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NPPC Opposes USDA Ethanol Aid Proposal

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing to bail out some ethanol companies that speculated on rising corn prices and lost when futures prices dropped by half.

Plants could be eligible for government refinancing or loans to offset their bad decisions, says USDA Secretary Ed Schafer.

“There's going to have to be some credit applied to companies to buy some lower-priced corn to blend with their higher-priced corn,” he adds.

In response to this announcement, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) CEO Neil Dierks expressed “extreme disappointment” that USDA is considering extending rural development loans to ethanol plants because some may be struggling economically due to decisions made earlier in the year to lock in corn prices that have since lowered in price.

He declares: “Many pork producers used prudent risk management but encountered cost concerns, yet there has been no relief offered to them.

“The livestock and poultry industries have been dealing with — and suffering from — high input prices for nearly two years in large part because of the rapid rise in ethanol production.

“Recent estimates indicate that U.S. pork producers have lost nearly $3 billion of equity in their operations over the past year.

“Anything that has even the appearance of a bailout for an industry that already is being propped up through government production mandates, tax credits and import tariffs is a slap in the face to all of animal agriculture and is anathema to our free enterprise system.

“Rather than giving the ethanol industry what seems to be special consideration, NPPC renews its request for eliminating or significantly reducing the array of government support programs for the ethanol industry.

“Pork producers just want to be able to compete on an equal footing with other users of corn.

“Additionally, NPPC again calls on USDA to create a task force to address the negative consequences of ethanol mandates on feed prices.

“Finally, while some believe this will be a banner year for agriculture, it certainly will not be for the livestock industry, and we would hope that policymakers in Washington remember that,” Dierks stresses.

NPPC was among a handful of livestock and poultry groups that wrote Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer in late October to object to his announcement.

A Day at the Farm

Malcolm DeKryger's mission is clear: it's time to reach out to city dwellers, touching those lives that have the most impact on the future of U.S. pork production.

“We have a very strong heart tug, if you will, to reach out to our customers. The mass amount of our meat and food is not consumed out here in the country — it is in the city, so we are reaching out to the city,” he emphasizes.

DeKryger is vice president of Belstra Milling Co. Inc., a large agricultural presence based in tiny DeMotte in northwestern Indiana. He says the generations that separate city and farm dwellers have fueled a “growing disconnect” as to the role of animal production in the nation's food supply.

To dissolve those differences, Belstra Milling has been inviting city folks out to their farms. “We are talking about pig farm public relations reaching the urban and non-agricultural dwellers. We have been doing that, somewhat, over a number of years. But we have really felt an impetus the last 2-3 years to try to reach out to people at a number of different levels,” DeKryger explains.

In 2007, Belstra Milling hosted a “day on the farm” for 50-60 local and state legislators, restaurant employees, school officials and others to view and learn about the nuances of pork production. Groups are bused to farm sites where farm managers offer details that can be seen through several picture windows added to the barns or when curtains are dropped for viewing.

This past March, Belstra Milling held their annual technology meeting, which they entitled: “Thriving in Perilous Times.” About 60 area residents attended. The highlight was an address supporting “The Moral Acceptability of Raising Livestock for Human Consumption.” The speaker was Wes Jamison, a leading animal welfare specialist and research fellow at the University of Florida.

DeKryger says a number of key employees at Belstra are part of a large settlement of Dutch Reformed Christians in northwest Indiana who are involved in dairy and pork production. Similar Dutch Reformed settlements working in the dairy and pig production sectors are found in other areas of the country, including Michigan, California, northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota, all with interwoven roots.

Several months ago, DeKryger says an article appeared in their denominational church magazine that came out very much against modern livestock production. DeKryger says this attack prompted him to write a rebuttal article for the publication, explaining the growing chasm between farm and urban citizens.

“Overall, we are trying to reach across and educate folks that hog farmers are professionals, that they care for their animals, that they are ethicists and that they deal with living and dying every single day.

“We were the original animal welfare people, and we believe we were also called (by God) to use what we have been given,” DeKryger notes.

Century of Silence

But for the last century, farmers have immersed themselves in their profession, seemingly isolated and insulated from society, DeKryger says.

“I think there are a lot of farmers who have been shocked, amazed and scared to think that somebody actually has an opinion about what they have been doing out there — and that now somebody (animal activists, etc.) thinks they know better about livestock production than they do. The people who are complaining, however, have never worked there,” he counters.

It's not that farmers can't communicate. It's just that they don't relish the role of being in the public relations business — and that is where DeKryger feels comfortable serving as an advocate for agriculture.

He says his position as a member of the Animal Health and Food Security Policy Committee for the National Pork Producers Council has also helped prepare him as a spokesman.

That role has helped teach him the pork industry must become more proactive in explaining what they do and how they do it.

For its part, Belstra Milling is striving to be that model — sharing the company's history and production achievements with the industry and the public.

Production Tour

At the end of July, Belstra Milling hosted an informational session at the mill and a farm tour for about 50 Extension swine educators and others coordinated through the National Pork Board. National Hog Farmer magazine was among the invited guests.

The Extension swine educators group toured Iroquois Valley Swine Breeders, a 1,150-sow, farrow-to-finish farm constructed in 1992, one of four active gilt multiplier production units in the Belstra system. They learned that several of the Belstra units have hit 30 pigs/sow/year for extended periods of time throughout this past year. They have also held sow mortalities to 3%.

Cambalot Swine Breeders (CBS), a PIC daughter nucleus gilt multiplier, is being rebuilt and modified to meet market demand. After CBS is repopulated this fall, the Belstra Group (hog division) will total about 11,500 sows and five production companies (farms) that produce four different lines of gilts for PIC, according to Jon Hoek, head of production at Belstra Milling Co., Inc.

The Belstra Group designs, permits and oversees building construction, and hires staff to supervise the gilt production farms, four of which are located in northwest Indiana. A fifth, three-site farm is located just across the border in Illinois, and all are within a 40-mile radius of Belstra's main offices in DeMotte.

Belstra Milling is a 54-year-old company with 100 employees, 75 who work on the farms, and the remainder who work at the feedmill, Hoek explained to the Extension educator tour group. The mill produces about 110,000 tons of feed annually; 65% of the feed tonnage goes into swine feed, and the remainder is produced for the large dairy presence in northwest Indiana.

“For too long we (in the pork industry) have been focused on productivity, and by having our ‘Day at the Farm,’ we are asking people to come to our ‘house’ and let us tell our story,” remarks Belstra Milling Co. President Tim Belstra. “We want to lift the curtain of anonymity.”

Dairy Promotion

Masters at telling their story of dairy production is the Fair Oaks Farms (IN) Dairy Adventure (, a short distance south of Beltsra Milling on Interstate 65. Along the way, the drive is punctuated by billboard signs inviting visitors to stop and tour the 30,000-cow working farm, birthing center and adjacent retail store and restaurant.

“It provides us with an excellent opportunity to promote both agriculture and the dairy industry and some of its products,” said CEO Gary Corbett to the swine Extension tour group. The facility opened in January 2004. In the last 15 months, an estimated 450,000 people have visited and/or taken the bus tour of the production facilities.

Corbett says flatly the goal behind building the dairy center was “to combat the lack of positive press.” The facility caters to groups who can sign up to take a bus tour of the nearby production facilities.

Last fall, national dairy officials came to Fair Oaks and surveyed visitors. The survey revealed that 50% of visitors felt they had a better feeling about the dairy industry after viewing the facility, and 50% felt the same; but amazingly, not a single visitor expressed displeasure, says Corbett. Twelve percent of the visitors said they would increase their consumption of dairy products as a result of the visit.

The Fair Oaks Dairy has also partnered and participated in a major dairy exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

Adapting the Dairy Template

Belstra's DeKryger is excited about the fact that the Pork Board has voted to allocate funds to significantly expand the current pork display at the Chicago museum, which receives 1.8 million visitors annually.

Hoek has estimated it would cost the pork industry about $250,000 to $350,000 to place a sizeable, five-year exhibit at the Chicago museum, and based on attendance figures, cost about four cents per exposure to relay pork's message to each visitor.

In DeKryger's mind, more checkoff funds should be used to promote events attracting a broader urban audience of potential pork consumers. Promoting pork at county and state fairs and race car events, for example, basically provides pork to those consumers who already are pork lovers, and doesn't reach potential pork consumers in large metropolitan areas, he concludes.

Crude Glycerol May Fit in Lactation Diets

Initial research conducted at the University of Minnesota indicates crude glycerol can be used to supply energy in lactating sow diets. However, producers need to pay close attention not only to how the glycerol has been handled, but also to salt concentration and methanol content when determining if the ingredient is practical for feeding on a regular basis.

Glycerol is a liquid byproduct of the biodiesel refining process. During biodiesel production, 100 lb. of a fat source, such as soybean oil, is combined with 10 lb. of methanol plus a catalyst, such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. The reaction produces 100 lb. of biodiesel and 10 lb. of crude glycerol. Hydrochloric acid is added to neutralize the catalyst remaining in the crude glycerol.

An estimated 450 million gallons of biodiesel were generated in the United States in 2007. “If you do the math, that comes up to about 148,000 tons of crude glycerol available last year,” says Lee Johnston, swine nutritionist at the University of Minnesota's (UM) West Central Research and Outreach Center. “Potential U.S. glycerol production could be about 740,000 tons. There should be a fair bit of this material available that could possibly be used in livestock production.”

According to Johnston, human endurance athletes, particularly those performing under heat stress conditions, use glycerol mixed with water to hyper-hydrate their bodies prior to competition. Glycerol helps improve their water balance by decreasing urine output, which is thought to enhance performance.

Research results indicate rats consuming glycerol have higher blood glucose levels. Since glucose is a precursor of lactose, and lactose is an important driver of milk production, researchers wondered if sows and their litters would benefit if the lactating sows were fed diets containing crude glycerol, particularly when the potential for heat stress is high. They speculated that glycerol's role in water balance may help lactating sows cope with the stress of producing milk during hot weather.

Research Design

A glycerol trial was designed using 345 mixed-parity sows. Sows were fed corn-soybean meal-based diets containing 2.5% choice white grease. Diets were formulated to 0.9% standardized ileal digestible lysine.

The diets contained treatment levels of 0, 3, 6, or 9% crude glycerol. Researchers used a crude glycerol formulation containing 86.1% glycerol, 6% salt and less than 100 ppm methanol.

“This high salt content (of the glycerol) allowed us to remove all of the supplemental salt in the 6% and 9% diets,” Johnston explains. Supplemental salt was reduced to 0.15% in the 3% glycerol diet.

Sows were fed the experimental diets when they entered the farrowing room on Day 109 of gestation and continued through to Day 19 of lactation, when litters were weaned. The study was conducted from July through November.

The researchers found inclusion of up to 9% crude glycerol had no significant effects on sow weight or backfat loss, litter size or weight at weaning. There were no differences in post-weaning return to estrus.

Sows consumed about 13.4 lb. of feed/day while receiving the 3% glycerol diet. Sows receiving the 6% glycerol diet ate about 12.2 lb./day, while the 9% glycerol group consumed around 12.8 lb./day.

The difference in feed consumption in the 6% glycerol group puzzled researchers. “We could not see an obvious explanation for the sows on the 6% glycerol diet consuming less feed,” he states. Overall, results of the study suggest lactating sows fed diets containing up to 9% crude glycerol perform similarly to sows fed a standard corn-soybean meal control diet.

Watch Salt, Methanol

Johnston cautions producers that the salt content of glycerol can vary greatly. Research conducted by Brian Kerr, Agricultural Research Service animal scientist at Iowa State University, indicated glycerol salt content ranged from 2% to 10% in test samples.

The National Research Council (NRC) says a pig can tolerate up to 8% dietary salt if adequate water is available.

Methanol content in the glycerol may be a little more problematic. Johnston says the residual methanol content can range anywhere from less than 100 ppm up to as high as 3,200 ppm. The toxicity of methanol to pigs is not well established. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation allows up to 150 ppm of methanol in the crude glycerol fed to livestock.

Johnston and research colleagues Sarah Schieck, Jerry Shurson, Sam Baidoo and Brian Kerr continue to analyze glycerol's role in helping lactating sows cope with heat stress.

Filtration Works At a Cost

For many producers located in hog-dense regions of the country, air filtration of hog buildings sounds like a good way to go, but the relatively high cost has caused some producers to be hesitant.

Filtration Systems

The Swine Vet Center headquartered at St. Peter, MN, has been a pioneer in the installation of air filtration systems for hog buildings, reports Jeff Feder, DVM. In three years, air filtration has been installed on 331 sites, with the first filters being installed in several boar studs by Darwin Reicks, DVM.

Currently, the Swine Vet Center has installed air filters in 21 boar studs, eight sow farms and in four hog finishing and research sites.

This number includes small and large farms. Five of the sow farms are 2,500 sows and the others range from 500 to 1,200 sows. All of the filtered sites are located in hog-dense southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

More than half of the systems use 100% filtration, with others opting for a partial filtration or “bail out” system, where air is 100% filtered at lower temperatures. But as the ventilation system needs to move more air (70-80°F outside temperature), the air enters the barn unfiltered, Feder says.

The filters work by interception — particles adhere to the fibers of the filter and become trapped. Pre-filters capture large particles (dust) to extend the life of the main filter (commonly a Merv 16 or Merv 14 rating), which is designed to capture very small particles that carry pathogens such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus.


The goal of air filtration has never been to eliminate PRRS outbreaks totally, as there are many other routes of PRRS entry into the farm, says Reicks.

But if the incidence of aerosol transmission can be reduced or eliminated, then it offers a good return on investment, Feder emphasizes.

So far that has proven to be the case. Most of the farms that turned to air filtration had a history of PRRS breaks. To date, there have been three PRRS breaks on farms using partial filtration. All three farms were infected when the buildings were not being filtered.

One other PRRS break did occur on a 100% filtered farm, although it was discovered the filters were damaged, and there was another possible route of virus entering the farm via trucking, Feder explained in a mid-September talk at the Leman Swine Conference in St. Paul, MN.

There have been two swine influenza virus breaks on 100% filtered farms, which are believed to have originated from employees who were sick at the time, and from boars entering the farm when they were subclinically infected. There have been no breaks in herds with Mycoplasmal pneumonia, most of which are vaccinated, he adds.

Despite many calls from producers about cheaper filters, Feder says the Swine Vet Center has decided to stick with the filters produced by Camfil and marketed by Automated Production Systems, since these are the filters tested by Scott Dee, DVM, at the University of Minnesota. The Merv 16 filter (now called the L9 filter) allows 600-1,000 cfm air flow through the 24 in. × 24 in. model at 0.2 in. of static pressure. The newer L6 is another filter being used for some applications, since it allows more air through the same size filter (920 cfm at 0.2 in. static pressure).

That filter strategy will remain in force for farms with a history of PRRS or farms that have neighboring farms within two miles or a large number of farms within 3-4 miles.

A number of filtration issues are addressed below:

Partial filtration — It continues to be practiced due to the relatively high costs of installing and maintaining the large number of filters needed for maximum ventilation rates in the summer. By putting filters on the ceiling inlets and having no filtration for cool cell pads, most farms are left unfiltered for about four months of the year, Feder explains.

For air restriction of the filter, the only answer is to have a lot of filters or install fans that perform at high static pressure. These fans are expensive to buy and operate.

For any doors where animals go in or out, air locks should be installed to protect the integrity of the air filtration system.

Positive pressure works well but can be hard on buildings by pushing warm and humid air, especially in the winter, when it gets into the walls of the building and condenses.

For negative-pressure barns, the fan covers should be left on as long as possible, and great care needs to be used to seal up sources of unfiltered air entering the building, including backdrafting through fans. Most barns are already built for negative pressure systems.

100% filtration — To ensure proper installation of filters, have a third party inspect to ensure there is a 100% seal around duct work and inlets, Feder suggests.

A number of sites have had filters damaged during installation, making it important to have the third party inspection. Education up front helps avoid someone handling and damaging the filter material.

Pre-filters should be changed or at least inspected every six months. It is best to change the pre-filters in the spring and fall after field work is completed. This also provides a good opportunity to look for air leaks or damage to the more expensive filters underneath.

Cost structure — Costs differ because of different building designs and applications of air filtration.

Partial filtration: For farms with summer tunnel ventilation and filters on ceiling inlets, cost runs $35-40/sow or boar. The estimated cost is 70-80¢/weaned pig over 10 years, including filter replacement and labor.

For the “bail out” farms, the cost really depends on what temperature the farm bails out of the filtration system.

For a wean-to-finish site, cost estimates are $1.70/pig marketed, based on filtration capacity up to 40 cfm/pig.

For 100% filtration: Darwin Reicks, DVM, has filtered five air-conditioned boar studs serviced by the Swine Vet Center. The cost of the air-conditioning system with 100% filtration is $350-$500/boar.

For barns where air flows through a cool cell, into the attic and down through ceiling inlets, cost is about $85/sow or boar and estimated to be $1.50/weaned pig over 10 years.

For barns with air flowing through ceiling inlets in the winter and tunnel ventilation in summer, cost has been $185-200/sow or boar. Extra construction cost is incurred by installing filter banks in front of each cool cell pad. More filters are needed overall as winter and summer ventilation systems have to be covered separately. Cost is estimated at $2.40/pig over 10 years.


Air filtration has quickly become the standard for boar studs in the Swine Vet Center practice, except for studs with no history of PRRS and that are located five miles or more from other pigs, says Reicks.

For sow farms, the filters need to prevent an average of 1.4 to 2.4 PRRS breaks over a 10-year period to pay for themselves, adds Feder.

Political Hangover

This out-of-sorts feeling was brought on by unending oratories from both political stumps. Left unchecked, it could escalate into a raging case of national heartburn.

My goodness, the levels the candidates resorted to as they cast their opponents in a shadowy light. It got so bad that we didn't even expect them to tell the whole truth anymore. We settled for half-truths and innuendos, then sadly relied on various media “truth squads” to sort out whether a statement was “flatly false, partially true or basically true.” In the meantime, those who were unaware or uncaring went merrily on their way, making voting decisions with skewed information.

I should point out that I'm writing this column without the benefit of knowing who won the various races.

And, of course, I realize that we are all very fortunate to live in a democratic society with all of the many blessings this young nation provides. That's why I'm a little reluctant to extend the uneasiness of this election. But, while it's fresh on my mind, I wish every candidate, from the county commissioner to the highest office in the land, would sit themselves down in front of a mirror and privately, honestly ask themselves if their constituents were well served in their campaign.

A Dubious Record

In late October, it was estimated that Senator Obama had collected over $650 million in contributions (over 90% from individuals), while Senator McCain garnered about $360 million in contributions (about 54% from individual contributions). That's over $1 billion — a record — though dubious it may be.

For perspective, when Jimmy Carter won the 1976 presidential election, he spent $55 million. Six presidential terms later, George W. Bush's reelection campaign cost $419 million.

For my money, and some of it is mine (and each of yours), if Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain had taken even half of the combined billion dollars they raised and contributed it to one or more of the good causes they profess to support — lower taxes, more health care, educational opportunities, etc. — we all would have been better served.

In my search for information about campaign financing, I also found a quote posted on a year and a half ago (Feb. 23, 2007) and attributed to Sheila Krumholz, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks political funding. She positioned the situation beautifully: “I think it's a truism at this point that you can have lots of great qualities, you can have name recognition, you can have a good organization, you can have great ideas, but if you don't have the money, you don't have the campaign.”

On the matter of public campaign financing and spending limits, she continued: “This time, most of the top tier candidates, the rock star candidates, are saying: ‘We can't afford to take public funds, we can't afford to be impeded by the spending limits that come with taxpayer funding.’”

What a shame. “Our” candidates feel “impeded” by their constituents' attempts to help bring some balance to the democratic election process.

One Final Rub

I rarely stand on a soapbox when it comes to politics, but there's another issue that has raised my hackles more than once. I doubt I'm alone.

Doesn't it just grate on you whenever a politician or newscaster proclaims that some extra financial package or incentive, earmarked for a special interest, refers to it as “pork?” Here we have spent the past several decades selecting, breeding and feeding for a leaner, more acceptable pork product, and they dredge up an old stereotype that implies waste and excess.

We all know that the production of modern-day pork is neither wasteful nor excessive. Truth is, pork production is far more efficient that it's ever been — and it's getting better day by day. Many of our friends in politics could take a lesson from the nation's pork producers in that regard, don't you agree?

Okay, I'll step down from that soapbox now.

By the time this issue reaches your mailbox, we should know who our nation's leaders will be — barring any hanging chads or other irregularities in the process. Regardless of the victor — there are some mighty big jobs ahead.

This morning at breakfast, I was paging through the Oct. 19, 2008 edition of Parade magazine. There I found a Dan Piraro cartoon of two Joe-the-plumber types having a beer. One guy says: “I vote for the guy I'd like to have a beer with.” The other asks: “But will he suffer through the hangover with you?”

In the end, that's the real question, isn't it?

Portable Ultrasound Equipment

E.I. Medical Imaging has introduced the Ibex Pro and Ibex Lite portable ultrasound system designed specifically for ultrasound use in large and small farming operations. “The Ibex family of ultrasound systems is the culmination of 25 years of customer input, research and development, says Charles Maloy, company president. New features include quick zoom, cine loop (four-second video playback), CompactFlash image storage, USB and wireless links, voice tag, track ball navigation and Bluetooth RFID reader for animal identification. They are all contained in a biosecure case using DuraScan technology to improve durability of the system. Kevlar-reinforced transducers provide added protection. Accuracy of examinations are enhanced by high-resolution scans on either the Ibex LCD monitor or Insite2 monitor headset. For more information, contact Mia Varra, marketing manager, at 866-365-6596 or visit

Compact Tractor Line

Bobcat Company has expanded its line of compact tractors with the introduction of four new models. The company also announced the Bob-Tach quick attachment mounting system is now optional on the front-end loader of all Bobcat compact tractors. The four new models are the CT335, CT440, CT445 and CT450. These four tractors come in three different packages. The Economy Package has a three-point implement hitch with power take off (PTO). The Standard Package includes the three-point hitch, PTO and a loader joystick and control valve. The Standard Package with Cab includes all of the features of the Standard Package with an enclosed cab. Bobcat compact tractors help farmers and ranchers tackle a variety of jobs. All four models feature independent PTO that can be engaged with the flip of a switch while the tractor is in motion. This allows the operator to only engage the PTO on a three-point implement in areas where it is needed. The four Bobcat tractors have a heavier and larger chassis and more horsepower for customers who need more power but don't need a larger machine than a compact tractor. For more information, go to

Weigh Scale

The Small Animal Crate Scale System is designed to weigh small livestock including swine, lambs, sheep or goats. Total weighing capacity is up to 4,400 lb. The scale is constructed of durable steel tubing and sheet metal sides. Split gates at both the front and the back make operation quick and easy with this portable system that comes with a powder coat finish. This system can be used with any Tru-Test digital scale indicator. Visit the Web site at or contact Customer Service toll-free at 800-874-8494 for more information.

Remote Bin Access

HerdStar, LLC has just released its second major version of The site at is a web interface to HerdStar's Bin Trac PRO bin monitoring system. This highly accurate end-to-end bin monitoring solution provides remote access to feed bin levels, consumption, feed ordering and feed delivery tracking. Feed Order Desk provides new decision tools for analyzing feed levels, consumption and reorder amounts. Point and click to build a feed order and then BinTrac tracks delivery of that order. BinTrac feed level data is also available to any third party feed ordering and diet management software solution. For more information, call 888-BINTRAC or 507-344-8005 or e-mail [email protected].

Send product submissions to Dale Miller, Editor
(952) 851-4661;
[email protected]

Ways to Control Costs

Producers can take advantage of these 10 steps to control costs in their operations, according to William Hollis, DVM, Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service (CVS) at the 18th Annual Conference Sept. 9 in Macomb, IL.

  1. Space: Achieve optimum pounds per square foot in your pig barns. Faster-growing pigs are creating a bottleneck in traditional nurseries and wean-to-finish barns. The rule of thumb used to be 20 lb./sq. ft. in the nursery, or 3 sq. ft./pig when pigs exit the nursery at 60 lb. But that rule doesn't work any more when nursery-age pigs are growing to 85 lb. in eight weeks. Move the pigs out or give them more space.

    Another solution is to get rid of junk pigs. “If you know that those pigs are not going to make it past 100 lb., remove them from the population and euthanize them,” he says. Similarly, if there are slow-growing pigs that are over 100 lb., but don't appear they will make it to 230 lb., then take them out at 175 lb. and sell them to an alternate market to optimize the pig space in your barn.

  2. Health: Producers have access to better control/cleanup plans for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and Mycoplasmal pneumonia than they did a few years ago, and it makes sense to eliminate these profit-robbers if possible. Healthy pig flows provide more flexibility in pig movement.

    Carefully evaluate the use of feedgrade medications. It's best to identify sick pigs, identify the disease, use therapeutics judiciously and work with your supervisor/veterinarian. Serum sampling 1,200 pigs can cost $300 or 25¢/pig. Overmedicating can cost 50¢/pig.

  3. Feed ingredients: Monitor every ingredient and question its importance. Spreadsheets from Kansas State University ( can provide cost-benefit ratios for adding fat, distiller's dried grains with solubles, etc. Check corn grind, mix quality, diet budget and diet balance. Hollis says he personally witnessed a producer using screens (available at feedmills) to check the micron size of his rations. Feed micron size should be set at 700 microns or less with low variability.

  4. Feed wastage: Check and stop feed wastage and monitor compliance. Replace poor feeders and check the efficiency of feeders every day in the pens. Use a flashlight to look through the slats to look for feed wastage in the pit.

  5. Ventilation management: “Something that is commonly overlooked is that poor ventilation leads to poor growth rate, and poor growth comes with a cost,” Hollis says. Check room and pit fans and air quality management. Compare growth rates and ventilation settings from barn to barn. Check curtain maintenance.

  6. Heat conservation: Check the attic for insulation quality. Practice rodent control. Maintain building curtains. Check nursery heat settings and ramp temperatures down accordingly with pig growth.

  7. Water wastage: Checking water wastage is the simplest thing to fix and monitor and the least commonly measured. Check brackets or cups for proper location based on the size of the pig; repair leaks. Check pressure regulation and flow rate measurements. Leaky nipple waterers can cost up to $3/pig/day, as you must include the cost to apply the additional manure. “If you don't have a water meter, then you don't really have a good way of measuring water wastage,” Hollis stresses.

  8. Sort loss control: The goal here is to maximize your premiums and minimize your losses. Weigh your pigs and set targets based on premiums and the packer matrix. “Some producers pride themselves on reducing sort loss, but if you are selling to Tyson's, for instance, you may want to accept a 75¢-per-head sort loss in order to get a higher premium by selling your hogs at heavier weights,” he points out. Walk every pen and mark pigs ready for market.

  9. Optimize slaughter weight: Work with your consultant/swine veterinarian on statistical process control charts to determine optimal slaughter weights and premiums. Factor in building and feed costs. Be sure to remove junk pigs early. Measure progress monthly. Refer to Kansas State University's chart on growth prediction by season to manage seasonal variation (

  10. Capital conservation: Due to rising production costs, fixed costs are no longer a good measure of how to evaluate the cost structure for hog production, just as maximum pig throughput is no longer the best guarantee of a profitable return. Rather, determine the ideal pig flow based on inventory costs or the cost/pig to maintain that inventory. The higher cost of money results in a higher cost of production that needs to be evaluated in terms of performance, he explains.

New CAFO Rule Sets Zero-Discharge Standard

Calling it a “tough but fair rule” that sets a high environmental standard for livestock producers, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) praised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new regulation for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

“The CAFO regulation is a tough but fair rule and sets a standard that the U.S. pork industry has been and will continue to live up to,” responds NPPC Environment Committee Chairman Randy Spronk, a pork producer from Edgerton, MN. “Pork producers are ready to comply with the new regulation.”

The new CAFO rule culminates more than 10 years of work to overhaul the federal Clean Water Act that applies to livestock operations.

“Looking back to where we were in federal policy in 1998, when this all started, through the 2001 proposed rule, the 2003 final rule, a 2005 federal court decision and now this 2008 final rule, EPA is making sweeping policy changes that affect all aspects of pork operations and water quality,” Spronk says.

Prior to the 2003 rulemaking, most CAFOs were in effect not liable under the Clean Water Act for discharges from their operations — but now they are. Before 2003, the land application of manure for crop production was not regulated under federal law — and now it is.

The federal rule requires National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits only for CAFOs that discharge or propose to do so. The new rule effectively sets a “zero-discharge” standard for all livestock operations. Non-permitted operations are required to use sound management practices to avoid all discharges or face stiff penalties. Permit holders also must follow similar practices to meet the zero-discharge standard. Violations of the new CAFO rule carry penalties of up to $32,500/day.

“With or without a permit, swine operations that are not well managed and have discharges are facing severe penalties,” says Michael Formica, NPPC environmental policy counsel. “These rules really raise the water quality bar for us, but despite this challenge, producers are going to make this rule work.”

Calling it a “tough but fair rule” that sets a high environmental standard for livestock producers, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) praised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new regulation for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

“The CAFO regulation is a tough but fair rule and sets a standard that the U.S. pork industry has been and will continue to live up to,” responds NPPC Environment Committee Chairman Randy Spronk, a pork producer from Edgerton, MN. “Pork producers are ready to comply with the new regulation.”

The new CAFO rule culminates more than 10 years of work to overhaul the federal Clean Water Act that applies to livestock operations.

“Looking back to where we were in federal policy in 1998, when this all started, through the 2001 proposed rule, the 2003 final rule, a 2005 federal court decision and now this 2008 final rule, EPA is making sweeping policy changes that affect all aspects of pork operations and water quality,” Spronk says.

Prior to the 2003 rulemaking, most CAFOs were in effect not liable under the Clean Water Act for discharges from their operations — but now they are. Before 2003, the land application of manure for crop production was not regulated under federal law — and now it is.

The federal rule requires National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits only for CAFOs that discharge or propose to do so. The new rule effectively sets a “zero-discharge” standard for all livestock operations. Non-permitted operations are required to use sound management practices to avoid all discharges or face stiff penalties. Permit holders also must follow similar practices to meet the zero-discharge standard. Violations of the new CAFO rule carry penalties of up to $32,500/day.

“With or without a permit, swine operations that are not well managed and have discharges are facing severe penalties,” says Michael Formica, NPPC environmental policy counsel. “These rules really raise the water quality bar for us, but despite this challenge, producers are going to make this rule work.”

Circovirus Not Always the Culprit

Production systems with 10-35% death loss in grow-finish, 10-15% mortality in nurseries, and small family farms with continuous-flow facilities and subtle but nagging mortality throughout have all benefitted from the amazing response to commercial circovirus vaccines.

Get a proper diagnosis before assuming circovirus is the problem, because sometimes circovirus isn't the culprit after all.

Case Study No. 1

A 4,000-head contract finisher called to report his weekly death loss was rising due to circovirus. Working with the producer's fieldman, I necropsied several emaciated pigs with lesions, including adhesions around the heart and lungs, consistent with strep.

Other pigs had swollen spleens and livers, indicative of salmonella, while some pigs had very few gross lesions except for swollen lymph nodes and moderate levels of lung consolidation or pneumonia. None were typical of normal circovirus lesions.

I treated the pigs for salmonella, since diarrhea was one of the main clinical signs associated with fall-out pigs, and sent in tissues for diagnostic evaluation. I assured the producer and his fieldman that circovirus was not the issue, and reminded them that the pigs in question were vaccinated with a one-dose commercial circovirus vaccine.

To my surprise, the diagnostic results yielded high levels of circovirus in lung and lymph tissues. Several other organisms were found, including salmonella and strep. Pigs were negative for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and swine influenza virus.

I shrugged off the circovirus results as pigs seemed to improve with the oral water medications for salmonella.

Unfortunately, death loss continued to rise after treatment, and I returned to the site two weeks later. Sure enough, there were wasting and fall-behind pigs. Extensive necropsies had lesions similar to the first set and again, did not look like circovirus lesions. Death loss and culls were approaching 10% seen earlier with circovirus. I resubmitted tissue samples with the same results — high levels of circovirus.

We initiated basic circovirus treatment — sorting and selling the fall-out pigs as quickly as possible.

I visited the nursery and noticed staff reloading vaccine belts with circovirus vaccine just prior to shipping pigs. That's when I found out pigs were being vaccinated for circovirus, but at 8-9 weeks of age instead of 3 weeks of age!

We quickly corrected the vaccination timing to 3 weeks of age. I believe the confusing necropsy signs were due to “partial but incomplete” vaccination protection. The remaining 85% of pigs in the producer's barns are performing superiorly.

Case Study No. 2

A producer called to report his circovirus vaccine was not working. He said pigs were melting into nothing, suffering from diarrhea and dying left and right on the finishing floor.

Over the phone, I reviewed the proper vaccine mixing and timing recommendations with the producer. Everything sounded in order.

A farm visit was scheduled and I shuddered to think this was a case of “vaccine failure.” Clinical signs on the finisher floor were just as the producer described: diarrhea with gaunt, emaciated pigs. Necropsies were consistent with signs of porcine proliferative enteritis or ileitis.

No tissues were submitted for diagnostic workup. Treatment through feed and water were implemented for ileitis, with good results, and vaccination for future placements was put in place. The producer and I were relieved circovirus wasn't the culprit.

Case Study No. 3

A new producer client, who called to say he'd read about circovirus in a magazine, had high death loss within the first two weeks postweaning and some sow breeding problems. He wanted to purchase circovirus vaccine at a time when the commercial vaccine was in very limited supply.

I learned from questioning him that no diagnostics had been performed. I explained it was unlikely circovirus was killing pigs so quickly in the nursery, and that I hadn't documented circovirus problems in any reproductive cases.

The producer agreed to bring some pigs in for necropsy. Post-mortem lesions with followup cultures were positive for Hemolytic E.coli. Water acidification and antibiotics successfully reduced the producer's postweaning death loss, and no vaccine was “wasted” on pigs that didn't need it.


Circovirus continues to “steal the show” from PRRS, but like its pesky counterpart, it is now getting blamed for “crimes” it didn't commit. We all know circovirus is a tremendously devastating disease. But before assuming it is always the issue, perform thorough diagnostics. If circovirus is implicated, work with your veterinarian for effective control strategies.