifications to fill the CEO position at the National Pork Board, it might include:

  • A college degree, of course;

  • A farm background and/or experience working in agriculture;

  • Diverse Background

    Experience in Washington, DC;

  • Business management experience, preferably with an MBA degree;

  • Commodity/association work; and

  • A full understanding of commodity checkoff programs.

A legal background or law degree would be a plus, as would a working knowledge of animal agriculture and the challenges it faces.

During the summer-long candidate screening and interviewing process, the checkmarks next to Chris Novak's name grew. After a meeting with the full Pork Board, Novak got the job. On Oct. 1, he took over the reins and began settling in.

Born and raised on a 100-acre, diversified crop and livestock farm near Marion, IA, young Novak was active in 4-H and FFA, serving as state FFA secretary and president.

After high school, his career began at Iowa State University (ISU), where he received a degree in public service and administration in agriculture with plans of pursuing a boyhood dream of becoming a lawyer. His final months at Iowa State coincided with an internship with U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, which led to a full-time staff position in charge of agricultural issues.

His tenure with the senator lasted 3½ years. In 1990, he joined the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) as a lobbyist in the Washington, DC office. A year and a half later, then-NPPC CEO Russ Sanders asked him to manage the council's new environmental programs, so Novak and his wife, Julie, moved back to Iowa and started their family.

Familiar, But Different

“Working as director of environmental programs was a great opportunity to serve the pork industry,” he remembers. “Creating new programs that helped producers better manage our environmental challenges was a rewarding experience that I hope had long-term benefits for producers.”

It was during this period that Novak joined National Hog Farmer and other industry partners in the launch of the Environmental Stewards of the Pork Industry awards program.

Still, law school beckoned, so Novak left the council in 1995 to attend the University of Iowa.

After law school, Novak joined the American Soybean Association as special assistant to CEO Steve Censky in St. Louis, followed by a stint with Syngenta, where he handled biotechnology and public relations from 2001-2004. During this period, Novak completed Purdue University's agriculture college executive MBA coursework, focusing on food and agribusiness.

In 2004, Novak learned that the Indiana Soybean Board (ISB) was searching for an executive director — a position he later accepted. In this role, Novak led a strategic planning initiative that created a partnership between the state's grain and livestock organizations.

“We had a 23% increase in pork production in three years in Indiana, despite the many challenges facing the livestock industry,” Novak explains.

Novak's return to National Pork Board headquarters in West Des Moines struck some familiar chords.

“There's a great deal of familiarity in the commitment to deal with issues proactively,” he says. “Traditionally, the way the pork industry has addressed those issues is to:

  • “Invest in research that helps examine a problem and identify alternatives and solutions to solve it; and

  • “Connect this research with the education, outreach and communication efforts that will help producers understand the importance and relevance of the coming changes.

“The other thing that feels very familiar — and yet I would say we are doing it at a much higher level today — is recognizing the need to work across the (pork) chain, from genetics, through production, the packing and retail industries, and on to the consumer. So many of the issues we are facing that will limit our opportunity to increase pork production and/or increase pork demand are beyond the farm gate,” he continues.

Novak cites recent initiatives in updating and developing the Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) and the Transport Quality Assurance programs as examples of the industry's proactive approach to addressing current issues.

“The commitment to making sure we are helping pork producers adjust and adapt to changes in the industry is still here, and it is one of the things that is most exciting about coming back to the pork industry. What we have to do as a checkoff organization serving pork producers across the country is to ensure that those investors are getting a value for the dollars they are putting in,” he continues. “Certainly, that means from the largest to the smallest, we have an obligation to try to ensure that there is something here that helps them be more profitable.

“Our international export programs are paying dividends back to the farmer-investors in the form of growing pork exports. Domestically, our goal is to increase consumer spending on pork and pork products, a challenge in today's economy, but we are very excited about new programs that are helping grow retail pork demand.

“Through research and science and technology investments, we are also making certain that there are tools available for all pork producers to deal with disease issues, as well as the high feed prices. Specifically, the Swine Nutritional Efficiency Consortium is aimed at helping producers manage higher input costs and increase and enhance feed conversion,” he says.

Novak also acknowledges the general public's sensitivity to animal care and handling issues, such as those aired in a recent People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) video footage showing unacceptable and abusive handling.

“If we're not addressing these things together, as an industry family, if producers don't understand the importance of ensuring that there are good animal husbandry and handling practices, the result will be that consumers and the government will speak out and force changes on the industry. It's about training. It's about education. But in some cases, it's about a cultural shift within an organization so that everyone understands what is acceptable,” Novak says.

Global and domestic pork demand also present challenges and opportunities, notes the new CEO. “Certainly, in the developing economies we've seen in China, India and so much of Southeast Asia, more meat on the plate is a long-term trend that will continue to create opportunities for the pork industry.”

Size-Neutral Services

Novak's 13-year hiatus from the pork industry has broadened his perspective while reinforcing the tenets common to all farmer-based organizations — “regardless of size, there is a benefit to working as a community, working together,” he reinforces.

He recognizes a greater involvement of large integrators in Pork Checkoff activities, and he welcomes it. “It is absolutely critical that these folks are at the table, and I am pleased to see them engaged and involved. It makes business sense for them to say: ‘we're investing significant checkoff dollars and we want to ensure that investment pays us a dividend.’ And they bring a great deal of expertise to the table that can help shape and improve the programs that we provide to the industry,” he says. “As an organization, we will remain committed to bringing producers of all sizes together to find a consensus on programs that can serve the entire industry.”

In like fashion, Novak sees a need and an opportunity to bring contract producers and members of the industry's workforce into the Pork Checkoff fold. These “non-owners” clearly have a vested interest in the industry, and they impact such vital areas as food safety and quality, animal well-being and environmental management, he says.

Learning Curve

Novak recognizes the first six months on the job will be spent getting “up to speed” on a broad array of checkoff-related programs.

“First, what's absolutely critical in this period is outreach to as many people in the industry as possible — pork producers and allied industries — to ensure that I'm getting broad input in terms of what people think of our programs, services and delivery, and how we can improve them,” he says.

“Second, we must make an effort to take a strategic look at the changes coming into this industry. That is absolutely vital.”

Novak understands this is a challenging time for pork producers, but sees great promise ahead. “This is truly a farmer-owned, farmer-driven organization, and that is one of the things that has made it so strong,” he concludes. “I look forward to building on these great traditions.”

Small Differences in Circovirus Vaccines

A recent study by the group at Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service (CVS) has provided some insight into possible differences between the three commercial PCV2 vaccines.

Kelly Greiner, DVM, reported the findings at the CVS 18th Annual Swine Conference held Sept. 9 at Western Illinois University, Macomb. Greiner says the differences, while present, are not “statistically significant.”

The trial completed at Carthage, IL, found:

  • Fort Dodge Animal Health's Suvaxyn PCV2 (porcine circovirus type 2) One Dose, Intervet's Circumvent PCV and Boehringer Ingelheim's CircoFLEX all significantly decreased total mortality and improved average daily gain (ADG).

  • Fort Dodge's Suvaxyn PCV2 One Dose and Intervet's Circumvent PCV showed better reduction of PCV2 viremia (infection in the blood) than Boehringer Ingelheim's CircoFLEX, he says.

Test Groups

Furthermore, the Fort Dodge vaccine “showed a numerical trend towards better reduction of PCV2 viremia than Intervet's Circumvent PCV (two-dose) vaccine, but the results were not statistically different,” Greiner points out.

There were 1,200 pigs enrolled in the study, with six treatments of 200 pigs per treatment in a wean-to-finish barn. All pigs were between 18 and 25 days of age.

Pigs were stocked 30/pen for a stocking density of 7.5 sq. ft./pig.

The six treatment groups of pigs were color-coded as follows:

  • Red treatment: Suvaxyn PCV2 One-Dose given at 3 weeks of age;

  • Orange treatment: Suvaxyn PCV2 One-Dose given at 5 weeks of age;

  • Purple treatment: Suvaxyn PCV2 One-Dose given at 3 and 5 weeks of age;

  • Blue treatment: Boehringer Ingelheim's (BI) CircoFLEX given at 3 weeks of age;

  • Green treatment: Intervet Circumvent PCV given at 3 and 5 weeks of age; and

  • Gray treatment: Control group (sterile water) given at 3 and 5 weeks of age.

Serum samples were randomly collected from 50 pigs or 25% from each group at multiple times during the trial. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing monitored viremia levels, a reflection of infection levels in the blood. All pigs were weighed at Day 0 (weaning) and just prior to marketing at Day 141-142 on test, Greiner says.

Tests for PCV2 viremia indicated that there were minimal levels of infection in all but the unvaccinated groups out to 8 weeks of age. Control pigs showed evidence of PCV2 viremia by 12 weeks of age.

“Pigs vaccinated with BI's CircoFLEX showed a higher rate of viremia (positive pigs) throughout this trial period, while the Fort Dodge and Intervet treatment groups had very, very low levels of virus in their three treatment groups,” states Greiner.

Despite these differences, when it came to total mortality, regardless of cause of death (Figure 1), mortality was low across all PCV2-vaccinated groups. The mortality rate in control pigs was 8.5%, he says.

Cull pigs were also evaluated at the end of this study, which included all pigs lighter than 200 lb. at 141 days of the study.

“Interestingly, the Fort Dodge vaccine given at 5 weeks of age had the lowest number of culls, and that was significant,” Greiner reports (Figure 2). Cull rate was less than 1% for that Fort Dodge group, compared to 3.3% for the control group.

In terms of percent marketed, the vaccinated groups all turned out fairly similar (Figure 3), averaging 95% marketed, compared to 88% marketed in the control group.

Results for the control group “were significantly lower” when it came to pounds marketed (Figure 4).

Pigs given the Fort Dodge vaccine at 3 weeks of age and the two-dose Intervet vaccine produced many more pounds of pork than the three other vaccine groups. “And as we look at all vaccinates as a whole, all groups showed significantly more pounds marketed than the control group,” he notes.

Average daily gains were not statistically different for pigs given the three vaccines tested.

Despite differences in infection rates (viremia), differences in performance (Figure 3 and Figure 4) were relatively minor for the vaccine groups, even though there were some major variations in ending weights, Greiner explains.

Herd History

The herd of origin was PCV2 positive, negative for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and positive for Mycoplasmal pneumonia. Six months prior to the trial, the herd recorded 27% mortality without vaccinating for PCV2 or mycoplasma.

Co-infections with PRRS, mycoplasma and swine influenza virus increase the risk of clinical signs of porcine circovirus-associated disease.

More Studies to Come

Results of a second study being analyzed compares performance, serology and viremia data between the Fort Dodge and Intervet vaccines administered at different ages, Greiner says.

A third trial underway compares all three PCV2 vaccines in a modified, barn-by-barn study testing 1,000 vaccinates and 200 control pigs/barn.

A fourth study attempts to duplicate the results of the first Carthage case discussed, while a fifth trial evaluates the effects of the three different commercial PCV2 vaccines on nursery pig performance, and if any of the tested vaccines have a higher incidence of adverse reactions.

What is a Certified Safe Farm?

The CSF program is a research initiative launched in 1998 at the University of Iowa, with a goal of reducing the number and cost of injuries and illnesses to farmers through a voluntary intervention program. Of the more than 600 participating farms, approximately 40% are hog operations.

CSF includes three management components:

  1. Health checks of workers by trained occupational nurses who assess cardiovascular, respiratory, vision, skin, hearing, cholesterol and musculoskeletal status with other tests as needed.

  2. Safety monitoring of work environments to eliminate injuries.

  3. Education to encourage the use of personal protective equipment such as face masks and ear plugs.

Donham is working to get health insurance companies to offer incentives to farms that sign up for the program. He says his research demonstrates CSF reduces health care costs of occupational injuries and illnesses by 45%, or $183 vs. $332 per employee per year (out-of-pocket and costs paid by insurance companies), compared to costs at non-participant farms.

“The program reduces the risk for respiratory illnesses, and we've been able to prove this,” he says.

Vaccines' Payback In Pounds

Nearly completing their second year of use, commercial circovirus vaccines continue to be intensely tested by the research team at Kansas State University (KSU). Vaccines have excelled in virtually all trials.

Researcher Steve Dritz, DVM, summarizes some of the group's major findings of trials conducted at research farms and in commercial herds:

  • The vaccines continue to clearly reduce mortality in infected pigs.

  • The vaccines improve growth rates in approximately 85% of pigs in the population that don't even show clinical signs of porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2).

    “We found that growth rate was a much more sensitive indicator of the impact of PCV2 than was clinical signs,” Dritz says.

    Diagnostic testing can spell out what is happening inside a pig due to PCV2. “But it's very hard to tell when growth rates are being affected when the pigs look clinically normal,” he emphasizes.

    Steve Henry, DVM, Abilene (KS) Animal Hospital, has begun to study the weight distribution of PCV2-affected pigs and marketing patterns as a means of determining when the population starts shifting backwards. This may serve as an early indicator that there are circovirus problems on the farm, Dritz reports.

  • The vaccines improve growth rates of the entire population, essentially eliminating the tail-enders.

“When you start impacting the growth rate on all of the pigs in the population, it has a huge impact on the economics,” he stresses. Return-on-investment for circovirus vaccine has never been lower than 2:1 and often reaches 4:1 to 7:1. “In infected herds, we have not had a trial where there wasn't a good response,” he says.

“We think we're getting to the point where we are reducing virus loads in herds, meaning there isn't as much circulating virus, and with the lower amounts of circulating virus, the response to the vaccine may not be as great,” Dritz comments.

But Henry has warned that the circovirus vaccine is one that veterinarians and producers shouldn't be too hasty to pull out of their herd health toolbox.

“We did leave unvaccinated pigs in a commercial operation recently to see if they would become viremic, and sure enough, they did,” reports KSU graduate student Megan Potter, DVM. In that trial, 85 pigs on Farm #1 were left unvaccinated, while 150 pigs on Farm #2 were vaccinated at 5 and 8 weeks of age (Intervet's Circumvent PCV).

Impact of Genetics

The vaccinated pigs on Farm #2 showed no signs of PCV2 in pooled serum sets submitted for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Farm #1, however, showed signs of infection starting at 6 weeks of age (6%), at 9 weeks (38%) and also at 12 weeks of age (75%). These are percentages of the pools tested.

“This seems to answer a big question about how long the virus persists after a lengthy period of vaccination — and it appears the virus is still there,” adds Potter.

Also in that trial on Farm #1, where pigs were left unvaccinated, 3-week-old weaned pigs tested negative for PCV2. “That is telling us that we are weaning negative pigs, so they are not getting circovirus from the sow, meaning if they are moved to a clean environment, producers should be able to keep them negative,” Dritz explains.

Moreover, Farm #1 that was left unvaccinated is normally a vaccinated herd that occasionally experiences clinical signs. The fact that circovirus remains after regular periods of vaccination shows that vaccination is not the only answer to this problem, he notes.

“The circovirus vaccines are excellent. There is no question about it,” Dritz declares. “But they are not totally the answer. Producers still need to pay close attention to environmental sanitation.”

In another KSU/Abilene (KS) Animal Hospital study, researchers evaluated the impact of genetic backgrounds and PCV2 vaccination on circovirus infection in a high-health herd free of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and Mycoplasmal pneumonia.

Potter says the study was done in response to reports that genetic background affects the severity of porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD).

The 130-day study compared the response to PCV2 vaccine across genetic combinations by using increased growth rate as a response measure.

Studied was a 1,700-sow, boar multiplier herd in Kansas that was diagnosed with PCV2 infection in early 2006. There were four genetic combinations in the operation. The Duroc-based sire combination (A×A) and the Pietrain-based dam combination (B×B) were both synthetic breed combinations. In the A×B combination, the sire was Duroc-based and the mother was Pietrain-based. In the B×A synthetic combination, the sire was Pietrain-based and the dam was Duroc-based, Dritz explains.

Three factors were evaluated in the trial — vaccine status, genetics and gender (boar or gilt). “We commingled the controls and the vaccinated pigs in the same pens to challenge the vaccine as much as possible,” he adds. A total of 454 pigs were placed on test when weaned at 21 days of age. Pigs were vaccinated at weaning, with a second dose administered two weeks later (Intervet's Circumvent PCV).

In the study, pigs were weighed at Day 0 (weaning), and again at Days 40, 70, 105 and 130, with blood samples collected at Days 0, 40 and 130.

“There were some reports that Durocs were more susceptible (to PCVAD) and that Pietrains were more resistant,” Dritz says.

Those suggestions were borne out.

“Though the trial was not focused on determining mortality, mortality among vaccinates in the synthetic combination A×A pigs was 8.3% and the combination A×B mortality was 9.7%. In the synthetic combination B×B pigs, mortality was 5.3%, and the combination B×A pigs had 0% mortality,” Potter explains. The percentages represent the results for the vaccinated pigs (Figure 1).

Figure 2 illustrates the off-test market weights of the four treatment groups tested on two genetic combinations. Of the vaccinates, the synthetic Duroc combination (A×A) recorded the lowest final weight of 220 lb., the synthetic Duroc combination (A×B) a weight of 232.9 lb., beaten out by the Pietrain synthetic combination (B×A) at 236.9 lb., but not by the synthetic Pietrain combination (B×B), with a market weight of 225.7 lb.

The study showed a four-fold increase in the impact of circovirus infection vaccination on the synthetic Duroc line (A×A) vs. the three other genetic combinations, according to the researchers.

Even the fastest-growing pigs in the genetics study appeared to benefit from vaccination. And vaccination greatly lowered viremia (viral presence in the blood) at both Day 40 and Day 130, and overall compared to unvaccinated control pigs.

Authors note that based on growth performance, the different genetic backgrounds responded differently to the circovirus vaccine even though they were commingled in the same pen.

“Even though those pigs were commingled when they were vaccinated, we weren't able to detect virulent virus in the majority of the pigs' serum because the vaccine was providing protection from infection,” Dritz points out.

“This study clearly showed that vaccination will increase growth rate even in a high-health herd of both clinically and non-clinically affected pigs,” he concludes.

Testing Protocols

Dick Hesse is a virologist with the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory who is integrally involved with the use of herd profiling and developing next-generation diagnostics for circovirus.

He says despite the effectiveness of the circovirus vaccines, many questions remain to be answered, including:

  • What is the role of maternal immunity in blocking vaccination?

  • Will vaccine efficacy decay over time as a result of genetic mutation?

  • Can a serological test be developed to differentiate vaccination from field infection?

  • Are circovirus-associated co-factors circulating in the herd?

Hesse says the poultry industry has used flock profiling to monitor a host of avian pathogens for decades. Routine flock profiling effectively monitors health and optimizes production.

He says the easiest profile to generate for PCV2 is the herd “snapshot.” Collect serum samples from the sow herd and from pigs at 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18 weeks of age. Because of cost, samples are usually pooled in sets of five to detect for presence of the virus and genotype.

“If the herd has a history of PCVAD, it is important to test for the presence and onset of infectious co-factors such as PRRS, swine influenza virus and mycoplasma,” Hesse says.

Serum samples should be submitted to an approved diagnostic laboratory for analysis.

By using the information learned, producers can make cost-effective health management decisions, Hesse says.

Chicago Students Visit the Farm

There are some lessons that students just can't learn in the classroom — and one of those is about life on the farm.

So on Oct. 8, more than 70 fourth and fifth graders from Clara Barton Elementary School in Chicago made the trek to a working hog farm in Yorkville, IL, to get a firsthand education in agriculture and discover the source of some of the foods they eat every day. State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st District) accompanied the students on the trip.

During their field trip to Kellogg Farms, sponsored by the Illinois Pork Producers Association, the students got to view a modern pork production facility, including the farrowing rooms where piglets are born. They also learned how corn and soybeans are ground to make feed at the farm's feedmill and got to sit in the driver's seat of a huge tractor.

“Most of our students have never been to a farm before,” says Kim Otto, fifth grade teacher at Clara Barton Elementary School. “This is a rare opportunity for them to see firsthand where their food comes from and to better understand what it is like to live and work outside the city.”

John Kellogg, a fifth-generation farmer, his wife Jan and their son Matt have hosted hundreds of tour groups at their 1,300-acre farm where they grow crops and raise pigs, farrow-to-finish.

The Kelloggs partner with the Kendall County Pork Producers and the Kendall County Farm Bureau to host student field days, along with other activities designed to educate the general public about the importance of pork production.

Seventeen years ago, the Kelloggs' vision and leadership helped create “Teachers on an AgriScience Bus,” a nationally recognized program to educate suburban teachers about various aspects of agriculture, including pork production.

“We know that many kids — and adults, too — don't know how animals are raised or what's involved in modern farming,” says Kellogg. “These tours allow us to show people how we provide the best care for our animals to ensure high-quality pork for consumers, while also caring for the environment. The students ask great questions, so we know they are taking it all in. We are helping the next generation to be well-informed consumers.”

More to Learn About Porcine Circovirus

Ten years ago, a pig-wasting disease associated with porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) almost simultaneously struck Canada, California and France.

Today, PCV2 is known as one of the most important viruses in the global pig industry, according to circovirus researcher Tanja Opriessnig, Iowa State University.

Different manifestations of PCV2 led to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians coining the phrase, porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD), at their annual meeting in March 2006.

Those manifestations include: postweaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome, PCV2-associated pneumonia, enteritis, reproductive failure, and dermatitis and nephropathy syndrome, she says.

Methods of Control

Three methods have been used for the control of PCVAD:

  • Serotherapy, or the collection of serum from infected animals for injection to prevent and control PCVAD, was practiced widely in Europe prior to availability of commercial vaccines, Opriessnig said in a talk at the Leman Swine Conference in mid-September in St. Paul, MN.

    While clinical disease and mortality rates were significantly reduced, results were not reproducible in other countries, she explains.

  • Autogenous vaccines prepared from lung or lymphoid tissue homogenates obtained from PCVAD pigs were used in a number of U.S. hog operations when there were limited supplies of commercial vaccines. Experimental tests of three different autogenous products revealed that PCV2 was not effectively inactivated by the formalin treatment, and use of the autogenous products was eliminated when PCV2 vaccines became widely available, Opriessnig says.

  • Four commercial, killed PCV2 vaccines are marketed, and all but Merial's sow vaccine is federally licensed for use in the United States (Table 1).

Today, PCV2 vaccines are among the three most commonly used vaccines in swine production in the United States, says Opriessnig. About 73 million pigs were vaccinated for PCV2 in 2007, compared with 70-80 million for Mycoplasmal pneumonia and 25 million pigs vaccinated for ileitis.

Issues of Concern

PCV2 vaccines have been shown experimentally to reduce PCV2 viremia (infection in blood) after challenge, and reduce lymphoid lesions and nasal and fecal shedding of PCV2 organisms. In the field, the vaccines have greatly reduced mortality, while improving performance parameters, cutting medication costs and boosting reproductive performance.

“Due to their remarkable efficacy in the field, PCV2 vaccines have been referred to as ‘miracle vaccines’ by some producers and practitioners.

“However, it must be kept in mind that a PCV2 vaccine will not protect against the effects of infections with other pathogens or lack of common-sense husbandry, management and disinfection practices,” Opriessnig points out. “It also needs to be considered that vaccine efficacy cannot be expected to be 100% in every instance.”

While PCV2 vaccines are very effective, care must be taken in relying on serology as a measure of vaccine efficacy. “It is generally believed that the success of PCV2 vaccines is due to induction of a strong cellular immune response, and experiments to further examine this are underway,” she comments.

The question of maternal antibodies interfering with PCV2 vaccine efficacy has sparked a lot of debate. According to Opriessnig, at least two controlled research trials have shown that these antibodies do not interfere with PCV2 vaccine efficacy.

As to vaccine timing, Opriessnig recommends PCV2 vaccines be administered as early as possible and at least 3-4 weeks ahead of expected exposure to the virus. “This may mean vaccinating pigs at 2-3 weeks of age in herds where PCVAD occurs in the nursery. Later administration may coincide with circulation of field PCV2 strains and is not always successful,” she explains.

Can PCV2 vaccines be effectively administered to infected pigs? While the answer is unknown, based on the widespread prevalence of PCV2 infection, the high percentage of subclinically infected pigs and the high success rate of PCV2 vaccination, it can be speculated that PCV2 viremia does not interfere with vaccine efficacy, Opriessnig assures.

Future Vaccines

Combination vaccines reduce labor and material cost by reducing the total number of injections per pig. The combination of PCV2 and Mycoplasmal pneumonia (Boehringer Ingelheim) holds promise because both vaccines are given at about the same age, Opriessnig states.

All PCV2 vaccines are killed products. PCV2 live vaccines would offer the benefit of not having to be administered intramuscularly, therefore lowering cost and labor requirements, she says.

Live vaccines might also prove more effective in overcoming high levels of maternal antibodies or concurrent infections with immune-suppressing viruses such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. A live PCV2 vaccine protected against PCV2 lesions and viremia following disease challenge in experimental studies, Opriessnig says.