Neonatal Scours Test Producers' Patience

Across the industry, the issue of neonatal diarrhea does not raise concerns to the level of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome or circovirus. But it is certainly a frustrating problem that farms deal with occasionally.

The severity of baby pig scours varies widely across farms in terms of age at onset, duration, mortality and morbidity. The pathogen or cause is responsible for most of the differences in the severity.

Whatever the cause, scours tend to reduce nutrient consumption and weight gain, resulting in reduced overall performance. Mortality is sometimes increased, which almost certainly boosts treatment costs.

Management Steps

To control neonatal diarrhea, managing and optimizing the immunity that the piglets receive from their mother through good colostrum management is essential. Piglets need “passive” immunity from the sow to protect them while their immune system matures and they can mount their own “active” immunity.

The quality of the colostrum can be improved with appropriate pre-farrow vaccines, or through carefully targeted feedback of farrowing materials to pre-farrowing gilts and sows for farm-specific immune stimulation.

Good hygiene and management of the piglet's micro-environment are also essential to successful prevention. The best vaccination or colostrum management protocol can be overridden when a litter farrows in a dirty or wet environment.

While prevention should be the ultimate goal, when prevention fails and diarrhea occurs, numerous therapeutic options are available. It's important to first determine the pathogen that caused the diarrhea, since we deal with bacterial, viral and protozoan (coccidial) diarrheas, which all require different approaches to treatment.

For instance, treating a viral diarrhea such as rotavirus with antibiotics alone will be unrewarding and frustrating, while antibiotics are very effective for a diarrhea caused by bacteria such as Escherichia coli or clostridium.

Early involvement of your veterinarian is essential so that the proper specimens can be collected for laboratory confirmation of the problem.

Case Study No. 1

A 2,000-sow, conventional health, commercial farm recently added farrowing space to provide for longer lactation and older weaning ages of their piglets. From the very first group farrowed through this new facility, several litters throughout the room experienced diarrhea soon after birth. While antibiotics appeared to help, the problem continued to surface turn after turn.

During my monthly herd health visit, the farrowing barn manager pointed out that the diarrhea seemed to always occur in only certain farrowing stalls scattered throughout the room. The scours occurred turn after turn in the same stalls.

This observation, along with a thorough history of age at onset, responses to treatment and previous lab submissions, led me to investigate the heating and ventilation arrangement in the room, particularly adjacent to the problem stalls.

As it turned out, the building contractor had incorrectly installed the fresh air inlets, which allowed air to blow directly onto the affected litters, creating a draft and chilling the piglets at birth.

Once the problem was corrected, the scour problem was soon resolved.

Case Study No. 2

A 2,500-sow weaner farm manager reported an increase in piglet scours that was unresponsive to therapy, equally affecting litters from both young and old sows. The diarrhea struck pigs at about a week old. Few piglets died, but many were stunted and the number of reject pigs almost doubled.

Regardless of treatment, the pigs had a gray-greenish-colored “greasy” consistency scour that persisted until weaning. I selected three piglets from different 7-day-old litters that had begun to scour. These piglets were sacrificed and appropriate samples were analyzed. My suspicions were confirmed when the lab reported it was an outbreak of coccidiosis.

I prescribed a special anti-coccidia medicine to be administered orally to each piglet within the first three days after birth. I also emphasized the importance of overall farrowing stall hygiene, including the importance of complete drying of all surfaces after cleaning and disinfecting the barn and prior to moving in the next group of sows to farrow.

I also reiterated the importance of daily removal of the sow manure from the stall prior to farrowing, until the litter had reached a week of age, to reduce the overall exposure to the coccidia cysts in the sow manure.

The scour problem was resolved with the very first treated group of piglets.

It's All About Corn

Corn — the real thing — or any reasonable facsimile that could serve to replace it.

Cost and availability was top of mind. “How high do you think corn will go?” was the question of the day.

How did this industry's reliance on a single source of feed energy get so out of whack?

More corn-based ethanol = more demand for corn = higher corn prices.

Higher crude oil prices = more demand for corn-based ethanol = higher corn prices.

More corn-based ethanol = more demand for corn = higher food prices.

Spin it any way you'd like. Point fingers at whomever you choose. Chances are, you're at least partially right. Livestock producers are livid about skyrocketing feed prices. Consumers are infuriated with soaring food costs.

It's a classic chicken-and-egg question that is unlikely to gain consensus.

Will corn/feed grain prices ever return to what we once considered “normal”? Not likely. The feed cost challenge is multi-factorial and it's likely to be with us for the foreseeable future.

Estimates of corn topping out at $7, $8, maybe $10, were more common at Expo than anyone was comfortable with. Then the rains came.

Floods blanketed up to 20% of Iowa's crop acreage and, eventually, thousands of acres on both sides of the Mississippi River heading south.

According to a mid-June report, the USDA described the condition of 43% of the U.S. corn crop as “very poor, poor or fair.” But the June 30 USDA crop report brought better news, citing better growing conditions than expected, 1.3 million more corn acres than the March estimate, and slightly higher corn stocks than previously thought.

No Pretence

Perhaps Iowa State Economist John Lawrence put it best in the Iowa Farm Outlook recently: “….there is universal agreement that higher grain prices are not a passing fad. Eventually, we expect livestock and poultry prices to increase in response to the higher feed costs and reach a level that yields enough margin to sustain the industry. However, the transition may not be smooth or timely. The challenge for producers is to survive the short-term transition and prepare for long-run success.

“Recognizing that things have changed isn't worth much unless you adjust to the change,” he adds.

Some changes Lawrence sees on the horizon include:

  • More land being placed into grain production, worldwide.

  • Crop yields will increase.

  • Livestock demand for grain will decrease; and

  • Cellulosic ethanol production will become commercially viable to fill a portion of the ethanol demand. Some or all of these changes will help corn prices moderate.

He cites a recent study by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), which indicates that even with a bumper crop, corn would likely average $4/bu., although “bumper” will not likely be an adjective used to describe this year's crop yields.

“Do you have a strategic reserve of corn to get through a period of very high prices or will you have to buy grain during these volatile times?” Lawrence asks. “Do you have the borrowing capacity and storage to purchase some or all of your feed needs if the opportunity presents itself?”

Bottom line is this — market awareness, smart buying and some creative thinking will be essential to weather this tenuous period of high grain prices.

Coming in August

I'd also like to give our readers a heads up about the August 15 edition of National Hog Farmer. Instead of your regular monthly magazine, you will be receiving an all new Pork Producers Buyers' Guide, featuring 10 general categories and hundreds of product listings — from air inlets to zinc.

As profit margins continue to challenge pork producers, it is critically important to have access to the most complete information on products and services available. The 2008 Buyers' Guide will serve as an essential resource to allow you to do some comparative shopping and find the right product for the job.

Company listings will provide full contact information, plus Web site addresses so you can effectively gather information, study and compare products.

Soon after you receive the published edition, you will also be able to access a fully functional, fully searchable Web site featuring an electronic version of the Buyers' Guide. Simply go to our Web site,, where you will find a link to this new industry resource.

Going forward, the site will be updated regularly as new products and services are introduced to the swine industry. We welcome your thoughts and comments about the all new Pork Producers Buyers' Guide; please feel free to give me a call (952) 851-4661 or write:

Producer Groups Join Forces To Combat Activist Messages

For too long, the pork industry has watched as activist groups have hammered them over critical industry issues.

Now that tide may slowly be turning. The National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) announced at World Pork Expo that they have joined forces for the first time since their 2001 separation agreement was enacted to launch an initiative called “We Care.”

“The We Care slogan says it all in that we are trying to demonstrate to the public that when it comes to the environment, animal care and other issues, nobody cares more than the pork producer,” states Mike Wegner, Pork Board vice president of communications.

The initiative is directly aimed at educating retailers, restaurants and regulators — groups that have the ability to dictate production practices and are under increasing pressure from a variety of activist groups. They need help in understanding that producers already are doing the right thing, Wegner says.

This responsible pork initiative starts with producer adoption of a set of ethical principles that the two pork groups endorsed at Pork Forum, says Dallas Hockman, NPPC vice president of industry relations. Those ethical principles cover food safety, animal well-being, environment, public health, employee care and quality of life in the communities where producers operate.

He says those ethical tenets are based on a simple formula called the three Ps: principles plus practices plus proof equals trust. “It's our commitment to the industry.”

To carry out those principles, producers must prove they are embracing industry programs such as Pork Quality Assurance-Plus, the Take Care Use Antibiotics Responsibly program, and the Trucker Quality Assurance program, Hockman continues, “not because they are market access issues, but because they are the right thing to do.”

“At the end of the day, we are just trying to demonstrate that we are worthy of the trust from both consumers and regulators, and that they trust us to do the right thing. Occasionally they may ask us to prove it,” adds Wegner.

And Hockman suggests that working with regulators and food purveyors will enable those groups to become educated in their own right, to challenge and counteract the unscientific myths. “We are seeing a variety of external forces putting extreme pressure on our business that are adding cost to our systems,” he points out.

Comparing Circovirus Vaccine Efficacy

Most hog operations with porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) also have a multitude of co-infections, namely porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), swine influenza virus (SIV) and Mycoplasmal pneumonia. But clearly, PCV2 alone can dramatically impact mortality, morbidity, percentage marketed and average daily gain.

Joe Connor, DVM, co-owner of Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service, Ltd., estimates that the federally approved circovirus vaccines provide a return on investment (ROI) of 6:1 to 8:1 in herds with co-infections, based on Kansas State research.

He presented results of a wean-to-finish trial at a World Pork Expo seminar, sponsored by Fort Dodge Animal Health, in a herd naturally infected with PCV2, but free of PRRS and SIV and stable for mycoplasma. The PCV2 vaccines yielded a 3:1 ROI.

“When it comes to cutting costs, circovirus vaccines are way down the list because response to infection is huge,” Connor comments. “There is a tremendous improvement in performance. Vaccines capture a lot of pounds and provide a return that is quite high compared to other interventions.”

Vaccine Trials

The 141-day trial ran from November 2007 to March 2008. A total of 1,200 weaned pigs were fed out in a typical, totally slotted, tunnel-ventilated, wean-to-finish barn featuring 40 pens, 30 pigs/pen at 7.5 sq. ft./pig.

The barn had a history of PCV2 infections; mortality six months ago was 27%.

The six treatment groups were:

  • Suvaxyn PCV2 One Dose (Fort Dodge Animal Health) given at 3 weeks of age;

  • Suvaxyn PCV2 One Dose administered at 5 weeks of age;

  • Performance Results

    Suvaxyn PCV2 One Dose given as a split dose at 3 and 5 weeks of age;

  • Ingelvac CircoFLEX (Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.) given at 3 weeks of age;

  • Circumvent PCV (Intervet), a two-dose vaccine, administered at 3 and 5 weeks of age; and

  • Control pigs given sterile water injections at 3 and 5 weeks of age.

Twenty-five percent of the pigs that were randomly tested by serology at seven different intervals to determine antibody response and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests were analyzed for the age of pig infected with PCV2, length of PCV2 viremia (infection in the blood) and the PCV2 strain.

Connor says all three vaccines showed nearly equal efficacy “in mitigating clinical signs, but also reducing the amount of virus present and reducing the duration of shedding of the virus.”

Total Mortality Regardless of Cause of Death
Figure 1. Total Mortality Regardless of Cause of Death
Select image to enlarge

Figure 1 (page 26) illustrates what Connor refers to as the “clustering effect” of vaccinated pigs vs. control group pigs for impact on mortality. Suvaxyn One Dose given at 3 weeks of age led the pack with 1.0% mortality, followed by Intervet's Circumvent PCV with 2.0% mortality.

For morbidity rates, based on total pigs culled that were under 200 lb. (Figure 2), vaccine results were again similar. Suvaxyn's One Dose given at 5 weeks of age led with 0.5% morbidity.

Illinois Herd Beats Circovirus

All five groups of vaccinates showed marked results in finishing close to 95% of pigs on test, compared with 88% of control pigs.

The serological summary indicated an excellent response to vaccination. PCRs indicated excellent natural PCV2 virus infection in controls and much more rapid clearing of the virus in vaccinated pigs. The differential PCR tests indicated that both PCV2a and PCV2b strains were present with PCV2b the most prevalent strain.

Connor stresses that as good as the vaccines are in beating down PCVAD (porcine circovirus-associated disease), the industry is challenged in keeping PCV2 out of the building environment to prevent reinfection. He says sanitation and hygiene and all-in, all-out pig flows should still be the hallmark of biosecurity programs.

Total Culls/Morbidity
Figure 2. Total Culls/Morbidity
Select image to enlarge

Some pigs clear the virus relatively slowly, leaving “seeders” to contaminate facilities for the next group.

PCV2-viremic pigs can increase difficulty of disease control because the hardy virus can be shed and easily live in barns/farms and transport trucks.

Pike Pig Systems of Pike County, IL, is a 1,400-sow, farrow-to-finish operation that dealt with the usual disease suspects from 1995 to 2005, says herd veterinarian Patrick Graham, Ghrist Veterinary Clinic, Pittsfield, IL.

There were two major cases of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) during that decade, and two or three outbreaks of swine influenza virus.

Back then the operation targeted production at 600 pigs/week. Pigs flowed into eight, 600-head nursery rooms and then into nine, 1,200-head finisher barns. The nurseries and finishers were just 600 yards apart, and both were continuous-flow systems, Graham says.

Along the way, the herd also dealt with ileitis, Mycoplasmal pneumonia, erysipelas and circovirus.

In 2005, additional losses were due to vaccine failures for PRRS and mycoplasma and lack of response following antibiotic treatments. Clinical disease signs slowly worsened. Progressively, respiratory and enteric problems increased, and culls and death losses became elevated.

Diagnostics provided a clearer picture of herd health. PRRS, mycoplasma, Haemophilus parasuis and Actinobacillus suis were all identified; porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) and ileitis were questioned as factors. An aggressive antibiotic program failed.

Poor-doing pigs were aggressively sorted off, and many that failed to thrive were euthanized. In characterizing the herd, Graham says: “The good ones were good, but the bad ones were bad!”

Nursery performance was generally unaffected, while finisher performance crashed. Death loss rose over a four-week period in early finishing with prolonged periods of scours, wasting and porcine dermatitis and nephropathy syndrome.

During the fall of 2005 through the first two months of 2006, prior to implementing a circovirus vaccination program (Circumvent PCV from Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health), mortality bounced around from 5-15%, Graham notes. Again there were finisher pigs that did quite well — with average daily gains nearing 2 lb./day and feed conversion rates of less than 3:1.

In March 2006, PRRS vaccination was stopped and circovirus vaccination was started. The mortality rate for 2007 dropped to 3.8%. From March 2006 to April 2007, performance rebounded with an average daily gain of 1.92 lb./day and an average feed conversion rate of 2.89.

Graham says vaccines worked and antibiotics didn't in controlling PCV2-related diseases. With medication, control costs were $132.06/head and death loss was 17.1%. With vaccination, death loss dropped to 2% and costs ran $117.51/head. As a result, Pike Pig Systems reconfigured their hog operation, producing 1,300 pigs/week and contract finishing.

“Circumvent PCV dramatically improved performance, and when pigs are vaccinated at the right time — at 3 and 5 weeks of age (two-dose vaccine) — the vaccine is highly cost-effective,” explains Graham.
— Joe Vansickle

Subclinical Circovirus Can Still Hurt Performance

If you think circovirus is not harming pig performance because you do not see active signs of the disease, and mortality rates have not really spiked, you might want to think again.

That's the view of Doug King, DVM, Cargill Pork, based in Wichita, KS, who learned that a mild clinical presentation could be hiding performance losses.

Normally, porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) strikes pigs at 6 to 18 weeks of age, producing a plethora of clinical signs, often resulting in emaciation and death.

Case Study

A three-site production system was negative for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, but positive for Mycoplasmal pneumonia and PCV2. Pig viremia (virus infection in the blood) peaked when pigs were around 10 weeks of age — but there were no clinical signs of disease, King explained in a talk at World Pork Expo.

To find out if subclinical PCVAD (no visible signs) was having an impact on performance and the company's bottom line, King designed a trial where 1,200, 21-day-old weaned pigs were commingled at the nursery and placed in two groups. Half of the pigs were vaccinated at 3 weeks of age with Boehringer Ingelheim's CircoFLEX, while the other half were unvaccinated and served as the control group. Vaccinates and controls were commingled with either 25 or 50 pigs/pen. Pigs were weighed on the day of vaccination (Day 0), Day 41 and on Day 131 at the end of the trial.

All of the pigs remained clinically normal throughout the trial, even though PCVAD was confirmed by tissue analysis in individual pigs.

Results showed that vaccinated pigs had significantly reduced PCV2 viral loads at 10, 14 and 18 weeks post-placement.

According to King, there were no differences between the two treatment groups for average daily gain (ADG) during the nursery phase (Day 0-41).

But pigs vaccinated with Ingelvac CircoFLEX showed better ADG (1.92 lb./day) from Day 41 to 131 vs. 1.85 lb./day for control pigs. Overall, ADG for Day 0-131 was 1.57 lb./day for vaccinates vs. 1.52 lb./day for controls (0.06 vaccinate ADG advantage).

Although King says there were no major differences during the study for either nursery or finishing mortality rates, test results indicated a significant reduction in the number of bottom-end pigs in the vaccinated group. At Day 131, 5.16% of vaccinates weighed less than 180 lb., vs. 10.24% that weighed less than 180 lb. in the non-vaccinated group. Combined nursery and finishing scores did show some overall differences in mortality rates at 5.18% for vaccinates vs. 7.07% for non-vaccinates.

“Pigs vaccinated with Ingelvac CircoFLEX had heavier average hot carcass weights and a more muscular carcass,” he notes. Vaccinate hot carcass weights averaged 194.23 lb., while control hot carcass weights averaged 190.76 lb.

As far as total weight differences, vaccinates in the trial produced 5,805 lb. more pork than controls (140,784 lb. vs. 134,979 lb.).

King calculated the total market value (including culls) of vaccinates and controls by factoring in additional revenue based on the packer market grid matrix. Vaccinates earned about a 1% premium in value relative to the control pigs.

“From those values, one can conservatively estimate a $4.38 return on investment for every dollar invested in Ingelvac CircoFlex vaccine in this study,” he says.

King concludes the addition of vaccine to this production system upgraded key production parameters unrelated to any impact on mortality, providing evidence that vaccination can play a major role in controlling the subclinical impact of PCV2.
— Joe Vansickle

Keep Plum Island?

Repairing or replacing the “worn out” buildings at the 54-year-old Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC), located just off the coast of Long Island, NY, is not a viable option for protection of the U.S. pork industry, says Jennifer Greiner, DVM, director of Science and Technology, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

The federal facility is responsible for research and diagnosis on foreign animal diseases, and development of vaccines to protect against those diseases.

Island Not Suitable Site

The NPPC testified recently at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Over-sight and Investigations regarding a new site for the study of foreign animal diseases.

Five states on the mainland are under consideration for the new National Bio and Agri-Defense Facility (NBAF), including sites in Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.

Howard Hill, DVM, chief operating officer of Iowa Select Farms based at Ames, IA, has spent more than 30 years researching animal diseases. He testified on behalf of NPPC.

While Plum Island was considered the ideal spot to safely study exotic diseases, there are “serious drawbacks to having the facility stay there,” he says.

Building a new facility on the island “would be prohibitively more expensive than on the mainland,” says Hill. It's difficult to recruit top scientists to work at Plum Island because of the high cost of living in the area and the inconvenience of the one-and-a-half mile ferry ride to work each day, he adds.

Another reason for moving the site to the mainland is that Congress has shown over the last 20 years that it is reluctant to appropriate the funds needed to maintain Plum Island as a state-of-the art, world-class facility, Greiner points out. Part of that problem, again, stems from the fact that it is very expensive to ferry people and building materials to Plum Island.

NPPC has also learned that local communities around Long Island don't like having the Plum Island facility in their backyard and are adamantly opposed to its expansion, she says.

Risk Profile Needed

Instead of just conducting a risk assessment, the NPPC has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees Plum Island, to work on a comprehensive risk profile to determine the best site, adds Greiner.

That risk profile must assess each area for:

  • Susceptible animal populations that could be exposed to an outbreak should disease organisms escape from the facility;

  • The ability of the state and federal governments to quickly control and eradicate a disease;

  • The impact of an outbreak on the local environment and the wildlife population; and

  • The economic consequences to the area's livestock population should an outbreak occur.

Technology has advanced quite a bit in the past decade that would allow proper safeguards for a lab to be built on the mainland, Greiner notes.

Address Plan of Work

While most of the current debate surrounds the location and cost of the new facility, consideration must also be given to the anticipated scope of work at the NBAF, Hill stresses.

NBAF's focus will be multi-disciplinary, meaning it will focus on human and animal diseases, particularly zoonotic diseases. A focus on zoonotic diseases is a departure from the focus at PIADC.

“While we support the need for a high-containment, biosafety level-four facility for researching zoonotic diseases in large animals, the swine industry is concerned that the animal health portion of this mission will be subordinated to the more publicly supported human health agenda,” Hill says.

What's needed are assurances that USDA and DHS will work together to provide NBAF the resources to achieve and enhance its mission to protect the U.S. livestock industry and meat exports against catastrophic economic losses caused by foreign animal diseases, he testified.

NPPC's testimony suggests there are lessons to be learned from construction of USDA's new National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, IA. The facility was designed to meet the anticipated needs of animal agriculture based on the scope defined by USDA and the livestock industry. That design, however, was modified during construction to meet budget constraints.

A second major lesson from the Ames project is that new buildings with high bio-containment levels are more expensive to operate. Higher maintenance and utility costs have left NADC with inadequate operating funds, thereby limiting the purpose for which it was built.

“The location of the NBAF must be based on assessed risks rather than on which entity is willing to build such a facility,” Hill concludes. “Location should be reexamined to see if the ‘island effect’ can be recreated by siting the facility in an area with low densities of livestock and wildlife. And, we need the new facility to enhance the capabilities of our industry with regard to research and treatment for all foreign animal diseases.”

PRRS Vaccine Improves Performance

In a three-year research project in a large Nebraska swine operation, modified-live PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) virus vaccine produced a positive reduction of nursery mortality and vastly improved production efficiency, says John Waddell, DVM, Sutton, NE.

The results showed that nursery pig vaccination pays. “PRRS continues to be a major challenge for U.S. swine producers, costing them more than $13/head for losses through the nursery and grow-finish phases,” he says.

Persistent PRRS Infection

There was no doubt that this operation endured a stiff PRRS challenge, says Waddell. Infected sows would regularly transfer viral infection to piglets. Seventeen-day-old weaned pigs would create multiple PRRS-positive nurseries containing unpredictable “leaker litters” that would then pass the virus 3-4 weeks post-arrival. Virtually all of the penmates would eventually become infected.

Double-digit nursery mortality and poor performance would characteristically last through the finishing phase, he says. In contrast, PRRS-negative nurseries that came from stable or naïve sow farms in the system produced mortality under 2%.

Challenging Nursery Problems

“When we first started this project in the nurseries in early 2005, there was actually kind of a defeatist attitude among a lot of the nursery managers,” Waddell recalls. The three-site, commercial system featured nursery pigs of mixed-health status, flowing from PRRS-negative and PRRS-positive stable and unstable sow herds. Average nursery pig mortality in the first year of the trial was greater than 9%. Vaccinating for PRRS reduced mortality to under 3%.

In the 2005 study, more than 600,000 pigs weaned from PRRS-positive herds were vaccinated.

Table 1 illustrates the dramatic results. PRRS-positive nurseries averaged mortality rates of 10.65%, which dropped to 2.65% with vaccine intervention. That compares favorably with PRRS-negative, non-vaccinated nurseries that recorded mortality rates of 3.04%. Performance data were similar in both groups, he explains.

“Vaccinated, PRRS-positive pigs performed equally well compared to our PRRS-negative pigs,” Waddell reported at World Pork Expo in Des Moines, IA. “We were excited that the PRRS vaccine really did control several strains of the PRRS virus.” The vaccine used throughout the trials was Boehringer Ingelheim's ATP PRRS vaccine. The PRRS vaccine was not used in negative and stable pig flows to allow for comparison. No sows were ever vaccinated.

Trial Results Sustained

In 2006-2007, all nursery pigs (513,797 from both PRRS-positive and PRRS-negative sow herds) were vaccinated for PRRS and mortality and performance evaluations were completed. The results revealed that the performance improvements achieved in 2005 were sustained through 2006-2007, says Waddell. The results are reported in Table 2.

Equally important, vaccinating all nursery pigs to achieve the same PRRS status offered much greater flexibility in pig flow management by permitting commingling of pigs from more sources, he explains. It also reduced nursery flow times and streamlined transportation logistics.

Controlling the PRRS virus in multiple nurseries and finishers has helped make the vaccine strain the dominant strain in that production system, Waddell says, stressing that PRRS vaccine produced immediate results, which have continued to this day.

Vaccination Experiences

Waddell believes that the use of needle-less vaccination technology in all trials should receive some credit for the project's success, in that it helped eliminate potential spread of the field virus via needle use from pig to pig.

When weaned pigs were picked up for PRRS vaccination with the needle-less system, they were also usually vaccinated for Mycoplasmal pneumonia and sometimes for Haemophilus parasuis.

However, vaccinating for circovirus proved unnecessary, despite the fact that porcine circovirus type 2 was known to exist in the large production system. “In that grow-finish flow, we have never initiated circovirus vaccination, and I believe that by controlling PRRS, this important co-factor, it's allowed us to forego circovirus vaccination,” Waddell states.

Comprehensive Plan Needed

The Nebraska research study demonstrates the importance of vaccination in managing PRRS virus, “especially when the virus is a co-factor with porcine circovirus-associated disease,” says Reid Philips, DVM, technical manager for respiratory products at Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. PRRS vaccination provided at least a 3.5:1 return on investment, he adds.

“Controlling PRRS is a challenging task. The use of vaccines, along with appropriate biosecurity, pig management and sanitation procedures, sow farm monitoring and PRRS risk assessments are important parts of a comprehensive herd health program,” he says.

Waddell notes the operation has also invested heavily in truck sanitation bays, trailer baking bays, dedicated trucks and creating a barrier between outer and inner sanctum trailers to protect the integrity of the loading chute.

Table 1. Performance of PRRS-Positive, Vaccinated Nurseries and PRRS-Negative Nurseries
Item Total number of pigs out Mortality (%) In wt. (lb.) Out wt. (lb.) ADG1 (lb.) FE2
PRRS-positive, vaccinated nurseries 331,462 2.65 13.73 54.94 0.89 1.56
PRRS-negative, non-vaccinated nurseries 337,810 3.04 13.61 54.01 0.88 1.62
1Average daily gain, 2Feed efficiency
Table 2. Sustained Performance of All Nursery Pig Flows, Both PRRS-Positive and PRRS-Negative, All Vaccinated
Item Total Pigs Out Mortality, (%) ADG1 (lb.) FE2
All Vaccinated Flows 1,053,886 1.99 0.84 1.64
1Average daily gain, 2Feed efficiency

Plan Survival Strategies

Glenn Grimes, University of Missouri professor emeritus of agricultural economics, began his outlook talk at World Pork Expo with a stern warning: “If you want to make the hog business part of your future, you need a plan on how to survive the next 12-15 months.

“You need to look at both the grain side and the hog side and start thinking about how to minimize your losses rather than maximize your profits.”

Rising Costs

On the grain side, increasing global energy demand is driving corn prices higher. U.S. corn usage from 2000 to 2007 climbed 30%, says Grimes. Use by livestock continues to hover around 50%. Ethanol has gone from about ¼ to ⅓ of corn stocks during that time, and corn exports have about doubled.

Using 30-year price plateaus established for corn during the last 100 years, Grimes projects the price for corn will average $4-5/bu. during the next 30 years.

Based on those grain price estimates and other rising production costs, Grimes pegs the cost of hog production for the next year at an average of $65/cwt.

Corn Outlook

A June 12 Feed Outlook report from USDA's Economic Research Service lowered 2008-2009 corn production by 390 million bu. to 11.7 billion bu. The decline reflects lower expected yields due to slow planting progress and slow crop emergence, hindered by persistent, heavy rainfall across the Corn Belt.

As a result of slower plantings, USDA has dropped projected corn yield by 5 bu. to 148.9 bu./acre. The 2008-2009 farm price for corn is projected at $5.30 to $6.30/bu.

Based on current weather conditions, climatologist Elwynn Taylor of Iowa State University forecasts 2008 corn yields will average 148 bu./acre and corn price at harvest based on December futures contract will be $6.85/bu. He forecasts soybean yields to average 37 bu./acre.

Production Efficiency

A key driver in the growth of pork production over the last 70-80 years has been production efficiency. “Since 1930, we have reduced sow inventory by 42% and increased annual pork production by 221%,” Grimes states. Annual pork production/sow growth has accelerated over time. From 1930-1980, it was just over 2%, while from 1980-2007, it grew at an annual rate of almost 2.8%.

How has that growth from 1930 to 2007 been achieved?

  • Pigs/litter grew from 6.0 to nearly 9.5.

  • Litters/sow/year went from 1.3 to nearly 2.3.

  • Pigs/sow/year skyrocketed from 7.5 to 21.

  • Average hog carcass weight climbed from 125 lb. to 200 lb.

Based on elastic demand for hogs, it takes a 1% change in supply to achieve a 2% change in price. At that rate, Grimes says, it appears that pork producers will need to reduce production by 10-12% to return hog prices to profitable levels — “and that will be painful,” he reflects.

Trade Perspectives

Along with pork exports, demand has helped to prop up hog prices beyond expectations, considering record pork supplies. Grimes says for the first four months of 2008, consumer demand for pork was up 2-3%, while live hog demand improved 5% or more.

At the same time, U.S. commercial pork production reached nearly 22 billion pounds in 2007, having increased each of the last seven years. This unprecedented level of growth makes the hog cycle longer and less predictable. It also means adjustments on the downside will also take longer, says Grimes.

One bright spot is that hog slaughter weights have finally dropped. According to USDA data, for the week ending May 10, weights were down 2 lb., and 1 lb. for the week ending May 17.

U.S. hog slaughter capacity of 425,000 head slightly exceeded 2006's levels, based on survey data from Steve Meyer, Paragon Economics, Inc. That level of capacity should ensure adequate slaughter capacity this fall, as long as all plants stay in operation, Grimes notes.

Hog Pricing Opportunities

The hog futures market has offered better pricing opportunities than the cash side for the last 18 months, Grimes comments. “Roughly 11% of independent producers who used futures contracts from August 2007 to March 2008 got about $120 million more than they would have had they sold their hogs on the spot (cash) market.”

Continued increases in productivity for 2008 are fueled by farrowings that are 1-3% above a year ago, 2-3% higher productivity growth and more live pig/hog imports from Canada. That all adds up to a 7.5% increase in U.S. hog slaughter, totaling 117.3 million head for 2008.

On a live weight basis, Grimes estimates hog prices will average $46/49/cwt. for 2008, based on Iowa-Minnesota markets. Averages were $47.53 in 2006 and $47.05 in 2007.

Survey Finds Many Are Unprepared

Arecent survey of pork producers, conducted to identify environmental concerns, has revealed that some don't understand key issues.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) contracted with Validus Services, LLC, which collected the thoughts of 183 Strategic Investment Partners (SIP) on 35 questions posed in January and February of 2008.

The majority of producers responding to the survey were owners (74%), contract feeders (11%) and environmental managers (7%), according to Michael Formica, environmental policy counsel.

These respondents represented mostly farrow-to-finish operations (48%), wean-to-finish systems (26%) and farrow-to-wean operations (11%).

Getting Ready for CAFO

When asked how prepared they are to comply with the CAFO (confined animal feeding operations) rule, a large percentage of producers are willing to comply, but many don't understand the rule. That rule is targeted for publication in the Federal Register in August, Formica explained in a World Pork Expo talk.

In the NPPC survey, 34% indicated they didn't understand the CAFO rule, and 75% suggested that NPPC explain the CAFO rule, while more than 75% requested an explanation of the Ag Stormwater Exemption, which governs discharges from CAFOs.

Close to 70% also requested more information on strategies for phosphorus reduction in manure and an explanation of how to calculate manure value.

The top five environmental issues identified in order of importance were water quality, air quality, antibiotics, respiratory issues and greenhouse gases.

Respondents identified five elements that the industry should focus on to improve environmental performance: practice better location selection, eliminate manure spills, manage old lagoons, control the odor of spreading manure and improve mortality disposal.

Producers said animal housing presented the most financially challenging issue for odor control and manure application, followed by under-building pits.

On serious issues affecting pork production today, about 81% rated animal welfare the top priority, followed closely by food safety, the environment and concerns about public health. Worker care and on-farm security rounded out the major concerns.

Environmental issues that neighbors actually complain about vs. what producers view as the public's perception of concerning issues are a point of contention. Generally there is a disconnect between issues raised by the local community vs. concerns expressed by the media. Neighbor complaints are largely about hog odors, while television or newspaper reports raise concerns about discharges of manure and chemicals into waters.

That same theme of neighbors' complaints vs. producer views of public concerns shows that on issues of erosion, dust, runoff and water shortages, neighbor complaints make up a very small percentage vs. producers' views of what the public perceives to be an issue.

Dealing with EQIP

Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they have an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) contract to improve the environment on their farms. But 3% said they never heard of EQIP, 16% said they never considered applying for EQIP funds and 6% said they wanted to stay away from government programs.

Additionally, 14% indicated they had not participated in the program; 1% said they were discouraged from participation by local Natural Resources Conservation Services personnel; and 10% said that bureaucracy discouraged them from applying for funding.

Formica says during 2003-2005, livestock received about 60% of all EQIP dollars. Of that 60%, beef practices garnered 66% of those funds, while swine operations cashed in on only 3% of funds. The hope is to greatly expand available funds for pork producers.

Formica says the survey was conducted to identify public policy areas requiring renewed producer outreach.

Overall, producers directed NPPC to work harder at refuting misconceptions about industry practices.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to review two years of research data collected on a cross-section of CAFO farms to develop on-farm air emission standards.

8 Tips for Tough Times

Steve Meyer, founder of Paragon Economics, Inc., Des Moines, IA, led off acknowledging that the challenges facing pork producers are different than they've experienced before — “so you're going to have to learn a few things,” he explained during a World Pork Expo seminar in early June.

These four tips rose to the top:

Stay alert for buying opportunities to lower feed costs

“Use ‘call options’ to put a lid on feed prices,” he urges.

“Call options give you the right to buy a futures position at the strike price. I know the premiums are high and I realize you may not be used to them. But premiums are based on volatility and time. As you get out into the future, the time value starts getting pretty high. Still, I encourage you to use call options because if we get some heat in June and July, we could still see a decent crop and feed prices could go down. If we had 2004 yields of 160+ bu./acre, we could see corn for less than $5/bu. So, rather than take a futures' position, I'd suggest using call options. Plus, you don't have to face margin calls with call options.

“You're going to have to be more nimble than you have been in the past when these buying opportunities come,” Meyer adds.

Build a strategic reserve of corn

“I'm real concerned about the availability of corn next summer, depending on where you are. I suggest having 2-3 months of physical corn in bins somewhere, then go back on the market and go hand-to-mouth between now and next summer using your call options to limit your exposure. I know storage isn't cheap, but I think you've got to have corn on hand to get through next summer. I'll bet if you asked the local ethanol plant managers, they are doing the same thing,” Meyer says.

Plan for the long term

“I would certainly recommend that you talk to corn growers in your area and try to make deals to secure your corn supply. Now they're not going to price it. You will buy it at the market price, but at least you will have an agreement that says, ‘I will buy it and you will sell it to me, not the ethanol plant down the road.’ Do it contractually,” Meyer continues.

“That is a good procedure for at least a portion of your corn needs. At what percentage will be decided based on your comfort level.”

Get your operation lean and mean

Not a new philosophy, and for those who have made it this far, something you are probably already doing. “Still, it is more important now than ever,” Meyer stresses. “All those things from adjusting feeders to fine-tuning rations, watching feed budgets and, maybe, pulling market weights down a little are going to be so important.”

Production Tips

Mike Brumm, founder of Brumm Swine Consultancy of North Mankato, MN, continued with four more strategies to reduce production costs and improve efficiencies:

Adjust feeders

Brumm offers a new twist to this common chore. “Walk the barn with the person who will be adjusting the feeders. Take a digital camera with you. Then, you and that person agree on what a proper adjustment looks like. Take a picture and post it in that barn. Now, the picture in the barn belongs to that person. You will get better feeder adjustments,” he assures.

As a footnote, Brumm said the feeder adjustment guideline cards posted at the Kansas State University web site ( would soon be revised.

“They will show more feed in the pan,” he explains. “Based on the K-State research and the experiences I've had, you should have about 40% of the pan covered with feed, optimum. If you set them tighter, you will have limited feed availability in some cases.”

Be wary of out-of-feed events

Brumm list three causes of these very real occurrences.

First cause: You are. Be sure there is feed in the bulk bin; slide management on tandem bins require attention, too.

Second cause: There's feed in the bin but you can't get it out because of bridging.

Third cause: Equipment failure.

“The consequence of any of these events is the pigs get no feed — and it appears to affect growing pigs more than finishing pigs. If pigs weighing from 40 to 120 lb. miss a meal, they don't make it up. It impacts their daily gain,” he explains.

“In our work at the University of Nebraska, a once-a-week out-of-feed event resulted in an 8-lb. lighter pig. The biggest impact is on lights and culls. If lights and culls go from 5% up to 10% of your barn, it will cost you $3/head finished in that barn. That is real money,” he emphasizes.

The cost of getting feed in the bin

“This is an area most people haven't thought much about. How many of you have talked to your toll miller about a discount if you could get 80% of your feed delivered in mid-week?” he asks. Avoiding feed deliveries on Mondays and Fridays could save you $3-5/ton.

Another cost that is catching on with toll millers is the “full-load delivery price,” applied regardless of how much feed is actually being delivered.

“You've got to get better at ensuring that when a feed truck comes onto your place, that truck is completely full,” he notes.

Managing heating and cooling costs/payback

“The electronic controller is where the decisions are made to control energy use. We don't do a very good job of understanding what is there and how to use it,” he admonishes.

One adjustment many producers have not made is allowing for more body heat generated by modern-day genetics. “People think they have to keep barns warmer today because pigs are leaner, and they don't have any backfat for warmth,” he explains. “But, the deposition of lean creates more heat than the deposition of fat, so today's genetics have 15-20% greater heat output than the genetics of the '80s.”

To set temperatures more effectively, be sure to measure the temperature at pig level before establishing the set point for temperature, he suggests.

On the flip side, producers need to do a better job of cooling pigs during the hot summer months. “Start sprinkling pigs at 80° F. and be sure to wet all pigs,” Brumm says. He suggests two minutes of “on” time, covering no more than 60% of the pen. “And remember, cooling happens when pigs are drying, not when they are being sprinkled. The key is a big water droplet.”

Brumm also suggests plumbing drippers from the center of the barn outward. When drippers are plumbed from one end of the barn to the other, the “on” time required to get the last pen wet means the first pens receive excess water. Plumbing from the center reduces “on” time, conserves water and ensures more uniform coverage in each pen.

Expo Tracks Producers

Gone are the days of tracking total attendance numbers by counting ticket-holders who file through the gates of the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, IA, for the World Pork Expo (WPX).

Starting this year, producers mostly registered in advance and gained entrance with a badge that allowed National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) sponsor of the annual event, to concentrate on tracking producer numbers.

“In the past, all we could do was count the number of tickets used at the gate, and those numbers included lots of people other than pork producers,” explains Bryan Black, NPPC president and pork producer from Canal Winchester, OH. “Now we can better understand what producers would like to see there. As the saying goes, ‘if it's about pork production, you'll find it at World Pork Expo.’”

NPPC reports that 17,756 pork producers attended the 20th anniversary of the event. That number excludes exhibitors, staff, state fair workers and others entering the grounds.

“This is a much more meaningful number for our industry than we've had in the past,” Black says. “The show has evolved over the years and, since this is the 20th anniversary, we thought it was time to bring technology into play and begin measuring the things that are most important to our producers and exhibitors.”

Attendance by international exhibitors increased. An estimated 10% of producer attendees came from about 45 foreign countries.

Next year's show is being moved forward a day to further enhance the ability to draw a professional pork producer audience, say show officials. NPPC has moved the event to a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday format for 2009. The dates are June 3, 4 and 5.

For a list of winners of the many contests, drawings and sales held at World Pork Expo, visit