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Articles from 2002 In March

Illinois Co-op Prepares to Build

Final engineering plans are underway to build a $25 million, 90,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art pork processing plant for American Premium Foods Inc. in Rantoul, IL. The Illinois cooperative is comprised of 160 family farms.

About three months of engineering work remains, meaning groundbreaking could occur in May, says Jim Burke, cooperative general manager. The plant is scheduled to open in June 2003 and be in full production by October of that year.

So far, cooperative members have raised almost $9.5 million in equity for the project, says Burke. The remaining 18% of the shares are available to any independent pork producer who can meet the cooperative's quality standards. “Shares are being sold for $900 each, which entitles a producer to deliver 50 hogs per [share per] year to the plant,” he adds.

The plant will focus primarily on the production of high quality, specialty food items such as fresh sausage and case-ready, branded pork for grocery stores and restaurants.

The plant will open with a single shift of 210 employees slaughtering and processing 3,000 hogs/day.

Beware the Activists

The gap between pork producers and their city cousins grows ever wider. Three recent events reinforce this great divide.

You need only look to the unsettling campaign in Florida calling for a ban on the use of sow gestation stalls. Early this year, Florida's Supreme Court approved the wording of a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban gestation stalls or sow tethers. The anti-stall advocates need nearly 500,000 valid signatures by June in order to place the amendment on the November ballot.

Why target Florida? It's a small pork-producing state with easy prerequisites for placing amendments on the ballot. Beware if organizers are successful, because the results could be far-reaching and precedent-setting.

Waterkeeper Wranglers

Then there's the Waterkeeper Alliance (WKA) mission to close down confinement pork production in this country. WKA President Robert Kennedy Jr. has plainly stated: “We're starting with hogs. After we get done with hogs, then we're going to go after the others.” He also stated: “We have attorneys now who have money and they know what they're doing. They are the best in the country and we are going to put an end to this industry.” And, in the L.A. Times, he's quoted: “We will march across this country and we will bring these kinds of lawsuits against every single pork factory in America if we have to … whatever it takes to win.”

I've heard Kennedy speak. It's apparent that he not only doesn't understand modern agriculture, he's not the least bit interested in gathering the facts.

Riverkeeper founder Robert Boyle, in a Washington Post article (June 22, 2000), describes Kennedy as “very reckless,” then adds: “He's assumed an arrogance above his intellectual stature.” Bingo!

Kennedy runs fast and loose with what he calls facts and what most folks would call conjecture. Kennedy and his cohorts have a cause, driven by the possibility of huge monetary and political gains. They hang their aspirations on the sensitive public issue of clean water. Like motherhood and apple pie, who would argue with that?

To my knowledge, no one in pork production disagrees. But Kennedy and associates put themselves above the plethora of state and national environmental rules and regulations by which pork producers must abide.

Violate the laws and you will be fined. Violate them chronically, and you could land in jail. Kennedy should become more familiar with the requirements tacked on to pork production before he lambastes it with misinformation.

Occasionally, I get a call or e-mail from a Waterkeeper disciple. I always make it a point to challenge them to ask their lawyer-leaders this question: “Should you win a big settlement, what is your plan for sharing the cache with family farmers?” Usually, the suggestion is met with silence.

The fingerprints of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are all over these initiatives.

If you're interested in learning more about how intertwined the anti-farming, animal rights organizations are, check out the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) web site: The list of activist groups, foundations, celebrities, key players and funding sources is mind-boggling. The CCF gathered financial information from Internal Revenue Service documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

CCF has an agenda, too. They represent a coalition of restaurant and tavern operators organized to counter “the most notorious and extreme groups that conspire to restrict the public's food and beverage choices through intimidation, taxation and misinformation.” I have no problem with that.

Applebee's Fallacy

I had to wonder, though, if the Applebee's International restaurant chain, which boasts over 1,300 restaurants in 49 states and eight foreign countries, is a member of CCF. Unfortunately, CCF has a non-disclosure policy forbidding the disclosure of their membership roster. Still, I think it ironic that a December 19, 2001 letter from Applebee's International runs so diabolically opposite the CCF's stand.

The letter was a strong-arming tactic directed at their “vendor partners” (meat and egg suppliers) demanding that they adhere to a list of animal welfare standards. The list readily smacks of terminology and demands commonly used by animal rights groups. And, like animal rightists, Applebees' demands are not supported by sound science or a study of their viability.

This triad of pork industry challenges is real. Failure to address them will surely cast us into new ill-founded rules and regulations. Our pork-producing counterparts in the European Union can tell you stories about what similar movements have done to their industry.

New Insemination Tool Still Unproven

With pork production margins being squeezed, new technology must be economically feasible — and intrauterine insemination has yet to pass that test.

That's the view of reproductive specialist Don Levis, new director of Ohio State University's Pork Industry Center. The intrauterine approach has not proven to be cost-effective when using 2 or 3 billion sperm, nor has it achieved positive results as a low-dose option with 1 billion sperm per artificial insemination (AI).

Three Research Projects

Three recent research projects compared traditional cervical insemination with intrauterine insemination.

Intrauterine insemination is the process of placing sperm directly into the uterine body instead of the cervix, explains Levis (See Figure 1). Fiberoptic deposition is another method being investigated. Contractions carry sperm through the uterine horns to the oviduct where fertilization takes place.

In a research project in the United Kingdom (U.K.), a new intrauterine catheter was compared to a standard, intra-cervical catheter. The trial compared insemination with an 80 ml. dose containing either 1, 2 or 3 billion sperm. There were five farms on which 3,240 sows were artificially inseminated, representing Camborough and standard PIC grandparents.

Levis says the U.K. study shows no big differences in farrowing rate or litter size between the two types of catheters when sows were inseminated with 2 or 3 billion sperm per dose. When sows were inseminated with 1 billion sperm per dose, the standard catheter recorded a lower farrowing rate (65.8%) and litter size born alive (9.0 piglets). The intrauterine catheter achieved an 86.9% farrowing rate and 10.9 piglets born alive.

Overall, results achieved in the U.K. with both catheters were similar, says Levis. But he says the fecundity index (FI) of sows inseminated with the intrauterine catheter (1 billion sperm cells) shows there were 46 to 53 less piglets per 100 sows bred than sows inseminated with the cervical catheter and 2 or 3 billion sperm. The FI is calculated by multiplying the farrowing rate by the litter size born alive.

The reproductive efficiency of three commercial herds in Argentina was also studied, involving 254 sows from different synthetic and PIC breeding lines, says Levis. Half the females in each herd were inseminated traditionally with 100-ml. doses (3 billion sperm). The other half of the sows in each herd were divided into two groups of intrauterine inseminates. Sixty-two of those sows received 50-ml. doses (1.5 billion sperm) and 65 sows received 30-ml. doses (1 billion sperm).

In this study, the farrowing rate was higher for sows in Herd B that were intrauterine-inseminated with the 50-ml. dose (1.5 billion sperm) than for sows receiving 30 ml. (1 billion) intrauterine dosages or 100 ml. (3 billion) cervical dosages.

For Herds A and C, sows cervically inseminated with 100 ml. of semen posted a higher farrowing rate than sows bred by intrauterine insemination, says Levis.

“Sows cervically inseminated with 100-ml. doses of semen had the highest values for total piglets born (except for sows in the first herd inseminated with the 50-ml. intrauterine dose) and the number of piglets born alive,” he observes. Fertility, farrowing rates and piglets born alive were similar for the three herds.

The results for those three Argentinean herds (Table 1) reveal that a single reproductive trait can't be used to demonstrate the value of a product or procedure on total reproductive performance, stresses Levis.

A better picture of catheter performance is provided through a fecundity index of the three Argentinean herds. The index shows that sows in Herd A, cervically inseminated with the 100-ml. (3 billion sperm) dose, had 98 more pigs than sows intrauterine-inseminated with the 50 ml. dose, and 38 more pigs than sows intrauterine-inseminated with the 30 ml. dose.

In Herd C, sows cervically inseminated with 100 ml. of semen had 106 more pigs than the 50-ml. intrauterine group, and 201 additional pigs compared to the 30-ml. group of intrauterine inseminates.

In a Midwestern project, there was no difference in fecundity index for sows inseminated with a cervical catheter (80 ml., 3 billion sperm cells) or intrauterine catheter (80 ml., 1.5 billion sperm cells). Regardless of the method used for insemination, farrowing rate was low for sows cycling seven to eight days after weaning and for repeat breeders.

Table 1. Reproductive performance for fertility rate at Day 30 (%), farrowing rate (%), total piglets born and piglets born alive, with traditional A.I. (100 ml in the cervix) and the intrauterine technique (50 or 30 ml) in three different swine herds (Argentina data).
Fertility rate (Day 30) Farrowing rate
Treatment Herd A Herd B Herd C Herd A Herd B Herd C
30 ml dose (1.0 billion) 87.50 70.83 94.12 87.50 62.50 94.12
50 ml dose (1.5 billion) 83.30 66.67 92.85 75.00 66.67 92.85
100 ml dose (3.0 billion) 81.25 82.42 96.77 79.20 64.58 96.77
Overall Mean 83.30 77.08 95.16 80.20 64.58 95.16
Total piglets born Piglets born alive
Treatment Herd A Herd B Herd C Herd A Herd B Herd C
30 ml dose (1.0 billion) 10.05 10.85 11.56 9.58 8.92 10.44
50 ml dose (1.5 billion) 12.77 10.65 12.69 10.76 9.91 11.61
100 ml dose (3.0 billion) 12.45 11.28 13.33 11.42 10.03 12.23

Moreover, Levis points out that an economic analysis of intrauterine vs. cervical insemination must account for many variables. He concludes that intrauterine insemination technology generally reduces the production cost of a dose of semen as costs are either reduced or spread across more doses.

But when genetic costs are added back into the cost of pregnancy, intrauterine technology does not appear to be cost-effective. “It forces a reallocation, not an elimination, of genetic costs,” he states.

An economic model, created in Microsoft Excel, is available by contacting the Ohio Pork Industry Center (e-mail:; phone: (614) 292-1351; fax: (614) 292-3513).

Also to be considered with intrauterine insemination is the increased cost of employee training, as well as a lower biosecurity risk with fewer boar studs required.

Resolving Vitamin E Deficiencies

Veterinarians are often faced with the challenge of diagnosing a problem with many secondary clinical signs overriding the primary cause. Such is the case with vitamin E deficiency.

Vitamin E has long been recognized as an essential nutrient in hog production. Marginal deficiencies may not produce such notable signs as mulberry heart disease, hepatosis dietetica (liver problems) and nutritional muscular dystrophy, but may produce secondary problems: lower farrowing rate, lactation failure, slow farrowing resulting in stillbirths, stiffness in pigs and sows, sudden death and spraddle-legged newborns.

Other potential problems may include sudden death in baby pigs, secondary gut edema in nursery pigs and lung congestion with secondary pneumonia that may prove non-responsive to antibiotics. Baby pigs may suffer from diarrhea. Performance may be poor or uneven in grow-finish phases.

Case Study No. 1

I was called to a 500-head finishing barn that had a chronic pneumonia problem. The two-story structure with solid concrete flooring was divided into two rooms, each with five pens.

Feeders and waterers were located in each pen. Straw was used for bedding. The pigs were purchased from multiple sources and grouped together. Management was excellent.

The producer reported some pneumonia problems in previous groups, but this particular group's problems were by far the worst. There was a 4% death loss. Pigs were lethargic, coughing, off feed and many had fevers. Several pigs walked very slowly and with a stiff gait.

Various antibiotics had been tried in the water and feed with little success.

Several dead pigs were necropsied. The results revealed severe pneumonia and increased fluid around the heart and lungs. The heart and other muscle groups appeared pale.

Tests confirmed a vitamin E deficiency based on very low tissue levels and the presence of Zenker's Necrosis (degeneration of muscle cells). A culture test revealed several common respiratory organisms, but all were secondary invaders.

The pigs responded well to the vitamin treatment and finished out with few problems. Subsequent groups of pigs were injected with vitamin E on arrival. They were also placed on antibiotics in the feed for the first three weeks, then placed on a growth promotant only. Death loss has dropped to 2% in this finisher.

Case Study No. 2

A 500-sow, farrow-to-feeder operation was experiencing a severe baby pig diarrhea at 1-2 days old.

Gestating sows were housed in stalls. Farrowing crates were on raised woven wire flooring. Baby pigs were on mats under heat lamps. Environment, ventilation and nutrition were all well-managed.

Sows farrowed normally in most cases, but occasionally would farrow slowly and have weak pigs. Oxytocin injections helped some, but all too often sows would not respond to treatment.

Baby pigs seemed to be obtaining adequate colostrum within the first couple of hours. Sows seemed to have adequate milk initially. However, some sows were drying up for no apparent reason, even on litters that survived the diarrhea.

The sows received a multi-valent vaccine prefarrowing containing Escherichia coli (E. coli), Clostridium perfringens types A and C and atrophic rhinitis organisms. Treatment did not have much impact on baby pig diarrhea. Preweaning death loss was approaching 15%.

Submitted for diagnostic workup were 2-day-old, untreated baby pigs suffering from diarrhea. Piglets tested negative for Transmissible gastroenteritis and rotavirus. A non-pathogenic strain of E. coli was typed.

Resubmitted pigs revealed Zenker's Necrosis in most of the muscle groups. An interesting finding was the baby pigs' tongues had suffered sufficient damage to inhibit them from nursing properly.

It was determined that the diarrhea was in direct response to the vitamin E deficiency and also produced the secondary E. coli.

Sows were given an injection of vitamin E two weeks prefarrowing. Baby pigs were injected with vitamin E at weaning.

The diarrhea problem ceased in later farrowings and the preweaning mortality rate dropped dramatically.


Vitamin E is very unstable in feedstuffs. It is easily destroyed or tied up by oxidation, mold, mycotoxins, iron, sulfates and nitrates.

Increasing levels in the feed may not prevent its destruction before being absorbed from the intestinal tract. Therefore, vitamin E injections may be required.

Improved swine nutrition, which has been dramatic in the past few years, will continue to evolve to meet the needs for high health and leaner genetics which the consumer demands.

Profits Slow Decline In Hog Farm Numbers

For the 21st consecutive year, the number of U.S. farms raising hogs declined in 2001, but profitability has slowed the dropoff, according to Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economist.

U.S. Department of Agriculture reports there were 81,130 hog operations last year. That is down 5,230 farms (6.1%) from the year before — and 585,420 (87.8%) fewer farms than in 1980, the last year the number of hog operations rose. Plain says the 6.1% decline was the smallest drop since 1992. Typically, the decline in hog farms has been 10% a year over the last 20 years.

Plain says profitability of the industry the past two years, which has slowed the falloff in operations, will likely continue through 2002. He says to look for the December USDA's hogs and pigs survey to report around 78,000 operations.

Breeding Tool Use Is Clarified

The product P.G. 600 works to induce/synchronize heat in breeding females, particularly for sows experiencing delayed return to estrus after weaning.

It is also used to induce heat in replacement gilts entering the breeding herd. Concern today is the indiscriminate use of P.G. 600 in gilts with no known reproductive history, says Charlie Francisco, technical services veterinarian, Intervet Inc. P.G. 600 is marketed as an estrus control product.

Product Misuse

“Some producers are going in blindly and using P.G. 600, and if they don't get the response [they expect], they either put the blame on the product or they put the blame on the animal,” he explains.

If the gilt happens to be cycling, P.G. 600 won't help that estrus response and it may extend the anestrus period that follows. Instead of a 21-day return-to-estrus period, anestrus may extend out to 35 or 36 days. If the gilt had gone untreated, she probably would have been normal reproductively.

Profile Herds

The label claim for prepuberal gilts is for induction of fertile estrus. That means they have never had a heat cycle.

Producers need to profile their herds to understand when gilts are naturally coming into puberty, he says. Serum progesterone kits may be one way to detect the hormone activity that indicates cycling.

Gary Althouse, DVM, associate professor of reproduction at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the effectiveness of two serum progesterone assays. He found that both the Progestassay (Synbiotics Corp., San Diego, CA), and Target (BioMetallics, Princeton, NJ) assays were highly specific and sensitive for pig serum.

Observes Althouse: “A veterinarian can collect serum and run these tests at the farm or clinic. Both kits are simple to run and take only 15-25 min. to perform. The ability to run these tests sow-side should make them a practical aid when investigating herd reproductive problems and management programs.” Cost should be less than $15/test.

In skilled hands, real-time ultrasound may also be used to confirm that the gilt pool is truly non-cycling, says Francisco.

Another misuse of P.G. 600 in gilts is in “old maids” that have been in the gilt pool for an extended period of time, says Francisco. Heat cycle history may be largely unknown.

“Producers want to give them one last chance with P.G. 600, when frankly that class of gilts is probably not a good candidate for P.G. 600 or the breeding herd,” says Francisco.

He says the best use for P.G. 600 appears to be in gilts known to be prepuberal, along with good boar exposure methods. Administer P.G. 600 to a select group of gilts, not the leftovers. Also, consider high-risk, first- and second-parity sows, particularly during summer and seasonal anestrus periods. This helps reduce the cost of non-productive days for the breeding herd.

Financial Software Certification Offered

Pork producers will have the ability to use benchmarking for financial data through a new financial software certification process in the checkoff-funded National Pork Database.

“The certification is the first step to pork producers being able to add their financial information to a database similar to the one now available for production data,” explains Yorkville, IL, producer John Kellogg.

Kellogg was a member of the pilot program and recalls entering production information into the database manually. Now his production records are uploaded to the database electronically each month.

Once entered electronically, the data are separated from the producer to maintain confidentiality.

Courses are being offered to introduce producers to the software and teach them to enter data, download the information and analyze it.

Once data from an operation has been entered into the database, producers can search the pork database via the Internet at any time to compare their costs with other operations.

More information is available from the National Pork Board at (515) 223-2600 or by checking their Web site at

Amendment Defeat Earns Praise

National Pork Producers Council President Barb Determan praised the Senate's defeat of an amendment that would have excluded thousands of pork producers from receiving cost-share funds under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

The Senate farm bill now contains similar language to that passed by the House in October. It replaces participation based on size with a payment cap of $150,000 per contract, consistent with the limits for crop farmers.

“The Wellstone amendment (Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN)) was designed to prevent pork producers from participating in the EQIP program by establishing a series of deliberate roadblocks,” explains Determan. “Modern, family-owned pork operations come in all sizes and shapes, and to limit participation in EQIP based on when or where an operation was built would be just as arbitrary as the standard existing in current law.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates capital costs alone would reach $332,000 for a 3,444-head, farrow-to-finish operation to comply with proposed EPA confinement feeding laws.

An analysis by the Food and Agriculture Research Institute says these costs will severely stress hog operations, and without cost-share assistance, many will close.

Pork Exports Set Record

U.S. pork exports in 2001 set a new record, increasing shipments by 20% over the previous record set in 2000.

Exports, including pork variety meats, totaled 738,833 tons, up from 613,746 tons for 2000, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (MEF).

The value of U.S. pork exports also set a record at $1.5 billion, 16% higher than in 2000.

The leading pork export market was Japan, climbing 23% in volume to 281,617 tons and 14% in value to $855.6 million, the fourth consecutive record year in volume and the third consecutive record year in value.

Mexico was the second largest pork export market in 2001. Sales were a record 209,990 tons, 9% above the year earlier. Value increased 10% to $269.1 million, a new record.

Boar-Mover Automates Heat Detection

Leola, SD, pork producer Jerome Mack was looking for a better way to heat-check sows. Watching one of his children play with a remote-control car about four years ago spawned the concept of a small, self-propelled, steerable vehicle to automate heat detection.

A team of South Dakota State University agricultural engineering students took his design and developed a prototype. Mack turned that original work into a mass-produced unit, The Boar Bot, unveiled by his company, Swine Robotics, Inc. at the 1999 World Pork Expo.

At first, the idea of hooking a boar up to a machine to do heat checking drew skepticism from producers.

But the tethered mix of boar and machine has proven to be a resounding success with pork producers who like its safety and simplicity, says Mack. The Boar Bot leads a boar in front of a row of sows, while the producer operates the machine from behind the sows and checks them for heat.

Producer Comments

Delmer Scholten, who runs a 1,300-sow, farrow-to-wean operation, bought his Boar Bot a year ago to save time and improve heat detection by being able to control placement of the boar. “Before, we always gated the boar, and then he would back up. So we would have to gate both ends of the boar,” says the Inwood, IA, producer.

Scholten would gate off an area between about eight gestation stalls. The problem was the boar wouldn't always stand in front of the sow they wanted to breed, he explains.

“With the remote-controlled Boar Bot, once you find an animal in heat, you can force that boar to stand right in front of that animal by stopping the machine,” he explains. “We can even back up the boar if we go too far and return to a sow that is now showing signs of heat.”

The chain-driven Boar Bot makes heat checking and breeding more accurate and a one-man job in Scholten's 600-head breeding barn. “If you did this manually, you would probably follow the same procedure, but it would take you a lot more time setting up the gates,” says Scholten.

The Boar Bot is mobile enough to go anywhere in the barn that an animal can go, says Mack. The hand-held remote controls skid steering to maneuver alleys and corners in a building. The 500-lb. machine is geared to travel at 1.6 ft./second, forward or reverse, powered by two, 24-volt electric motors. It provides up to eight hours of continuous service on two, 12-volt deep cell batteries. Mack recommends recharging the batteries every night.

One person can handle heat detection and breeding completely by themselves, says Mack. The machine saves 2-4 hours of labor/day for every 1,000 sows.

Rick Howe agrees that heat checking sows with one person is the top advantage of the Boar Bot.

Howe is sow manager for Pork Technologies, an Ames, IA-based professional management company. He is also part owner in a 3,200-sow, farrow-to-wean operation.

At his farm near Ames, Howe uses two Boar Bots. When breeding, one boar behind a Boar Bot will be positioned in front of a sow. Only two females are bred at a time. “Breeding only takes 4-6 min. But since we are seeing sows in standing heat 10-12 min., once we have started artificially inseminating that sow, we move that first boar forward and follow the second boar behind a second Boar Bot to get 8-12 min. of boar exposure on every breeding we have,” he says.

Howe explains that six months after he purchased the first Boar Bot, he bought a second machine because it optimized the artificial insemination process.

He says it didn't take long before he realized the value of the Boar Bot. Liveborn increased by an average of 0.4 of a pig/litter and farrowing rates climbed 5%.

Mack says most farms experience a small jump in farrowing rate when they switch to his machine simply because they do a better job of placing the boar strategically to see if sows are in standing heat or not.

At Howe's farm, sows are heat checked daily on Day 17 through Day 26 after breeding. “We definitely saw a decrease in pregnancy-checked open sows found with the ultrasound. I attribute this to the speed with which we were able to heat check animals moving down that line with the Boar Bot,” says Howe. Again, heat checking is improved over the old method of two persons struggling with the boar and gates and trying to identify open sows.

Plus, in the old system, boars controlled the pace of heat detection, he says. The Boar Bot provides the correct pace and eliminates two people out front startling sows, disrupting heat detection and breeding. Howe estimates they can heat check 25-30 sows/min. with the Boar Bot.

Another key point is the Boar Bot never needs a day or weekend off and never shows up late for work.

Other Advantages

At 19½ in. wide, the Boar Bot fits down most narrow aisles and can be custom-manufactured for narrower rows. In most cases, boars can be trained to accept being harnessed to the machine in 2-3 days, says Mack.

The Boar Bot, which retails for $5,750, affords more producer safety in dealing with boars. Mack estimates payback in 3-6 months, based solely on labor savings.

For more information and a free video, contact Swine Robotics, Inc., 10858 365th Ave., Leola, SD 57456; phone (605) 439-3227; fax (605) 439-5305; Visit the Web site,