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Articles from 2007 In June

Protecting Valuable Pork Exports

Watch your e-mail this weekend for our summary of today's USDA Hogs and Pigs Report. The report will be released at 3 p.m. eastern standard time.

I have spent a good deal of time over the past few years trumpeting the exporting success of the U.S. pork industry. It is a record of which producers and packers are duly proud: 15 consecutive record years, growth of nearly 75% over the past three years, and nearly $27 worth of products (both pork and pork variety meats) exported for every pig slaughtered in 2006. Those all add up to a significant contribution to producers' and packers' bottom lines.

I don't talk much about Canada's success but it is, if anything, even more impressive.

The Role of Disease Prevention
Audiences have rightfully questioned, especially in the aftermath of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) disruptions on both sides of the border, "How much is too much dependence on exports?" In true economist fashion, I have responded, "That depends." Of course, that answer isn't too satisfying, and audiences have unreasonably wanted to know, "Depends on what?" It's funny how people want to know the whole story when they get a small taste, isn't it?

In fact, determining the optimum proportion of sales, which are dependent on exports, is a very difficult undertaking. I will not attempt to arrive at a magic number since I doubt that one exists and it will change rapidly as a host of underlying variables (exchange rates being a big one!) change. There are a few relationships, though, that I believe we can count on.

First, the optimum proportion of production devoted to exports will be higher if the probability of having an export-disrupting disease is lower. This means that as the industry depends more and more upon exports, it should devote more and more attention and resources to biosecurity at our borders to keep diseases out.

Second, the optimum export level increases as our ability to identify and control a disease outbreak improves. A key strategy in handling diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease or classical swine fever (hog cholera) is to quickly regionalize the disease so animals in other parts of the country can move and exports from those non-infected areas can resume. Diagnostic systems and animal tracking (premise and animal identification) are key components to enable relatively quick regionalization.

Third, controlling a disease outbreak must take priority over virtually every other goal, at least in the first few hours and days of an incident. That's not a comfortable position to be in because some "innocent" people are going to get hurt, animal and product flows are going to be blocked, and markets are going to be disrupted. And all of that could happen even though no trade-disrupting disease is actually found.

Foreign Animal Disease Impact
Some readers may not know it, but we looked into the abyss of this matter on Wednesday when a load of Canadian pigs was quarantined at a Minnesota packing plant under suspicion of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Laboratory test results showed the pigs only had enterovirus and circovirus, but USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was apparently quite concerned. APHIS head Dr. Ron DeHaven pointed out that USDA investigates 400-500 potential trade-disrupting disease outbreaks each year and that the agency does not usually report negative test results. But this one occurred at a packing plant, and word had spread that a potential problem existed, so APHIS felt compelled to respond.

And what might have been the impact had FMD been confirmed? I'm no expert but FMD in Canadian pigs on U.S. soil would, I presume, mean that exports from both countries would have been blocked. In 2006, the U.S. exported 2.397 million metric tons (mmt) or 2.642 million tons of carcass-weight pork, 14.2% of total production of 9.562 mmt or 10,540 tons. Using a hog demand elasticity of -.25 (and thus a price flexibility of -4), forcing that much product back on the U.S. market would drive prices downward by roughly 57%.

So, we would have to deal with about 20% more product in the Canadian-U.S. market for the short run if a foreign animal disease outbreak affected both countries. Using a hog demand elasticity of -.25 and thus a quantity-to-price multiplier of -4, this would imply an 80% drop in hog prices. That is a very shocking number and it is possible that consumers would rally to the aid of producers just as Canadians did with the beef industry in 2003 -- but the impacts would still be catastrophic.

I hate using poultry analogies, but we indeed have a lot of eggs in this export basket. It is imperative that everyone on both sides of the border do everything possible to reduce the probability of a foreign animal disease outbreak. The price of failure is quite high.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.

Audits Allow for Added Scrutiny

Formulating a biosecurity audit strengthens farm security and identifies weak links that need correcting.

To make a farm biosecurity program work, implement an auditing program that pinpoints weaknesses and ensures that protocols are being followed, says an Illinois swine veterinarian who develops and oversees biosecurity audits.

Audits are necessary because nothing remains static on hog farms. Production procedures change over time and so do employees.

Auditors become like investigators, searching out the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of biosecurity programs, says Doug Groth, DVM, Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service, Ltd.

And remember that “employees are the weakest link” when it comes to biosecurity breaches.

You can devise all of the biosecurity steps you want, but they must be customized to each hog farm in order to be successful. “Your biosecurity can only be as good as your facilities, your manpower and the risk tolerance of what you can and cannot do,” Groth points out.

Capturing Little Details

Farms are scrutinized at least monthly and sometimes twice a month, but it is easy to become “barn blind” to lapses in biosecurity, he says. That's why the Carthage group supplements annual audits with an annual audit performed by an outside third party. Groth says for the past two years, Carthage has used a team led by Jer Geiger, DVM, of PIC who provides a thorough assessment of production farms supervised by Professional Swine Management, the production arm of the Carthage clinic.

Audits can capture the little details sometimes overlooked by farm staff. During one review, Groth watched as an employee wearing a nice pair of clean cowboy boots jumped in and out of a hog cart during pig transfers. When confronted, the employee said he didn't want to wear plastic boots because they were slick. Plus, he thought they were just to protect his footwear, not for pig biosecurity, and nobody had told him any different.

The four-page auditing checklist covers a variety of items that need to be addressed. Groth highlights what he views as a few crucial areas:

Service personnel: When a UPS man gained entrance to a hog barn, walked through a shower area and right into the office, it quickly reminded staff of building biosecurity — making sure outside doors are always locked.

Service trucks may be required to go through a truck wash if not deemed clean enough to deliver supplies to the farm. Checks are also made on their last visit to a hog farm.

Service personnel and vendors, electricians and plumbers are brought in at least annually to review biosecurity practices on farms they service, Groth says. “We go over our pig flow chart and health pyramid so they know the order of farms and the downtimes between them.”

Effort is made to clean tools and equipment that these service providers bring onto farms, or sometimes purchase tools/machines that are frequently used on farms to reduce the biosecurity risk.

Transport vehicles: A big truck wash is being built in the Carthage area to ensure that pig and feed delivery vehicles in particular are properly sanitized between farm visits.

Groth says feed trucks are a special concern. Unless there are dedicated trailers, the health pyramid is followed to minimize contamination. “We have feed delivered to our boar studs and the top of the multiplication system on Monday and the lowest-health commercial herd on Friday.”

Exceptions do occur. There will be a multiplier that needs feed on Friday for whatever reason, and then Groth receives a call to figure out the proper logistics to get the need filled and still protect biosecurity.

Dead pig disposal: Incineration is legal in Illinois but it involves a lot of paperwork. Rising fuel costs also make this a less-attractive option. Burial raises environmental concerns. Rendering sparks biosecurity concerns.

“We have two sow farms that still do some rendering, so we haul the deads off-site in an old milk truck (refrigerated) to a non-pig site about 1-½ miles away from the farm,” Groth says. He calls rendering trucks “a biosecurity nightmare with the bugs and diseases they carry.”

Composting provides the lowest-cost pig disposal option, in his view, and the best biosecurity for a hog farm.

Yearly Report Card

The audit is an internal working document that provides a yearly report card of where farms are at on biosecurity.

Groth says the Carthage group tends to err on the side of safety when it comes to biosecurity, realizing that programs are limited by what can reasonably be accomplished with older farms.

Sometimes guidelines are relaxed if warranted. Some earlier guidelines suggested four-day downtimes for multiplier farms. That was reduced to three days and now is down to two days. No evidence suggests those farms are any more at risk than they were before, he says.

The last part of the audit is similar to a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point in that it asks for corrective action that will be taken based on the root cause of the problems. Root causes listed on the audit form include: inadequate training, lack of supply, equipment, weather, neglect, procedure modification or other.

Inadequate training could be as small an issue as no soap in the showers or as large an issue as no soap to wash the trailers. Both come up big, however, as potential biosecurity lapses.

If the lapse was intentional or due to neglect, it could result in the firing of an employee. Groth recalls two cases in the last two years where that happened. One situation involved an employee stepping outside of a barn to loosen feed stuck in a feed bin and then walking back inside the barn without first showering. The second incident involved an employee who was not showering in to work inside a hog barn.

Biosecurity rules are taught as part of orientation to the job. Producers are trained and worked with to develop the skills they need to do their jobs. But willful neglect and ignoring the rules are not allowed.

“With biosecurity, there is no tolerance. Biosecurity rules are non-negotiable and you will be fired on the spot if they are not followed,” Groth emphasizes.

Storm Clouds Lurking Over Hog Market

At the risk of contributing to the overuse of the term "perfect storm," I have had the feeling all week that we are headed for a veritable perfect storm in the hog markets. Just like those ill-fated fishermen in the movie, we are forging ahead to make good things happen, while a host of storm clouds are lurking just over the horizon, the sum of which I believe could be the makings of a disaster. I hate to use that word, but it could be correct.
Consider the following:

  • U.S. pork exports are sick. They are not on life support yet, and the disease may not even amount to more than a common cold, but for an entity that has been in such robust health for so many years, this is quite a shock. April shipments were 12% lower than one year ago and leave our year-to-date (YTD) total 1% lower. That's the first negative YTD number since February 2003. The only bright note -- and it is an important one -- is that the value of exports through April remained 8% larger than last year. Still, the slowdown in volume is definitely a concern. The main source of the malady, as can be seen in Figure 1, is Mexico where April shipments were nearly 40% smaller than one year ago and YTD shipments are down by 24%. Exports to Japan are still up 12% for the year, but even they fell 5% below year-ago levels in April. The only major markets that took more U.S. pork this year than last in April were Korea, China and Hong Kong.

  • Chicken production is responding to higher prices. Figure 2 shows that broiler companies have responded quite logically to significantly higher prices by increasing egg sets every week since the week that ended Feb. 17. Those increases became significant the week that ended March 3, and have averaged 2.2% since that time. Perhaps more important is that egg sets have been over 3% larger than last year in six of the past eight weeks.

    Reduced chicken production during the fourth quarter of 2006 drove chicken prices significantly higher over the winter months and, given the close substitute relationship of chicken and pork, helped keep pork wholesale and retail prices up. Like it or not, the Other White Meat is closely linked to chicken in consumers' minds and lower chicken prices will not be good for pork and hog values.

  • Hog slaughter is heading upward. The increase will very likely be more than what was suggested by the March Hogs & Pigs report. Figure 3 shows actual weekly slaughter and forecasted slaughter based on that report. The red forecast line doesn't look much different from the green line representing 2006, but I believe some major changes are on the way.

    My main goal at last week's World Pork Expo was to get an idea of the impact that circovirus vaccines may be having on supply. What I came away with was a clear consensus that the impact is large and growing. Producers, vendors and veterinarians all reported huge reductions in death loss and morbidity on farms that have used full doses of the various vaccines. Sow productivity is also higher on the farms that have vaccinated sows, leading one veterinarian to speculate that we may have actually been fighting this disease complex for several years without knowing it. In addition, one major supplier will have over 30% more vaccine available in July than is available in June.

    The real question is: "How many more hogs will make it to market?" I think we have an indicator in March slaughter. Recall that I speculated back in April that the March bubble could have been caused by circovirus vaccine that became available in October. I, like many, thought that if that was so, the increase would be persistent, but it didn't stay and we have been searching for other answers ever since.

    I overlooked pig flow dynamics, however. It now appears that the March bubble was likely caused by the first five weeks or so of vaccinated pigs reaching the market at the same time that older, slower-doing unvaccinated pigs were reaching market weight. The better-surviving, faster-growing vaccinates caused the bubble and slaughter surged by 4.5% for the six weeks from March 10 through April 21. Slaughter has averaged only 0.7% higher than in 2006 for the rest of the weeks this year. A circovirus vaccine impact of 3.8% sounds high for this fall, but it certainly leaves 2-3% as a very real possibility, especially where more and more doses are available.

  • What about corn prices? Too much rain in wheat growing regions and questions about growing conditions in Russia and Ukraine caused another explosion in wheat futures this week. Add that to growing concerns about moisture conditions in the southeastern U.S. and the eastern Corn Belt and we now have December corn futures at $4.17 -- just a dime away from the contract life high. Welcome again to the world of subsidized and mandated biofuels. This will not be the last time this happens and the magnitude of these price changes could get even larger!
Take a long, hard look at pricing some pigs for this fall and winter. October is near $69 and December is near $67. Both charts show technical strength at the moment, so don't get in a rush. But there are a number of reasons to be concerned about hog prices going forward.

Finally, don't let the run-up in corn futures paralyze you. "Shock and awe" is another overused term, but it, too, applies to these remarkable times for hog producers.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.

Biosecurity: Plugging the Holes

Creating biosecurity rules people won't follow wastes time and paper.

Veterinarians are great at creating “biosecurity protocols” in great detail covering the entire risk spectrum. However, the creation of standard operating protocols (SOPs) is the simple portion of biosecurity. The difficult part is getting the people who care for pigs to “buy in” and believe in the concepts. Without that belief, these SOPs are merely words on a page and a waste of paper.

Please do not misunderstand. Detailed protocols and procedures are a necessary part of any biosecurity plan and are always well-intentioned to keep disease out by many different means. However, unless the entire team believes in the concept of biosecurity, the protocols are doomed to failure.

A disease outbreak is seldom expected. In many situations, the point of entry and source of the disease introduction are never determined with 100% certainty.

It is actually the uncertainty of knowing that makes disease breaks so frustrating: “If it got in, and we don't know how it got in, then how do we prevent it from coming in again?”

I have often used the analogy of the rowboat to explain the value of a biosecurity program. Imagine yourself in a rowboat out in the middle of the lake. Now imagine that the bottom of the rowboat suddenly springs two dozen leaks. Some of these leaks are small, but some are very large. You first think about bailing the water out of the boat so that you won't sink. Then you realize that some of the holes are so large that you can never bail fast enough to prevent sinking. The only alternative is to start plugging all the holes!

First, you plug the largest holes, then bail a little more, then plug the medium-sized holes, bail a little more and then start plugging the small holes. Regardless of the size of the hole, as long as the water is coming in faster than you are bailing, you are still sinking!

Using the rowboat analogy with biosecurity, we must close the big holes (such as live animal introductions) first, then consider all of the small holes (people movement, supply introduction, etc.).

Case Study No. 1

A weaned pig producer had been purchasing select-age gilts from a multiplier farm that had been naïve for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) for several years. The producer had become complacent with the isolation procedures that he once was very disciplined about.

Instead of the planned 30-day isolation period, coupled with routine testing prior to entry, the immediate needs for gilts to fill a breeding group dictated that they move this load of gilts directly into the breeding barn.

Unbeknownst to the producer, the multiplier herd had been infected with the PRRS virus via aerosol from a neighboring herd. Even though the multiplier herd was following a routine testing protocol, the timing of the break was such that the group of gilts they delivered to the client had just turned positive and were missed by the testing protocol. The recipient herd soon broke with the PRRS virus.

This first case represents a biosecurity breach of the worst kind. It was a very large hole in the boat that should have been easily recognized and closed, but instead it sank the ship!

Case Study No. 2

A new boar stud was sited in a fairly hog dense, but PRRS-naïve area. It operated as a PRRS-naïve stud with a very high level of biosecurity. The boar stud employed all of the biosecurity tools that were available at the time. The long list included perimeter fencing, extended downtime, boar housing that was separate from the lab, supply quarantine, incoming animal isolation and testing.

Unfortunately, this was before the advent of air filtration technology in the swine industry, and actually before aerosol transmission of the PRRS virus was totally accepted as possible or probable.

Chances were fairly good that the PRRS-naïve neighboring herds would become positive and in late winter they did. Within weeks of the neighboring herd becoming PRRS positive, the same virus (as determined by genetic sequencing) found its way into the boar stud. Happily, the disease break was discovered almost immediately via serum testing and the stud was closed. No PRRS virus-contaminated semen was ever sent to client herds because of the quick actions of the attending veterinarian.

Had the air filtration technology been known and implemented at the time of the neighboring herd break, it is likely that this boar stud would have never been infected.

Read more articles from John Waddell, DVM >

Top 10 Ways to Boost Biosecurity

There are 10 simple steps to bolstering biosecurity in a hog operation, according to Patrick Webb, DVM, National Pork Board director of swine health programs.

  1. Use proper signage at your farm. Identify disease control areas so visitors recognize which areas are off-limits to them. You can also designate specific areas for visitor parking. “Make sure these areas are away from parts of the farm where swine are housed and manure is contained,” Webb says.

  2. Use a visitor log consistently. Require visitors to sign the log and include their name, full contact information, arrival and departure times and purpose of their visit. Make sure regular service providers, including veterinarians and feed truck drivers, sign the log. “This information is critical if there's a swine disease outbreak and traceback is required,” he says.

  3. Require appropriate downtimes for visitors with previous swine contact. As swine production systems vary, work with your veterinarian to establish appropriate downtimes that visitors with previous swine contact must observe before entering your farm.

  4. Require employees and visitors to wear clean coveralls and boots. To ensure proper biosecurity, consider stocking coveralls in small, medium and large sizes. Also make sure clean coveralls and boots are worn each time employees and visitors move to a different premises.

  5. Do not share animal or waste handling equipment such as chutes, trailers, skid steer loaders and manure-spreading equipment to limit the spread of disease. Clean and disinfect all equipment between use.

  6. Establish a plan for introducing new animals onto your farm including quarantining new animals. Work with your veterinarian to devise a workable plan.

  7. Change boots and coveralls after visiting animal concentration points. Take special care after visiting sales barns or buying stations to change boots and coveralls and to wash your hands prior to working with your own pigs.

  8. Maintain animal movement records. List the contact information of buyers and sellers, the number and date pigs are moved onto your farm, their origin and premises identification number, if available.

  9. Manage biosecurity between animals on the farm. Chore the youngest animals first and end with the oldest animals. Chore healthy animals before sick animals.

  10. Be a good neighbor, respect others' biosecurity practices and make sure others are aware of your biosecurity practices.

Building Biosecurity Boundaries

The Pipestone (MN) Veterinary Clinic has designed its biosecurity programs around keeping out one disease — porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

When Joel Nerem, DVM, was hired by the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic a year ago, he was asked to join six swine-exclusive veterinarians who service 42 sow farms across the Midwest.

Nerem was brought in to help upgrade the health management services that the southwest Minnesota clinic provides for the 120,000-sow Pipestone System.

“Besides servicing approximately 12 sow farms in the Pipestone System, my other role is to coordinate a lot of the health plans that we are doing to make them a little bit more uniform and systematic,” he explains.

“We are applying the best management practices in production, and also creating a more systematic approach to biosecurity for all of the farms that are part of the Pipestone System,” he says.

Nerem is the point person to coordinate biosecurity practices for the growing production system that stretches from Minnesota and South Dakota, down through Nebraska and Iowa, plus one multiplier sow farm in Wisconsin.

The Pipestone Veterinary Clinic provides production management and supervision as well as health services to the sow farms. In turn, the group of small, independent, sow farm owners receive 17- to 20-day-old weaned pigs to finish at their farms.

Biosecurity Challenges

Nerem says the diversity of the production systems presents obvious biosecurity challenges. “You are delivering pigs every week to independent producers with varying health statuses at their farms, and you have to go back into those sow units a couple times a week to get pigs out again, so those activities present a challenge.”

Pipestone swine veterinarians perform regular herd health visits, but biosecurity efforts can easily fall through the cracks as attention is focused on improving production performance, or addressing health challenges, he points out.

“We have a commitment to all of our shareholders to implement the best practices as we understand them for biosecurity. We view that as what is good for ‘this’ farm is good for ‘that’ farm, so that is our approach to making it more systematic across the different sow farms,” Nerem says.

Biosecurity Audits

When it comes to biosecurity, most producers know what needs to be done, but sometimes practices need to be tweaked and producers need to be reminded, Nerem stresses.

That's where Hannah Walkes comes in. The young woman was hired in 2006 as health services technician to focus on streamlining biosecurity practices at the Pipestone System sow farms.

One of her main duties is to conduct biosecurity audits at the sow farms each quarter. “I do random, unannounced biosecurity audits just to make sure people are implementing the techniques that they are supposed to be practicing,” she relates.

Continue Reading about Biosecurity Audits on the Next Page >

The auditing program was instituted when Walkes was hired. “One of the reasons we wanted Hannah on board was because we saw the need to have a consistent process for following up and following through on the implementation of the right biosecurity practices,” says Nerem.

Walkes also explains the science behind biosecurity and why the practices are important to be carried out, he notes.

“So when Hannah makes an unannounced audit, she is there basically to get a snapshot of the farm and how they are doing. This is really a service to the farm manager and to production of the farm,” Nerem stresses.

Walkes admits that farm staff isn't always pleased to see her, especially during that first audit. “I think at first they have a negative opinion of it because of the negative stereotype that an auditor has.”

Despite some early skepticism, she has received some positive feedback. “The biggest comment I have gotten about the audits is that they help keep disease out — so we don't have to deal with sick pigs,” she says. And she has learned a lot from staff about some potential gaps in farm biosecurity.

Decontamination Room

A key addition to biosecurity implemented across the Pipestone System has been the “D&D Room,” which stands for downtime and disinfection, Walkes says.

“People always know that they can track diseases in, and that is why they implement shower-in and shower-out facilities,” she comments. “But what often goes unnoticed are things that you bring into the farm like vaccine products, equipment and other farm supplies.”

That led to a philosophy of a “clean-dirty line,” adds Nerem. Just as there is a clean-dirty line for people showering in and out of a unit, “we need to do the same thing for any of these objects or fomites (inanimate objects) that you are bringing into the farm.”

Rooms or spaces can often be cleaned up and converted into a D&D Room, for example, an old closet or a side office. “We have actually converted old rooms used to house generators and moved the generators outside to make a D&D Room,” he notes.

This concept is not new, but Nerem says Pipestone has instituted some crucial changes. “We have changed the terminology because we really want to emphasize that this is about bringing in items that are physically clean (to start with), and that the focus is really on disinfecting and downtime,” he emphasizes. With their process, items are hand disinfected and then let sit for 24 hours.

“We have moved away from foggers and those kinds of things simply because I think that gives a false sense of security sometimes,” Nerem continues. “The fogger doesn't always get to the bottom of items, whereas, if we are hand-applying, we know that the disinfectant got on everything.”

Walkes says the biosecurity audits also includes a checklist of items to improve on. In the Pipestone System, sow farms must properly maintain:

  • Shower-in and shower-out facilities;

  • Disposal of dead pigs by the end of the day; and

  • A 24-hour downtime policy for visitors. All visitors must receive permission to visit, sign in and indicate their last pig contact.

“We look at overnight downtime for commercial sow farms because we think that a lot of recent research has shown that extended periods of downtime aren't necessary — it is really meant to restrict access,” Nerem observes. Three days of downtime are required for entry into boar studs and multiplier farms.

At each audit, Walkes inquires whether any new employees have been hired. It is company policy that each new worker be educated about bio-security expectations to prevent any lapses in the production system.

Continue Reading about biosecurity testing on Next Page >

Testing Boars, Gilts

The testing protocols for boar studs and replacement gilts are also built around providing safeguards against introduction of the PRRS virus, says Nerem. PRRS can be transmitted very efficiently through semen, so the staff tests for PRRS at the boar stud every collection day. A random sample is sent to the South Dakota state diagnostic laboratory at Brookings, and next-day test results are provided. “The semen cannot enter the clean side of the sow farm until the test results come back negative,” he says.

The gilt-testing program is still being standardized for all sow farms. Basically, gilts are tested for PRRS on arrival, quarantined, and then retested a couple of weeks later. Gilts must test PRRS-negative before entry to the sow farm is permitted.

For most other diseases of concern, clinical signs or herd health history are relied upon to gauge disease status. “In our view, the cost-benefit ratio to testing for a lot of diseases is just not there,” Nerem asserts. “If these were multiplication herds, it would be different. But these are commercial breeding herds, so we are mainly looking at PRRS, and then keeping in close contact with the source herd upstream to make sure that health is good there as well.”

Circovirus is a major health concern. But since it is usually manifested in finishing pigs and not replacement gilts, and most U.S. herds will test positive for the virus, there would be no point in screening incoming stock, he says.

Filtration Technology

Despite intensive biosecurity efforts to keep out the PRRS virus, there are still reports of breaks. But that doesn't mean that every known effort shouldn't be made to keep the virus off farms, says Nerem.

Walkes feels “biosecurity is good insurance and it protects your investments.”

With mounting evidence that aerosol transmission of PRRS is more common than previously thought, Pipestone System installed air filtration systems on boar studs a year ago. So far, none have broken with PRRS. Nerem says after several years of expensive PRRS breaks, there has been a “huge movement within the boar stud community to get these studs filtered.”

Air filtration systems are being seriously looked at for commercial sow farms within the Pipestone System, too, he adds. None are filtered at this time.

Transportation Improvements

“What we once thought was a clean trailer wasn't really clean — it was partially clean,” Nerem says. “First hand, we sampled some trailers that had been through a truck wash and found infectious PRRS virus on the trailers a day after washing. We were able to get test samples for PRRS and actually infect pigs with those samples.”

To prevent that scenario from re-occurring and provide another layer of biosecurity, the Pipestone System is planning to build a new, two-bay truck wash this summer to allow proper washing and disinfecting of trailers, Nerem remarks. It will replace the current single-bay truck wash. Sow farms in other areas contract with commercial truck washes approved by Pipestone veterinarians.

Another new feature coming soon is a trailer audit, Walkes says, to make sure trailers are cleaned and disinfected according to specifications.

“I'm not sure this is really anything new. Other systems have done it, but we have made an expectation of the level of sanitation at both the truck wash and in a trailer before it goes back to the farm. Now, we are following up to make sure that standard is being met,” Nerem reports.

Walkes will also be responsible for randomly auditing trailers, much as she does for the sow farms. “If the truck and trailer are not kept clean, then everything that you do at the sow farm (for biosecurity) is kind of useless,” she states.

To minimize the biosecurity risk of a potential disease transmission, a trailer is dedicated to each sow farm. Nerem believes this step, along with good sanitation and disinfection, will alleviate much of the risk of transportation and the need for expensive drying technology.

Good Biosecurity

A system that provides good biosecurity protects animal health, animal welfare and maintains positive morale of staff, while also reducing the cost of biosecurity to the production system, Nerem suggests.

Biosecurity must be made a higher priority in order to safeguard the swine industry from PRRS and circovirus, he adds.

To achieve success against these two serious pathogens will require improved communication and disease-monitoring strategies, using regional efforts guided by computer-aided, disease-mapping technology, Nerem says.

“It will really require a higher level of cooperation than what we have done in the past, including a willingness to share information about what is happening on producers' farms as far as disease status in order to achieve the overall benefit of getting rid of certain diseases, before they become epidemics. We need to look at how we cooperate, coordinate and communicate,” he concludes.

Carefully Evaluate Disposal Options

Pork producers should be prepared to handle emergencies and not wait until large numbers of pigs suddenly die.

As states continue to modify environmental rules, and the availability of rendering service continues to shrink, producers should seriously consider developing a plan to deal with emergency pig losses on their farms, according to an expert on the subject at Iowa State University (ISU).

Tom Glanville, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at ISU, has studied soil and water issues related to livestock burial, and conducted on-farm composting research and demonstration projects for the swine and poultry industries.

Last year, Glanville and his research team at ISU and Pennsylvania State University completed a three-year study of the performance and environmental impacts of using composting for emergency disposal of cattle. Currently, they are studying biosecure composting practices for pigs for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Short-Term Emergency Plan

“There is a big difference between losing your herd all in one day and losing a few pigs at a time. Due to the large mass of material to be disposed, and the resulting biosecurity and environmental concerns, your options are much more limited than for routine disposal of daily mortalities.

“Producers may be surprised by the number of potential roadblocks that can arise,” Glanville says. “Looking at the options and logistics, in advance of an emergency, can reduce frustration, costs and environmental and legal liabilities.”

Glanville provides this checklist to consider for emergency disposal of large numbers of dead stock:

Burial: “You are putting a lot of pollutants into the soil when you bury large numbers of carcasses, so environmentally sensitive locations are not acceptable for mass burial,” he says.

Proximity to water sources, wetlands, wells, shallow water tables and bedrock are important considerations. A statewide assessment of conditions in Iowa, for example, revealed that as much as 30-40% of the state is not well suited for mass burial.

To assist producers, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has developed a livestock burial zone map identifying locations where conditions are likely to limit or prevent approval of mass burial. The map can be viewed at Before assuming your state would allow mass burial of livestock, make sure you check with state Natural Resources Conservation Service for details. In Iowa, the state DNR has developed a map of all farm sites that can be referred to in order to decide if burial is advisable.

Other state and federal agencies are taking similar steps, Glanville says. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment offers a program to help owners of large livestock operations identify and preplan burial sites for emergency disposal.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service has a web-based national soil survey that includes reports on the suitability of various soils for disposal of catastrophic livestock mortalities (

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“Many producers assume that landfills will accept their dead animals in an emergency. But much depends on the number of carcasses involved, and on the size of the landfill, how it is equipped, and the amount of cover soil available.

“As a result, some landfills are willing to accept large numbers of carcasses, while others are not. In general, large municipal landfills will be better equipped to handle large-scale carcass disposal than most small county landfills,” he says.

The cause of death can also enter into the decision. Due to public concern about disease transmission, British Columbia, Canada closed their gates to poultry producers during an avian influenza outbreak in 2004.

For off-site disposal options such as landfills, follow rules requiring carcasses to be hauled in leakproof, covered vehicles that prevent contamination of public roadways.

Incineration: Serious air pollution concerns caused by incineration of carcasses during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain led to an immediate outcry and rapid ban of open burning.

“As a result, many environmental agencies are now reluctant to permit uncontrolled burning of carcasses, and will instead require use of air curtain incinerators or other specialized methods that can meet air quality regulations,” Glanville states.

Composting: “Many hog farmers already use composting for disposal of routine mortalities, and it can be used for emergencies as well, but producers are likely to be surprised by the significantly greater amounts of cover material needed,” says Glanville.

Since emergency composting is usually done in unsheltered windrows, it is more prone to saturation which can lead to serious odors and to heat loss caused by cold winds. Both conditions call for thicker layers of sawdust, ground cornstalks or similar cover materials to insulate the pile and to absorb water before evaporation.

If you plan to use cornstalks, grind prior to use or the compost may become too porous and this can lead to serious odor and fly problems.

Rendering: Many producers do not have access to a rendering service anymore. “If you plan to include rendering in your emergency disposal plan, be sure to discuss the size of your operation with your rendering service provider, Glanville asserts.

Sudden loss of a large herd could impose a surge load that your rendering plant may not be able to handle. Discuss emergency trucking options with your renderer as well.

“We don't like to think about it, but barn fires, flooding, ventilation failures, roof collapses and even disease outbreaks are more common than we like to admit. And when it happens, it's too late to spend time researching the best disposal options,” Glanville says.

Before developing an emergency disposal plan, it's important to check with state agricultural and/or environmental agencies about their policies.

California, for example, does not permit composting of mammals (only poultry) for routine or emergency disposal.

Some states also put a weight limit on carcass size for composting.

The cause of death can also play an important role in choosing a disposal method. Some states permit composting for non-disease-related deaths, but may not permit it if the cause of death is a highly contagious disease.

For further information on livestock mortality composting, as well as other disposal options, see the “Training and Info” section of Glanville's web site “Emergency Livestock Mortality Composting in Iowa” at:

Tips for Successful Swine Mortality Composting

Composting has become virtually the method of choice for a number of U.S. producers to conveniently dispose of dead pigs.

For many producers, composting is an attractive choice because they can manage mortalities promptly, avoiding delays that sometimes occur with rendering.

“The composting process is not complicated,” says Tom Glanville, professor and Extension engineer in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University. ‘But there are a couple of key points to keep in mind that can greatly improve composting performance and help avoid problems.”

Excess moisture is the most frequent cause of mortality composting problems. It causes slow carcass decomposition, increases odor and leaching of pollutants into the soil.

Use bins with roofs to avoid excess moisture. Bins also help retain heat and discourage rodents and scavengers from disturbing the piles.

Bin systems need not be expensive. An old corn crib, abandoned shed or similar facility can keep capital costs low, he says.

The second main cause of excess moisture is overloading the compost with too many carcasses. “Every 1,000 lb. of carcass contains about 650 lb. of water,” says Glanville, “so stacking carcasses too close together, without separating them with a sufficiently thick layer of absorptive material such as sawdust or ground cornstalks, can lead to excessive compost wetness even during seasons when rainfall is not a problem.”

To avoid this problem, be sure to use at least 12 in. of absorptive material in the base of the bin, and 6-9 in. of the same material between carcasses in the same layer, and between adjacent layers of carcasses. Position carcasses at least 9-12 in. away from the edge of the pile to avoid leakage of liquid through the sidewalls.

Inappropriate turning of compost piles also leads to problems. Done correctly, turning helps speed up decomposition by introducing oxygen and evaporating excess moisture.

But if turning is done too early, it can cause unnecessary odor releases and fly problems.

Time of turning depends on the size of the carcasses. If a bin is loaded mainly with small carcasses from the farrowing house or nursery, an initial heating cycle of as little as 30 days is likely to be adequate.

For larger carcasses, waiting 60-90 days before the initial turning is advised.

Consider external temperatures. During warm weather, decomposition proceeds rapidly and turning can be done sooner. Cold weather slows the process and turning during excessively cold weather can chill the pile causing even slower decomposition, Glanville warns.

Hog Prices Keep Pace With High-Priced Feed

Pork profits continue fueled by seasonal price surge.

Even high production costs due to higher-priced feed haven't stopped 2007 hog prices from returning a profit.

“In the first quarter of the year, live prices averaged $46.20/cwt., slightly under costs of production,” says Chris Hurt, a Purdue University Extension agricultural economist. “Since the end of March, hog prices have seen a strong seasonal surge, actually putting some green in bank accounts of hog producers.”

Hog prices dipped to $42/cwt. in late March, but have rallied as high as $54 in the past few weeks of May. Current costs of production are pegged at $47-49/cwt. for farrow-to-finish production, he says.

Hog prices have tracked somewhat higher than anticipated due to moderate supply growth and continued positive pork trade news. “For the first four months of this year, U.S. packing plants turned out 2.5% more pork, and live hog prices were almost 10% higher,” he says.

Pork exports climbed about 3%, but more importantly, pork imports were down about 8%, resulting in a “net” 10% increase in pork trade, he explains.

Pork supplies rose slightly domestically, but when adjusted for population growth in the United States, available pork per person actually declined. A smaller supply per person should mean higher pork prices, Hurt says.

“The second factor stimulating hog prices was a narrow retail price margin. Generally speaking, when packer or retail margins are smaller, the producer tends to get more of the consumer pork dollars, and that has been the case so far this year,” he observes.

Consumers have paid $.03/retail pound more for pork, and retail margins have been $.05/retail pound less, translating into higher hog prices for producers. “In fact, prices so far this year have averaged $46.60/cwt., compared to $42.70 during the same period last year. That's almost $4 more and a welcome outcome in this period of higher costs,” Hurt notes.

Putting Science Back Into Disinfectants

Pork producers need to reevaluate whether the proper cleaning agents are being used for hog barns, trailers and even boots.

Pork producers may think they are using the correct disinfectants in their sanitation programs, but if they are arbitrarily using one product over time, it's a good idea to revisit what product is being used and what for, says Alex Ramirez, DVM, adjunct assistant professor in Swine Production Medicine at Iowa State University (ISU).

If you prefer to use a broad-spectrum, economical product, then household bleach is as cheap as it gets. However, there are certainly limits to its use because of its strength, and health concerns when working with concentrated products (Table 1).

For products to be effective against specific viral diseases, such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and circovirus, producers are fortunate to have a broad array of disinfectants that have been shown to be effective in laboratory tests and field trials, says Ramirez.

Remember the point of disinfectants is to try to target the specific pathogens that are impacting your operation, and break the cycle of disease, rather than just relying on a general product to cure all problems.

“Step back and prioritize the diseases of concern because they may change over time, therefore, you may need to change disinfectants over time,” Ramirez stresses.

However, don't just decide on a whim that it's time to give a different disinfectant a try. “You wouldn't make changes in your vaccine and antibiotic programs just for the heck of it. So think about what you are trying to target and what your objectives are when it comes to selecting disinfectants,” he notes.

In the same vein, use caution when rotating disinfectants, says Ramirez. The theory is that resistance to some products can build up over time.

“But there should be some good reason for changing disinfectants: cost, not getting good control or, for example, instead of having lots of problems with PRRS, you now are having more problems with salmonella. Those are good reasons to change. But just to change every three months to avoid resistance — there is no science to document that,” he stresses.

The Role of Disinfectants

Disinfectants are chemicals used to control, prevent or destroy a variety of microbes. They are designed for application to objects, as opposed to antiseptics and germicides, which are intended for skin application.

For a list of several types of products, their levels of effectiveness and precautions for their use, refer to Characteristics of Selected Disinfectants (Table 1 on page 16).

Producers should also avoid the “more is better” mentality, Ramirez says. If the label directions call for a solution of 1 oz. of disinfectant/gal. of water, then upping that proportion to 5 oz. of disinfectant/gal. of water may seem like it would increase efficacy, but it usually adds little benefit at five times the cost. And it's also a violation of federal law for disinfectants as regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Disinfectants are a critical, final step in the cleaning process. But the ISU veterinarian makes it clear that they are not the total solution when it comes to sanitation on a hog farm.

Cleaning is much more important in the sanitation process than disinfectants, he says, because washing with detergents will bring the level of pathogens down to a low level. Then disinfectants comprise that final cleaning step that protects the environment from contamination, according to Ramirez.

Research on boot baths by Sandy Amass, DVM, now director of the National Biosecurity Resource Center at Purdue University, provides a case in point. In studies conducted several years ago, Amass showed that just standing in a disinfected boot bath for five minutes did little to decrease the amount of contamination on the bottom of her boots.

However, studies showed that once those boots were scrubbed and hosed off, allowing the disinfectant to contact the boot's bottom surface, cleanliness was achieved. Those two practices have virtually replaced boot baths in hog barns, Ramirez says.

Buy boots with wider ridges on the bottom to facilitate this cleaning process, he suggests.

The biosecurity center also provides assistance with selection of the proper disinfectant by logging onto

The Power of Water

Power washing is commonly viewed as the least desirable job on the hog farm, but it may provide the highest return when done right, Ramirez says.

The best thing to do is to walk through a building after washing and look for manure or organic material in corners and under feeders. “If you can find manure, there is probably contamination, and that will tell you that the workers didn't do a good job,” he explains.

Just as water is essential for life, proper drying is vital to complete the cleaning process.

It's difficult to provide the recommended 24 hours between cleaning and filling a room. But try to schedule pig flows to provide the maximum downtime, Ramirez says, to give disinfectants time to make contact with surfaces and drying to be completed.

Drying Differences

Properly drying transport trailers can also be a difficult challenge in trying to break the cycle of disease, says Ramirez. Many integrators who can't wait for trailers to dry naturally have gone to trailer-baking systems.

Most might think PRRS, a tough disease that mutates frequently, might be the toughest to get rid of in a trailer. That's not quite true, says Ramirez. PRRS virus is inactivated at 160-180° F, similar to foot-and-mouth disease.

PRRS is an enveloped virus, that serves to protect the virus in the environment, but that envelope is in fact fragile and fairly susceptible to heat and chemical disinfectants. “The challenge is in making sure that we have thoroughly cleaned the trailer,” he says.

In contrast, circovirus is one of the non-enveloped viruses that are very hardy. Circovirus doesn't mutate nearly as frequently as PRRS in the pig, but it persists much longer in the environment. Research indicates that to inactivate circovirus, temperatures must reach 248° F, he says.

Trailer baking stations provide two essential elements: plenty of heat and they dry the trailers, completely ridding them of moisture that sustains all forms of life including viral and bacterial pathogens, says Ramirez.

Herds that are PRRS-positive, for example, may think that cleaning and disinfecting hog barns is a waste of time and money.

But reducing that pathogen load in the environment is critical to providing pigs with the best opportunity to fight off diseases, thus delaying the onset of clinical signs until pigs are older and better able to withstand disease challenges, he says.

Missing the Boat

All-in, all-out production and the cleaning that goes with it are key elements in preserving pig health. But so is maintaining cleaning within production groups, Ramirez suggests.

Producers are “missing the boat” when they allow manure buildup to persist, especially in farrowing, giving piglets access to possible disease agents passed on by the sow.

Perform regular scraping to minimize contamination, and give staff the chance to better evaluate sow health.

Farms that do a better job of consistently keeping barns clean inside also do a better overall job of keeping building exteriors in order, enhancing biosecurity, Ramirez concludes.

View both tables in a printable Word Document

FDA Approves Antibiotic

New feed antibiotic helps control swine respiratory disease.

Schering-Plough Animal Health has introduced a broad-spectrum antibiotic to help fight swine respiratory disease without resorting to labor-intensive injections. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed Nuflor (florfenicol), referred to as Nuflor Premix for Swine, for swine respiratory disease due to Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia, Pasteurella multocida, Streptococcus suis and Bordetella bronchiseptica. No other feed antibiotic offers this broad range of label claims for controlling swine respiratory disease. Schering-Plough conducted six field trials with Nuflor Premix in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. More than 1,100 sick pigs were treated, then evaluated two days after treatment stopped. Treated pigs grew twice as fast as controls, with mortality rates of 4.4%, compared to 9.7% for untreated control pigs. Trials have shown Nuflor to be highly palatable and it can be incorporated into pelleted feed. In those trials, Nuflor reached therapeutic concentrations in serum within 4-5 hours and remained above target levels for each of the five treatment days. For more information, go to or call 1-800-521-5767.

Closed Vaccine Delivery System

Newport Laboratories has announced that its MainSail MH and Mycogard Mycoplasma bacterins, along with all Compass Point antigen-based (autogenous) biologics, are now available in the VetPac closed delivery system. The VetPac is a durable, high-volume sachet that can hold up to 2,000 ml of product. The system includes the sachet as well as sterile connector tubes, and is compatible with needleless syringes and all brands of automatic applicators. For more information, call 1-800-220-2522 or log onto

Pressure Washer Detergents

Hotsy has added a new line of concentrated Powder Pack Detergents suitable for use with high-pressure washers. The new detergents produce 5 gal. of detergent when mixed with water, making this product perfect for small-scale cleaning projects. The detergent packs come in five varieties: General Purpose Cleaner, Deck & Fence Cleaner, House & Siding Wash, Driveway & Concrete Cleaner and Truck & Car Wash. All powder packs are biodegradable, meaning they are safe for the environment. Packs can be used in either hot water or cold water pressure washers and are available at over 130 authorized Hotsy dealers. For more information call 1-800-525-1976 or visit

Sow Shoulder Treatment

Epicare Ltd. has introduced SwineAid to treat shoulder sores in sows. SwineAid contains arginine aminobenzoate in a neutral cream emulsion of several natural oils, used effectively in human medicine for pressure sores and in burn patients. In a field study to compare the healing effects of SwineAid with traditional products used for the treatment of shoulder sores, SwineAid appeared to be superior. Most of the lesions healed within one week. Shoulder sores most often appear in the second and third week of lactation in good-milking sows when hot weather has limited their feed intake. For more information call (212) 684-6040 or click on

Pulmotil Premix Electronically

Elanco Animal Health's Pulmotil Premix to control swine respiratory disease has become the first product available via an electronic Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which meets all Food and Drug Administration requirements for electronic signatures. “Moving to an Internet-based process is the next logical step for a VFD product such as Pulmotil,” says Ginger Pelger, DVM, an Elanco swine technical consultant. “It allows easier fulfillment and communication between veterinarians and the feedmills producing the medicated feed, which, in the end, benefits producers and their animals.” Pelger says the web-based process facilitates getting medication to animals that need it, when they need it, at the proper dose. “This system helps us all achieve that by reducing errors, ensuring animals aren't waiting on medication because of travel schedules or lack of forms, and having easy retrieval of VFDs at the mill and the clinic.” For more information call 1-800-428-4441 or log onto

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