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Avoiding a Crash Landing

A few near-term adjustments could help ready your hog operation for long-term survival.

My route to the office each day takes me across the low, swampy backwaters of the Minnesota River. I cross a mile-long bridge that dissects this marshland, teaming with birds and wildlife.

One day last week, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large hawk descending toward the six-lane bridge, headed for the marshy tract on the other side. As the large bird glided past me, he quickly pulled up from his dive when he realized he was about to crash headlong into a semi-trailer running in the adjoining lane.

He didn't make it!

It was one of those blink-of-an-eye moments that leave you wondering — what was he thinking? Did he even see the big truck, or was he so focused on his morning meal that he was oblivious to his surroundings?

As I pondered the poor bird's demise, I began thinking about how easy it is to become so preoccupied with what the future holds that we sometimes miss the daily opportunities that will carry us to those distant days.

Staying Competitive

Undoubtedly, it's good to have a long-range, strategic plan, but it should not come at the expense of making the near-term adjustments needed to secure our viability.

Here are a few short-term adjustments that might help you hit your long-term targets:

  • Check every feeder

    Adjusting feeders is an easy chore to neglect, but when feed costs double, it's an activity that costs virtually nothing and the payback can be considerable. An excellent guide to feeder adjustment can be found at Kansas State University's Web site,

  • Check all diets

    The KSU site also offers several “calculators” to check the economics of adding fat, using DDGS, grinding feed to proper particle size and pricing amino acids.

  • Feed budgeting and phase feeding

    It's not unusual for producers to feed expensive first and second nursery diets too long. Discipline yourself to move to the next phase diet when appropriate.

  • Work with your crop-farming neighbors

    AgStar's Mark Greenwood tells pork producer clients to ask for first right of refusal to buy their corn. Valuable manure can help reduce fertilizer costs, so strike a deal that's mutually beneficial.

  • Cull hard

    After you've culled the open, lame and poor-performing sows, cull another 5% from the bottom tier of your sow herd.

  • Sell lighter

    Reducing market weights by just 5 lb. reduces the total pork supply by about 2%. Feed conversion begins slipping as pigs near heavier market weights. Talk to your packer. Ask him to buy into the weight reduction program for the betterment of the industry.

Common Sense COOL Rules

In January, I attended the Banff Pork Seminar in Alberta, Canada. The mood was dismal. High feed prices, low market hog and cull sow prices, a labor shortage, fear of the fallout from country-of-origin labeling (COOL), and the Canadian dollar's value at par with U.S. currency were weighing heavily on the minds of our neighbors to the north.

With roughly nine million Canadian pigs destined for U.S. packers each year, it's no wonder COOL gives Canadian pork producers the jitters.

Pigs from Canadian sows bred in January will have to abide by the COOL rules, assuming they go into effect as planned on Sept. 30.

U.S. packers have not been very forthcoming about their willingness to accept and process Canadian-born pigs, partially because the COOL rules are still being drafted. Logic tells us that U.S. packers will buy those hogs. Collectively, they have the capacity to handle them, and they're certainly unlikely to leave 8-10% of their kill capacity unfulfilled.

Good sense, if there were any left in Washington, would dictate that the COOL rule-writers include a phase-in period, giving producers, packers and retailers an opportunity to make adjustments.

When COOL rules were enacted for seafood, they were allowed a six-month phase-in period. Seafood suppliers are required to document where the fish were caught — not where they were spawned. Shouldn't pigs be treated similarly? Regardless of where the pigs were born, if they were fed U.S. grains, raised and slaughtered in the United States, isn't that essentially the same thing?

Food for Thought

A quote attributed to Johann Paul Freidrich Richter, a humorist writer in the 16th century, seems appropriate here: “Sleep, riches and health, to be truly enjoyed, must be interrupted.”

The same could be said of high hog prices. Profitability will return. Tighten your belts, your feeders and your culling standards and you'll have made the adjustments that will prevent the type of crash landing that befell that poor bird attempting to cross rush hour traffic last week. Hang in there.

Pork Experiences Growth In National Meat Case Study

New results from the 2007 National Meat Case Study will provide the National Pork Board with insights on trends and strategies in meat case merchandising to better meet the needs of consumers. The data from the 2007 study will be compared to results from studies conducted in 2002 and 2004.

“The 2007 results confirm that consumers continue to look for convenience and ease in meal preparation,” says Jarrod Sutton, director of retail marketing for the National Pork Board. “From increases in on-pack communications and full-service meat cases, to significant shifts toward case-ready packaging, retailers must simplify the shopping experience for consumers.”

The National Meat Case Study provides a benchmark for previous studies, but analysts stress the economic climate in 2007 must be taken into consideration. During last year's audit, the economy was strong, the consumer price index was up and corn prices were on the upswing. As a result, retail meat prices rose in response to higher meat production costs and increased meat demand.

The 2007 study surveyed 121 retail supermarkets and 10 club stores in 48 major markets in 34 states. Sealed Air's Cryovac Food Packaging, the Beef Checkoff and the National Pork Board again sponsored the study.

Growth in value-added packages was driven by fresh pork, which was up 11%, now accounting for 23% of fresh pork packages. Value-added turkey products grew to 19%, up from 5%, while value-added beef sales rose to 7%, compared to 3%, previously.

Packages of natural and organic meats also gained market share in 2007. Packages with a “natural” claim increased to 29% of the total packages, up 7% over 2004. Chicken at 67% had the highest amount of packages with the natural claim, followed by ground beef at 25% and fresh pork at 15%.

Case-ready packaging also continued its trend upward. In 2002, less than 50% of the packages were case ready. In 2007, that figure rose to 64%, led by increases in lamb/veal and pork.

“The National Meat Case Study provides valuable information that's used widely,” says Sutton. “We will share this information with retailers as they review their current merchandising strategies.”

Producer Cooperative Plans To Buy North Dakota Plant

The Cloverdale Growers' Alliance Cooperative, a group of approximately 60 hog farmers in North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, plans to purchase a majority interest in Cloverdale Foods' Minot, ND, plant.

Cloverdale will remain a minority partner and continue managing the plant, which produces deli meats and other products. The 50 full-time employees will keep their jobs.

The grower cooperative currently supplies about 60,000 hogs a year to the Minot plant, and hopes to gain enough members to expand the capacity to 150,000 hogs annually.

The new owners hope the purchase will guarantee producers a market for their hogs, provide better returns, and create a more reliable hog supply and reduce procurement costs for Cloverdale.

Cloverdale Foods Company is based in Mandan, ND. Learn more by logging onto the company's Web site at

TQA: What's In a Name?

The pork industry extends its hog-handling focus from truckers to a broader Transport Quality Assurance program.

To minimize pork quality losses during transportation and handling, the pork industry has launched (Feb. 1) the Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) program, which replaces the Trucker Quality Assurance program.

The new endeavor focuses on truckers (as transporters), but also includes producers and other handlers of pigs and the potential impact their actions have on animal welfare and/or pork quality.

Estimates show that bruises can cost the U.S. pork industry millions of dollars per year, while overall pork quality defects total several hundred million dollars annually.

“The acronym may be the same — TQA — but the program has been changed, revised and expanded to encompass more of the pork industry that handles pigs,” reports Erik Risa, education program manager, National Pork Board.

This launch represents the third version of TQA; the original program was introduced in 2002. Recertification by participants and revision of the program is still scheduled to take place every three years, explains Risa. Producers don't have to recertify for the new program until their three-year certification period expires, he emphasizes.

New TQA Takes Big Step

Risa admits this program launch is a big step, but was a necessary one to remove the stereotype that hog handling is just about the trucker.

“You begin to assume that the program is only for someone who is going to jump behind the wheel of the truck and drive, when more importantly, we hope to implement TQA to a much wider target audience, to the folks who are loading crews, pork producers, receiving crews at the packing plant and other places,” he explains.

“TQA is really an elaborate animal handling program that goes all the way back to all of the preparation that needs to be made prior to loading the hogs, such as walking the pens, that we are hopeful will be considered,” says Risa.

The earlier program versions placed the focus on market hog transportation, when hog handling is so much broader than that, he stresses.

“We are trying to provide more information as it relates to weaner and feeder pigs as well as breeding stock that are being moved, whether that is replacement gilts coming in or market sows or boars that are going out,” Risa elaborates. The goal is to “open the door a bit wider and provide more information on animal handling in different phases within the production chain,” he notes.

Most packers have had auditing programs covering hog handling practices at the plant for some time, explains Risa, so the new TQA program will focus on areas that have been bypassed.

“When we talk about receiving crews, we typically talk about them at the packing plant level because that is where a lot of the transportation focus goes, but there are also receiving crews that are taking in feeder pigs or nursery pigs, and we are hoping to provide more information in those areas.”

With a large percentage of young pigs originating in Canada and North Carolina, but finished in the Midwest, the need to refine hog handling skills is high.

“Knowing how to move each of these groups from the piglets that weigh only a few pounds, to the 260-lb. market hog, and up to a boar or sow that may weigh well over 400 lb., is important because each time a pig is handled, there is an opportunity to impact pig well-being and pork quality,” Risa says, quoting the new TQA handbook.

Other Program Changes

More complete information about the importance of proper biosecurity practices is stressed in this version of the TQA program.

Because diseases can be introduced into herds through the loading and transportation processes, “it is imperative that handlers both in production facilities and those who are driving trucks take the necessary steps and follow biosecurity protocols to minimize the spread of disease agents and ensure the health of animals they interact with,” the TQA handbook states.

Emergency response is another area of focus in the new handbook. It spells out six areas of responsibility that the transporter must meet in the event of an emergency:

  • Being aware of and preparing to handle emergencies;

  • Ensuring the transporter's personal safety and an awareness of public safety;

  • Responding to situations professionally;

  • Ensuring the well-being and humane treatment of the animals;

  • Providing the protection of company property (animals and equipment); and

  • Projecting a positive perception of the company and the industry.

Prevention planning such as checking the travel route, weather and performing routine maintenance and tractor-trailer inspections can help avoid transportation problems and delays. However, be prepared if delays or accidents occur.

“We know that each situation is going to be different, but it might be worthwhile to develop a checklist that each person in a situation has to consider,” Risa suggests.

The handbook also deals with laws and regulations, pointing out that the “28-hour law” in effect says that hogs cannot be transported for more than 28 hours at any one time.

The “fitness of the pig” section describes three types of pigs that raise concerns when loading hogs for transport — sick, injured and fatigued. Producers should be cognizant that these are three distinct conditions that require different treatments.

Fatigued hogs, perhaps most of all, are animals that may be unable to walk, but with proper rest, often will recover enough to be loaded onto a truck and shipped.

When hogs don't recover or are non-ambulatory, an approved method of euthanasia should be carried out on the farm, says Risa.

Worker Safety Added

“The final piece we have added to this handbook is the issue of worker safety as it relates to animal handling,” Risa says. “We are finding that most injuries that occur on the farm are happening in interactions with animals in handling. We want to make sure that handlers are using all of the right materials, but also the right personal protective equipment for handling.

“For instance, proper use of the sorting board is a more effective animal handling tool. It also helps prevent work-related injuries, as it serves as a barrier between the animal and the handler, which is a theme that is emphasized throughout the new TQA program,” Risa says.

The electric prod is listed as the “tool of last resort,” according to the handbook. A sorting board/panel, plastic rattle, nylon flag, matador's cape and plastic ribbons on a stick are all approved handling tools.


Throughout the TQA program, participants are encouraged to document events: “Write everything down and keep some records of what happens,” Risa says.

Information may become useful, for instance, within the bill of lading as this form can be signed by both the producer and the truck driver. If a compromising situation occurs where one party wants to load a hog and the other does not, documentation provides evidence that the pig in question was loaded into a particular compartment, should it be challenged, Risa explains.

“We live in a world where if you didn't write it down, it didn't happen. We are trying to promote a record-keeping system that can help work through some of those compromising situations,” he observes.

Two-Tiered Training

TQA training is two-tiered. The old TQA program included about 400 instructors, and a similar total is expected for the new TQA effort. Advisor training is underway. The training schedule can be found on the Pork Board's Web site,

The Pork Board is offering a one-time, free online training session for previously certified advisors to become certified in the new program. New advisors who cannot take advantage of this offer can still attend an all-day, face-to-face training session that costs $150, Risa points out.

Advisors must become recertified after Feb. 1, and then can only provide training using the new TQA program materials.

Pork producers and other hog handlers sign up with an advisor for training and must achieve a 90% passing grade in order to become a certified TQA handler. The previous TQA program had between 11,000 and 15,000 certified truckers, and Risa expects that number will rise significantly as more handlers in the pork chain become certified.

“At the end of the day, the spirit of TQA is that through animal care, we have improved pork quality for our customers, and this program is one way we can do that through proper animal handling and transportation,” Risa concludes. “We are able to build on the trust of our consumers and customers by demonstrating the value of certification and the proactive stance the pork industry is taking with this new program.”

Annual Report Outlines Progress in Feral Pig Control Program

In 2007, Kansas completed its first year of a state-federal cooperative program for control/eradication of feral pigs in the state.

The Kansas Animal Health Department collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services to determine the location of feral pig populations and their numbers.

Feral pigs were found to exist in roughly 18 counties in about eight separate groups. Total population was estimated at 1,500-2,000 animals.

So far about 150 private landowners are cooperating in the project, representing 316,000 acres. Some 244,000 acres of public land is also involved.

Blood and tissue samples were taken throughout the year to test specifically for swine brucellosis and pseudorabies (PRV). Neither disease was detected in feral pigs in Kansas. However, feral pigs in Oklahoma were infected, and PRV was recently discovered in feral pigs in Nebraska.

In addition to a disease threat, Kansas landowners reported more than $200,000 of property damage caused by feral pigs in 2007. Most damage was due to crop damage. Feral pigs were reported to have rooted and destroyed corn, milo or sorghum, soybeans, alfalfa, brome pastures, native grass pastures, riparian areas, various hay crops, wheat, wildlife feeders and individual lawns.

Two main feral pig population control efforts attempted in Kansas included trapping and aerial hunting with a helicopter. In aerial hunting during two weeks in February-March 2007, 257 feral pigs were killed. During the rest of the year, trapping efforts removed 166 feral pigs for a total of 423 feral pigs taken. This represents roughly a fourth of the state’s feral pig numbers.

Ground hunting, on the other hand, is largely ineffective because when they are shot at, feral pigs tend to scatter and become nocturnal.

Purdue’s Earl Butz Dies At Age 98

Earl Butz, former secretary of agriculture and dean of Purdue University’s College of Agriculture,died in his sleep Feb. 7 in Washington, DC. He was 98 years old.

“Butz served Purdue well as a respected faculty member, department head and dean,” says Randy Woodson, Glenn W. Sample dean of Agriculture at Purdue. “He was a tireless advocate for agriculture and his efforts helped bring Purdue agriculture into international prominence.”

Butz earned a bachelors of science degree in agriculture from Purdue in 1932. In 1937, he earned the first doctoral degree in agricultural economics given at Purdue.

Butz joined the staff of the Purdue Department of Agricultural Economics in 1937. He served as department head from 1946 to 1954. Butz was named dean of Purdue Agriculture in 1957, serving until 1967.

Butz served under several presidents. He was assistant secretary of agriculture from 1954 to 1957 under President Dwight Eisenhower. He was secretary of agriculture from 1971 to 1976 under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Later he traveled the world as a lecturer and consultant.

In 1999, Butz donated $1 million to Purdue’s Department of Agricultural Economics.

Butz was a native of Albion, IN. He married Mary Emma Powell from North Carolina in 1937. She died in 1995.

New Illness Cases Reported In Three Packing Plants

A new human illness has been identified in pork packing plants, reportedly linked to employees who work in areas where pig heads are processed.

The disease, progressive inflammatory neuropathy (PIN), struck workers at two plants in Indiana and one in Minnesota, where a compressed-air device was used to extract pig brains.

The Centers for Disease Control is investigating that action, which is believed to have led to inhalation of aerosolized fragments of pig brains. During inhalation, a protein or other substance from the animal brains is suspected to trigger the workers’ immune systems into mistakenly attacking their own nerve tissue. Symptoms of PIN include numbness, tingling, difficulty walking and working. Some workers recover quickly, while others continue to have health issues.

The slaughterhouses in the two states were known to remove the brains of the swine, freeze and pack them for shipment to Korea and China as food.

A survey of slaughter plants in the United States found that only those plants identified in the two states, and a plant in Nebraska, were using compressed air to extract pig brains. As a result of the investigation, all plants have stopped this practice.

Discovery of the new illness at Quality Pork Processors (QPP) in Austin, MN, which slaughters pigs on one side of the building that it shares with Hormel Foods, which processes the pork, sparked the investigation. Minnesota state health officials have now broadened the probe at the QPP section of the plant to thousands of former meat packer workers going back a decade when the air-compression system was first installed.

New Database Offers Environmental Answers

Answers to questions about water quality and livestock waste nutrient management just got easier with access to environment-related research online from the National Pork Board.

“Aimed at producers, researchers and others interested in pork production-related environmental research, this new database contains research papers and articles published from 1960,” comments Allan Stokes, director of environmental programs for the National Pork Board. The database will be updated as new research becomes available.

The database was developed by Iowa State University and funded by the pork checkoff. It can be accessed at

Information can be searched in several different ways including by:
-- Category (surface water quality, groundwater quality, water use and conservation, air emissions and odor, land quality or crop impact or a combination of these);
-- Key word(s) in the title, summary, abstract or objectives;
-- Author(s), research institution(s) or funding source(s); and
-- Year of publication.

Simple and advanced search options allow you to broaden or narrow a search according to specific needs.

The full project title, research institution, funding source, project cost, suggested citation, contact information for the principal investigator, summary of the paper and authors’ abstracts are presented for articles selected for review.

“This interactive tool is easy to use,” says Stokes, who explains that researchers can use the database to review the scientific literature that is already available. “Producers can use the database to find more information on topics of interest.”

Iowa Regional Seminars Scheduled for February

The Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA), Iowa Pork Industry Center (IPIC) and Iowa State University Extension are teaming up to present the Iowa Pork Regional Conferences.

The 2008 conferences are being held at five different towns to make the programs more accessible to a variety of participants. Each meeting runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Conference speakers include:
Locke Karriker, DVM, swine section leader in Food Supply Veterinary Services at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, will present “Case Studies of Disease Intervention.” Using actual case studies, Karriker will explain why porcine circovirus-associated disease, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and other swine diseases occur, how co-infections can complicate disease management, and what steps can be taken to help alleviate economic and production effects.

Mark Bertram, First Choice Livestock, an independent swine consulting business based in Polk City, IA, will coordinate discussion on the availability, successes and challenges of feeding distiller’s dried grains with solubles, glycerol and other biofuels and related products in a session titled, “Feeding Pigs in a Biofuels World.”

Various ISU Extension swine field specialists will provide information on “Mortality Management and Troubleshooting Composting.”

Conference dates and locations are:
Feb. 18 – Marr Park, 2943 Hwy. 92, Ainsworth;
Feb. 19 – Oelwein Community Plaza, Oelwein;
Feb. 25 – Corporate Centre, 950 N. Main Ave., Sioux Center;
Feb. 26 – Carroll County Extension Office, Carroll; and
Feb. 27 – Dows Community Center, 119 E. Ellsworth, Dows.

Advance registration is $20 and includes meals and materials. Call (800) 808-7675 to register.

For more information, contact IPPA’s Ron Birkenholz at (800) 372-7675 or [email protected], or IPIC’s Colin Johnson at (800) 808-7675 or [email protected].