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Articles from 2006 In September

Circovirus Uncertainties

There is still a lot of talk about porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) and porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD), but much of the discussion is now shifting to vaccines that have been used in Canada and tested in the United States.

Virtually all of what I have heard about the effectiveness of the vaccines has been positive. There is, however, a problem with availability, especially in the United States. Whether the holdup is regulatory or manufacturing is not completely clear, but it doesn't look like much of the vaccine will be available for several months.

The use of this vaccine is great for pigs and good for producers, but we need to monitor it for potential market effects. The question is whether effective vaccines will have the diluted, gradual effect on market numbers that we have always seen from disease-driven death losses.

I'm still not convinced that the short slaughter hog supplies of May and June were caused by PCV2/PCVAD, since we had larger-than-expected slaughter runs in July. Could it be that the real effect of the disease last spring was to slow down growth rate? I know that many pigs died, but it certainly appears that losses were smaller than the horror stories had us thinking.

The use of a vaccine could be rather sudden depending on how much becomes available. More, effective vaccine could certainly result in higher survival rates and higher market supplies, perhaps as quickly as a month or two after use. I'll watch the situation and provide any insights I can gain.

Hogs & Pigs Report Due Today
USDA's Quarterly Hogs and Pigs Report will be released on Friday afternoon and, judging by DowJones compilation of market analysts' pre-report estimates (shown in Figure 1), it will be another yawner. Not that a yawner would be bad, mind you. The slow pace of expansion is largely the reason for continued good hog prices, and a continuation of that pace may be sorely needed when the 2007 corn crop starts flowing to the plethora of ethanol plants that will be up and running next year.

The only two numbers in DowJones collection that exceed 101% of year-ago levels are for hogs weighing over 180 lb. and the breeding herd. The 180+ number at 101.8% appears low, based on September slaughter.

USDA's estimate for daily slaughter set another record (417,000 head) on Wednesday. The decline in live hog prices this past week puts packer margins in a good position to drive a sizable Saturday kill this week. Even with a 100,000-head run this Saturday, September 2006 slaughter will be only slightly larger than one year ago -- but there's a catch.

September this year includes 20 weekdays and five Saturdays. September 2005 included 21 weekdays and four Saturdays. Adjusting for that difference would give an apples-to-apples comparison that shows 2006 September slaughter was up 3% or more from last year. And it is not Canadian imports that make the difference. Shipments of Canadian slaughter hogs from Aug. 27 through Sept. 23 were over 30,000 head (14%) smaller than last year.

The breeding herd estimate at 101.1% of last year looks quite reasonable, but still belies this summer's large sow slaughter and relatively low gilt retention figures from the University of Missouri's weekly packer surveys. As can be seen in Figure 2, U.S. sow slaughter had gotten closer to year-ago levels for the five weeks prior to Labor Day, but has now jumped back to over 4,000 head (6-8%) larger than last year.

It appears to me that we are seeing a fundamental change in the relationship of sow slaughter to the sow herd. I'm not sure yet what has changed, but I do believe that we are simply seeing more sows make it to slaughter. There simply is no other good answer at this point.

Breeding Herd Structure Summary Released
USDA released the 2006 version of its U.S. Hog Breeding Herd Structure report last Friday. The report can be accessed at It includes updated information on various productivity measures for the U.S. industry. Some highlights are:

  • Continued growth in the productivity of the U.S. herd, with pigs saved/breeding animal in 2005 growing to 17.4, up from 16.9 in 2003.

  • An increase in the number of operations with 5,000 head or more in inventory, moving from 2,270 operations in 2003 to 2,360. These operations now account for 82% of the U.S. pig crop.

  • Large operations average 9.09 pigs/litter, up from 8.99 in 2003. Smaller operations (those with less than 5,000 head) average 8.66 pigs/litter, up from 8.48 pigs/litter in 2003.
These data always stir discussion regarding the relative efficiency of different sizes of operations. Everyone should remember that these are averages for the groups and that there is quite a bit of variation in both. There are smaller operations that are just as efficient as the big guys, and there are big guys who struggle with production efficiencies.

It is clear that, on average, the big operations do better. But note in these data that the smaller operations have made more progress in litter size (0.18 pigs/litter vs. 0.10 pigs/litter) over the past two years. Part of that is the reduction in the number of very small herds that tend, on average, to produce substantially smaller litters.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.
e-mail: [email protected]

Export Dip Merely A Blip

Tuesday's release of export data for July was a bit of a shock for the pork industry in that it showed the first year-over-year monthly decline (-4.1%) since November 2003. While negative numbers for export growth are never good news, I don't think this is anything to get alarmed about, at least not yet. Consider:

<ul> <li>Year-over-year comparisons for exports to Japan returned to the minus side of the ledger in July after June finally showed year-over-year growth. But the decline in July vs. last year is not a big surprise given the extremely high level of shipments to Japan last year. It's obvious from Figure 1 that the month was unusual -- July exports are usually lower than June exports. Last year, though, July shipments were extremely large because some product was delayed as importers tried (successfully!!) to avoid triggering Japan's safeguard tariff at the end of Japan's fiscal first quarter. We heard that pork was sitting on ships in Japanese harbors in late June so it could be offloaded after June 30 and thus, not count in first-quarter safeguard computations. It should be noted that this year's exports in July were the second-largest on record. </li>

<li>Japan's imports of chicken from the United States nearly doubled in June and July vs. one year ago. Industry sources report that shipments from Brazil grew even more. I still contend that the data in Figure 1 do not support bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) as being the reason for excellent export performance to Japan in 2005. The trend line in this graph is based on monthly data for January 1996 through December 2003. I think actual exports should be deviating from this trend consistently if BSE was the cause for the increase. A much more plausible explanation is Japanese fear of chicken due to human deaths in Asia from avian influenza. That explains the surge in 2005 and the recent return to more normal trend line growth --- albeit below the 2005 levels. </li>

<li>U.S. pork prices rose significantly in late May and June. While we ship a lot of high-value products to Japan, I'm confident that the demand curve for pork slopes downward (i.e. less product is purchased when prices are high) in Japan just like it does in the United States. It is quite possible that the quick increase in product prices cooled some orders. </li>

<li>Finally -- you just can't win them all by six touchdowns! The U.S. pork industry has had an unbelievable run of export growth and year-to-date shipments are still 12.4% larger than last year. We have already shipped more pork products overseas this year than we did in all of 2003. </li></ul>

Any slowdown will, however, cause prices to move back toward expected levels. Hog prices have outperformed expectations for much of this year, but output growth in 2007 (USDA pegged it at 2.8% in Tuesday's World Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE)), and a slowdown in export growth could increase domestic per capita pork availability next year.
<b>Corn Crop Pegged at Second-Largest Ever</b>
The good economic news this week came in the form of further confirmation that corn will be plentiful -- for at least one more year! USDA's September Crop Production Report pegged the average yield at 154.7 bushels/acre, the second-highest yield ever. Even with this year's lower planted and harvested acres, that yield will give us a corn crop of 11.114 billion bushels, just larger than last year's crop and the second-largest ever. Some changes in predicted exports and carry-in stocks lowered predicted 2007 carry-over stocks slightly, but USDA now predicts '06-'07 corn prices will be about 17.5% higher than this year.
Chicago Mercantile Exchange corn futures have adjusted in recent weeks to reflect a more normal "carry" for the 2006 crop into late 2007. A few weeks ago, there was a significant premium in corn futures for 2007 and beyond. Producers should get as much cash corn as possible in hand at harvest lows. Corn demand is going to do nothing but grow over the next two years as ethanol plants are built on every other corner. All right, that is an exaggeration -- but not much of one! The corn market will buy acres, but the predicted tight 2007 carryover will still make corn markets explosive if dry weather of any significance develops.
<a href="" target="_new"><img align="left" valign="top" src="" vspace="0" border="0" hspace="3"></a><br><br> Click to view graphs.<br><br>
<font color="red">Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.<br>
Paragon Economics, Inc.<br>
e-mail: <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a></font>

Pork Exports Grow

Expansion in pork consumption worldwide is fueling continued growth of U.S. pork exports, says the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Pork export volume rose 11% in 2006 (January-May), compared to the same period in 2005. Strongest growth was in Hong Kong (+260%); Russia (+114%); Taiwan (+51%); and South Korea (+47%).

“U.S. pork has a number of strengths, including a reputation for quality, an ability to supply large quantities of chilled pork by specific cut/product, an ability to supply large quantities of variety meat items, and the ability for the industry to develop new and creative products, such as fully-cooked bacon,” says Kevin Smith, USMEF's assistant director of export sales.

A recent USMEF study to assess the overall value of pork exports to the pork industry uncovered these facts:

  • U.S. pork producers export the equivalent of 49,500 market hogs every day;

  • In 2005, U.S. pork producers sold more than 1.1 million tons of pork and pork variety meats worth more than $2.5 billion;

  • The United States exported 12% of its domestic pork production in 2005, up from only 3% in 1990;

  • One in every 8 lb. of pork sold in the world originates in the United States; and

  • In 2004, the United States exported the “pork equivalent” of nearly 10.9 million hogs. These “export hogs” were worth $22.64 more live — or $8.40/cwt. live — than their “domestic” counterparts.

Tim Bierman, a Larabee, IA, wean-to-finish producer, says trips to Asia and Mexico have given him a very clear signal of what foreign buyers want from U.S. pork.

“Food safety is number one on foreign buyers' lists, especially in Japan,” says Bierman, who serves on the National Pork Board's Trade Committee.

Pork Continues Profitable Run

Pork producers enjoyed their 30th-consecutive month of profitability in July, based on a typical farrow-to-finish operation, says Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economist.

The run is the longest string of months in the black since the late 1970s, he says. Odds are good producers will rack up several more quarters of profitability.

“The demand for pork for export is very strong, domestic demand is fairly stable and the swine herd is growing very slowly,” explains Plain.

Chances are 2006 may be the first year since 1993 that a Canadian pig crop was below year-ago levels, further reducing total U.S. pork supplies.

Growth in the Canadian swine herd from 1993-2004 was a primary factor in low profits for U.S. producers, when 75% of the growth in the North American pig crop occurred in Canada.

Welcoming Change

Change energizes the world. It can do the same, in a good way, for farms.

Until 1995, the Braun family's farm near LeSueur, MN, was diverse, including a dairy, beef, several crops, certified seed production, a retail seed business and farrow-to-finish hog production.

With just 50 sows, hogs ranked fairly low as a business enterprise. Breeding, gestation, farrowing and nursery operations were in confinement barns, over pits. They finished 900 hogs on outdoor platforms each year.

Environmentally, that had ominous potential, since they're located near the Minnesota River. It was time to change.

“The changes we made meant we took on debt,” explains David Braun, who partners with brothers Brian and Bob. “But the world was changing and leaving us in the dust. Our hog facilities were either worn out or would not satisfy the environmental requirements we knew were coming. It seemed prudent not to chase good money with bad.”

First, though, the Brauns had to decide whether to remain in animal agriculture at all. Mapping out a true course took plenty of thought. A consultant was brought in to help make projections.

“The long and short of it: We decided to stick with animal agriculture, as well as cropping,” David says.

Turkeys, chickens and dairy, as well as hogs, were considered.

“Dairy looked like a better fit until we considered labor. That steered us to a farrowing co-op. Most of the labor required would be our own rather than having to manage a staff of people,” he explains.

Farrowing pigs would have required the Brauns to hire a staff, so the sow co-op fit their management philosophy. The Brauns became shareholders of Pheasant Run, a farrowing cooperative affiliated with the Pipestone System, and built a 1,400-head nursery and two 1,400-head finishing barns.

“Pheasant Run is a closed co-op approaching 3,000 sows, with 10 investors who pooled equity to build a farrowing and gestation unit. It's six miles from here, so the short move minimizes piglet stress. Pipestone Systems is employed to manage it,” David says.

It means 1,400 weaned pigs arrive at the Braun farm every eight weeks. They finish about 8,000 yearly.

“Economies of scale apply. It lets us compete with the Tysons of the world,” he adds.

Being Good Neighbors

The Brauns built the new swine units with an eye firmly on environmental impact. The barns rise over 8-ft., engineered, reinforced concrete pits. They can store almost a year's supply of manure, if necessary, but pits are pumped twice annually. Only one set of equipment is necessary to agitate, load and haul it.

It was an expensive venture, but a necessary one, David explains. “We updated facilities and manure management, and became a much more environmentally friendly neighbor.”

Being neighborly is a priority for the Brauns. It's even more important considering that a country club and golf course sits nearby.

“We pump the pits twice a year because it reduces odor. We also think the health of the hogs and workers in the barns is better if the manure is confined to the bottom half of the pit,” he says.

Plenty of available farm ground helps them manage the manure applications. “We have enough for a four-year rotation on manure application,” David says.

Manure is incorporated into soybean stubble so it's available for the following corn crop. Their fields are no-tilled, and they use a double disk opener for manure applications, leaving ridges in the field that have to be leveled before planting. It disturbs surface residue more than they'd like, so they're evaluating manure application alternatives.

They grid sample fields on 2½ acre blocks, which gives them a good idea of the value of the hog manure. They supplement with commercial fertilizer.

Average nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (N-P-K) analysis runs 53-31.6-40.2/1,000 gal., giving it a 2006 value of $28.39/1,000 gal. Out-of-pocket application costs run $5.40/1,000 gal. They figure the manure reduced this year's fertilizer bill by $25,550.

The Brauns grow 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans, and 250 acres of canning peas. The 900,000 gal. of manure the hogs produce covers 300 acres, at most.

“We structured the scale and scope of the hog units to fit the farm's ability to maximize the use of livestock manure as a source of crop nutrients,” David says.

“For crops, manure is more than N, P and K. It's bacteria culture. It's tilth, which affects water-holding capacity. We can tell what part of a field had manure and what didn't, to the row,” he says.

“We're strong believers in the value of manure. The way fertilizer prices have gone recently, that's really bounced up,” says Bob, the brother in charge of crops for the partnership.

“Soil conservation is the first thing on our minds,” explains Bob. “We have sandy loam soils here, and unless there's a lot of residue on the ground through winter, or even in spring after planting, they'll blow away. So we went to no-till on lighter soils, which allows us to grow a better crop, cheaper. We're more concerned about net profit than high yields. It might be up to a 25-bushel yield advantage, depending on the weather. A fringe benefit is how much moisture no-till conserves.”

Yield monitors give him a precise measure of what works in fields, reducing overall inputs like seed and fertilizer.

“Instead of putting more fertilizer on the poor spots to level out fields, we're actually increasing yield variability. Where there's blow sand on top, we can't put enough water there to make a crop, and now we can show that. So in some areas we shoot for 220 bu./acre of corn, but in other areas, we might know 60 bu. is the best we can do,” Bob says.

“We might cut those bad spots to 18,000 plants/acre, while we have 33,000 on the good areas with clay that can hold water. We're trying to farm every acre to its maximum potential, concentrating inputs where they do the most good. The bottom line is what we're operating for. It's working for us, but I'd be the last guy to say anybody else has to do this,” he says.

Finishing Management

Brian, the youngest brother, manages the finishing barns. Phytase is added to rations, reducing phosphorous content in manure. He also feeds by phases, by budget and split-sex to avoid over-feeding nutrients.

“A pit additive lessens crust formation, fly and rodent pressure and odors. We add fat in the feed, which keeps pigs eating and gaining better in hot weather and keeps dust levels down. Dust is one of the main carriers of odor,” Brian says.

“We do all we can to fight odor. When we spread manure in the fields, the tanker's double-disk incorporates and folds soil over the top of it. It saves a larger percentage of the nitrogen and drastically cuts down on odor in the field.”

In barns, wet/dry tube feeders and drinking cups conserve water by making it impossible for pigs to play with open nipples. Adjusting waterers frequently cuts back on wastage, which cuts the amount of manure hauling and the fuel burned to do it.

“We treat neighbors like we'd like to be treated. We call the neighbors around a field where we're planning to apply manure to make sure they don't have something special going on,” Brian says.

Barns sit well back from roads and are at least partially screened. At least a half-mile from neighbors, they spawn no negative comments.

The Braun's, like most of their friends and neighbors, enjoy watching wildlife in this area near the Minnesota River. They see deer, rabbits, pheasants, raccoons and wild turkey from the barn door. It's not unusual to spot an occasional bald eagle overhead or a fox running along the edge of a field.

“We're not avid hunters, but we sure love watching wildlife,” David says.

“We do all we can for wildlife habitat, things like buffer strips along fields. We made a decision to not till sensitive areas adjacent to the building sites. This past New Year's Day morning, I saw 75 turkeys in the backyard.”

It's all part of their attitude toward life, viewing each day's choices from the standpoint of a steward and caretaker.

“As a starting point, we have to remember we are not livestock producers, not hog farmers, not even pork producers. We are food producers with all its inherent responsibilities. It is our responsibility to maintain the reserves of clean water, including surface and aquifers,” David says.

“Clean air is a second resource for which we assume responsibility. The soil is also a resource we guard carefully. Environmental stewardship means being a contributing and engaged citizen in the community where we live. We try to be good neighbors by keeping the lines of communication open. We lead by example, showing people that we are a trusted source for food in which they can have confidence,” he adds.

Shifting gears to modernize the farm and make it environmentally friendly required a big leap of faith. It's one the Brauns are glad they took.

Maschhoffs Reduce Manure's Impact

The environmental services team is aggressively working to reduce the impact of swine manure on the environment.

A joint study conducted by The Maschhoffs, Inc., based in Carlyle, IL, and nutrition supplier JBS United (formerly United Feeds) of Sheridan, IN, has shown that adding an enzyme to pig diets greatly reduces phosphorus levels in manure.

In findings presented at the Midwest meeting of the American Society of Animal Sciences in Des Moines, IA, the study revealed that supplementing rations with the JBS United product, OptiPhos, profoundly impacted phosphorus excretion.

The six-month study looked at manure content, bone density and impact on meat quality.

“This was unique in that the study used 600 Maschhoff pigs and was conducted in a specialty barn that exactly mirrored our production conditions,” reports Bradley Wolter, director of production technology at The Maschhoffs.

In the study, OptiPhos, described as the latest generation in phytate enzymes, was fed as part of a wean-to-finish diet. Wolter says those enzymes enhance the ability of animals to digest phosphorus that is naturally present in feedgrains such as corn and soybeans.

As a result of using the product, phosphorus excretion levels in treated pigs decreased by 45% compared to diets used in the past (See Table 1), he adds. Pigs also retained a high level of bone density and there was no change in meat quality, he added.

“Basically, this involves the lowering of phosphorus in swine excretions while not compromising the animal's welfare or growth performance,” adds Tim Laatsch, environmental systems manager for The Maschhoffs.

“The key thing for row crop agriculture is that we are able to drive that phosphorus-to-nitrogen ratio to the point where it is much more favorable and more balanced in a corn-soybean rotation than it would previously have been,” says Laatsch. This makes manure a more valuable source of fertilizer for crop nutrition.

He continues: “Historically, before phytase was used in the diet and swine manure was applied to meet the nitrogen needs of the corn crop, phosphorus was applied in excess of crop removal. Through time, soil phosphorus tends to accumulate, increasing the risk for losing phosphorus from the system and having it enter surface waters.

“Elevated phosphorus stimulates algal growth and has been implicated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a major cause of surface water impairment in the United States.”

Laatsch says at this point, the source of the phosphorus problem remains unclear — stream bank erosion, agriculture, urban uses, forested land or some combination. But adding a product that reduces phosphorus levels in swine manure has huge potential for The Maschhoffs' 120,000-sow system and the environment.

“We're now introducing OptiPhos to all of our pigs' diets, system-wide,” says Wolter. “OptiPhos has enabled us to cease supplementing diets with inorganic phosphorus.”

Monitoring Manure

Laatsch reports that the enzyme supplement is included in a new manure-monitoring program just underway. “We'll be monitoring the success of this new product as it relates to our production of quality organic fertilizer, and incorporating this data into our nutrient management plans.”

The monitoring effort will help standardize and improve feedback on manure composition and management throughout the production system.

“We knew we had to get better, because the analyses from our growers had all been collected by different methods and sent to different laboratories,” explains Laatsch. “Our goal was to standardize collection methods for the whole Maschhoff system.”

To determine the best sampling method, manure was collected from several different locations down the length of two double-wide, wean-to-finish barns. A vertical profile sampler was then used to extract a complete column of manure from various locations along a transect from the pump-out port to the interior wall.

In all, 80 samples were collected and preserved independently. The barns' deep manure pits were then agitated for 30 minutes at each pump-out port and all 80 sites were sampled again, bringing the total number of samples to 160.

Those results suggest taking samples pre-agitation along the exterior pump-out ports could effectively represent the agitated mean of the whole barn. And it means manure collection can effectively be done while still preserving biosecurity, notes Laatsch.

This standard protocol was used to test 156 barns in The Maschhoff system for manure quality. Four core samples were pulled from outside each of the pump-out ports on one side of the barns. This preliminary work was completed last year.

To add to this benchmark, Laatsch says the goal this year is to sample every deep-pitted barn in the system.

Meeting Regulations

Along with this approach is a strong commitment to ensure that all production partners (contract growers) meet environmental regulations in their states. For example, The Maschhoffs will be helping their production partners in Iowa write phosphorus-based nutrient management plans to meet those coming regulations.

To meet all of these environmental challenges, The Maschhoffs now have a staff of four in their Environmental Services Department. Water quality issues are fairly well under control. But odor and air emissions represent the new frontier of regulations for the environment, he says.

Air Quality Research

To help further knowledge on air quality, a novel project was initiated last fall with the University of Illinois under the direction of Michael Ellis, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and leader of the project.

The goal is to test promising technologies for the reduction of objectionable emissions from swine facilities.

“Although there are a relatively large number of products and technologies being promoted for emission reduction, few have been subjected to evaluation in the real world of swine production,” explains Ellis. “We will create a number of ‘Discovery Farm’ existing enterprises that will not only test these new technologies, but demonstrate the best design and management practices to achieve emission reduction.”

Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) invested $80,000 on odor reduction projects. IPPA leaders determined independently tested and validated information is needed to help make wise decisions about technologies that could be used on their farms.

One Discovery Farm is a nine-barn, tunnel-ventilated, deep-pitted, wean-to-finish system owned by The Maschhoffs near McLean, IL. The site is equipped with a gas sampler and automated monitoring equipment, including a pneumatic sampler that pulls air samples from ventilation and pit fans. Data for ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gases and other barn environmental conditions will be continuously monitored in an adjacent mobile trailer.

The study tracks animal performance and weather patterns in conjunction with measuring barn emission levels, says Laatsch. But it goes one important step further in that it will evaluate various emission control technologies to objectively gauge results in a full-scale production setting.

The Illinois attorney general's office has contributed $250,000 to the project, along with funding from the IPPA and the National Pork Board, says Laatsch.

Ellis says technologies to be tested include biofilters, chimney stack exhausts, lagoon covers and a system that uses electric current to kill bacteria.

“We look at odor and emissions litigation as being one of the biggest risk factors to our business right now,” observes Laatsch.

Table 1. Phosphorus Excretion of Pigs Fed According to Different Phosphorus Utilization Strategies1
Diet Program Phosphorus excreted, g./pig/day
Diet Program with monocalcium phosphorus2 6.70
Diet program with phytase3 2.06
P-value 0.001
1Data are means of three pits, each under three pens of gilts fed their experimental diets for a period of 16 weeks.
2In this treatment, dietary inorganic phosphorous was provided through monocalcium phosphorus supplementation.
3In this treatment, dietary inorganic phosphorus was provided through graded levels of OptiPhos supplementation.

Good Timing

Business ventures succeed or fail based on proper timing, among other factors. When the right forces converge, it's time to make a move.

In 1990, Henry Moore III was attending college, studying to be a commercial pilot, when his father, Henry Moore Jr., an aerial applicator, spurred his interest in farming their land near Clinton, NC. The North Carolina hog industry was beginning to boom, and Henry Jr., thought they could boom right along with it.

The aerial application business would never support three families, Henry Jr. explained. A hog farm probably could. They talked with Moore's high school friend, Alan Williams, who had worked with them in summers. The young men agreed and switched majors to swine husbandry at North Carolina State University.

After graduation, both moved home and began overseeing construction of the 2,400-sow, farrow-to-wean farm under contract with Carroll Foods. The farm was named Bobcat Farms, using Henry Jr.'s nickname, Bobcat.

They farrowed their first pigs in 1994. Two years later, they expanded to 4,800 sows, a level they currently maintain. Williams manages all aspects of production, the “inside” of the farm, while Moore manages the “outside,” including finances, environmental concerns and the cattle herd.

“The hog industry grew fast, and we were right in the perfect spot, kind of by accident,” Moore says.

In 1997, they added an 8,800-head contract finishing barn, adjacent to the sow farm.

Smithfield Foods' purchase of Carroll Foods in 1999 transferred contract production without a hitch, but the Moores and Williams yearned for more independence and opportunity.

In 2003, as contracts expired, the Moores and Williams joined several growers to form Coastal Plains Pork, a 27,000-sow, farrow-to-wean operation. The pigs are finished in the Midwest and purchased by Tyson Foods.

“We partnered with other family farms here in North Carolina and in Iowa, including Pro Pork, to make this new business a success. From our first meeting to discuss our business strategy, we all agreed that raising a high-quality weaned pig was our specialty. We wanted to get our pigs to the Midwest where finishing pigs was their specialty, corn was cheaper and shackle space more plentiful,” Moore explains.

Many local producers considered it a very risky and costly move, yet they were glad to see what family farms were attempting to accomplish by forming Coastal Plains Pork. “We were encouraged by many of our fellow producers, which gave us even more incentive to succeed,” he says.

“It had never been done — sow farms joining together and leaving the security of an integrator, attempting such a risky and costly transition. I wouldn't call us pioneers, but we were certainly some of the first sow farms to join and work together to accomplish this in North Carolina,” he continues.

“We did the right thing. Ultimately, we make all the decisions now. The farms involved in Coastal Plains Pork own it together, and everybody has an equal vote. It started out as a co-op and still runs very much like one, but is now a limited liability corporation.”

Today, the multiplier farm is in Arkansas. “Since all pigs are sent to the Midwest, we no longer need to finish animals at the 8,800-head facility. Now we bring all replacement gilts from Arkansas and develop them in the finishers. We supply all of the Coastal Plains farms with these gilts, plus do some breeding,” Moore says.

Manure Management

Like most big North Carolina hog farms, Bobcat Farms uses an anaerobic lagoon to manage manure. Shallow pits under each hog barn drain to the lagoon weekly. Nutrient levels are analyzed six times yearly.

An underground hydrant system and 4-in. reels apply the nutrients to corn, Coastal Bermuda grass hay, rye, oats and millet, which is fed to the beef cow herd. The cattle operation turns a profit largely because of the hog manure nutrients.

Based on nutrient samples, each 1,000 gal. of effluent carries approximately 2 lb. of nitrogen, saving more than $14,000 in fertilizer costs annually.

“We're recycling and reusing what a lot of people classify as waste. It is not waste; it is nutrients that we need to raise our crops and save money on petroleum-based fertilizers,” Moore says.

“It's as much of a closed system as anybody could ask for. We haven't bought commercial fertilizer, with the exception of lime and potash, for years,” he adds.

Located in an area hit all too often by hurricanes, lagoon management is key.

“We operate well below the 24-hour, 24-year storm level. There's plenty of freeboard. There's not a good reason this lagoon shouldn't be in a position to handle 25 in. of rain,” he says.

“We're required to maintain 19 in. of freeboard, but we do a lot more than that. The idea is that we never have to go into hurry-up mode.”

Water Conservation

Water remains an important issue at Bobcat Farms, where sandy soils soak it up quickly, and drought hits hard.

They've reduced water usage in the hog barns by more than 10 million gal./year by replacing a trough watering system with nipple drinkers, among other things.

“Our target is 7.2 gal. of water/sow/day. For the last six months, we've been 20% below that target. We also use recycled water in the pits instead of fresh water, and we installed cool cells to eliminate the use of foggers and misters. That saves groundwater and keeps animals more comfortable. Over the entire farm, we're saving more than 30,000 gal. of water a day,” Moore says.

Located 2½ miles from the closest highway and 3 miles from the nearest residence, Bobcat Farms seems isolated, surrounded by dense forests providing a haven for wildlife.

“There's no odor problem here. We often say that if you smell our farm, you are trespassing. It's that simple,” Moore says.

And, if you love wildlife and the outdoors, you'd love it here.

“Hunting and fishing are significant to us; we work hard on wildlife habitat. There is a cost to it, but it's important. We enjoy bringing people here at certain times of year and having coveys of quail fly up in front of them. We have deer, rabbits, ducks, quail, wild turkeys and many other wild animals,” he says.

They have participated in a duck release program, plant food plots and nesting structures for all of the wild animals. There are two impoundments that are planted and flooded for the wild ducks' winter habitat. Walk the fringes here and you can see a couple dozen wood duck boxes along creeks. Bluebird boxes are everywhere.

“We do everything we can for wildlife,” Moore continues. “A big portion of our corn crop is never harvested and is left for wildlife. We have a good turkey population that has increased in the past four years; we planted 50 to 60 saw tooth oaks for them.

“In fact, other than killing an occasional monster buck and a few for management or table fare, and an annual dove hunt, we don't really hunt much at all. We plant over 100 acres of food plots and put up feeders for them. We manage the 2,000 acres adjoining us for large and small game for an absentee owner, which helps the wildlife on our land as well.”

Keep Up Appearances

Visit Bobcat Farms and you'll probably see someone mowing or cleaning up outside the buildings. Three employees are hired during warm weather months for that purpose only. In the hog business, appearances count for a lot, Moore says.

“Alan and I had a high school football coach who drilled into us, ‘You play like you practice.’ We have that philosophy in everything we do,” he continues. “We do our very best to keep the farm clean and manicured so when we take visitors on tours they like what they see. We are located only six miles from our Coastal Plains office so many of our out-of-state visitors interested in the hog industry inevitably end up here.”

Moore represents the hog industry, speaking to civic groups, town meetings and school groups. Participating in the Pork Checkoff's Pork Leadership Academy and Operation Main Street program helped prepare him to answer questions on hot-button issues.

“A lot of people don't realize how important the pork industry is in our area, so I welcome the chance to speak to groups and tell them our story.”

Moore's father, Henry Jr., concentrates on his aerial application business. Williams manages the sow farm, and Devon Bullard oversees the gilt developer. Moore oversees the overall management of the farm and serves as the farm's representative for the Coastal Plains Pork board of directors.

“It's been an interesting and challenging business. The ability to work with family and good friends has been very rewarding. Every week we put our heads together to solve problems and create new opportunities,” Henry says.

Focus on Manure's Real Value

Now more than ever, pork producers must become astute managers of the manure their pigs produce.

If managed properly in an integrated crop-livestock operation, swine manure can become a valuable asset to help offset high energy and fertilizer costs. For those with more manure than they can use, marketing the excess to nearby crop farmers offers a profitable alternative.

Marketing Plan

Due to increasing animal production and a static land base, a growing number of producers are looking to convert sales of excess manure into another source of revenue.

In turn, a growing number of crop farmers have become interested in animal manure because they can often get it at a minimal or a reduced cost compared to the escalating cost of commercial fertilizer, says Ray Massey, agricultural economist, University of Missouri.

Producers need to remember, however, that while the crop nutrient value of manure may appear to be valuable, you may not be able to sell it at your asking price if the crop farmer doesn't see it your way.

In Table 1, Massey shows the available nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K) in 1,000 gal. of manure (grow-finish slurry) is valued at $36.44.

To meet the nitrogen needs of corn, the slurry would be applied at a rate of 4,000 gal./acre — implying a value of $145.76/acre.

In contrast, Table 2 shows that the crop farmer could meet all of the N, P and K needs of an acre of corn using commercial fertilizer for $80.20/acre.

The point of this contrast, says Massey, is that manure sellers should not assume that the manure their pigs produce is automatically worth $65.56 more than the commercial fertilizer ($145.76-$80.20=$65.56), and the buyer is willing to pay.

To help bridge this gap in estimated values between manure and commercial fertilizer, Massey explains livestock producers must first think in terms of what crop farmers want.

Crop farmers compute fertilizer costs in dollars/acre — not dollars/1,000 gal. They should not have to convert this value when estimating what they are willing to pay for the manure nutrients. That is the job of the livestock producer with manure to sell. Give yourself a marketing edge by converting these figures when selling manure.

As cited in the tables, manure applied to meet the N needs of a corn crop provides more P and K than is required. Crop farmers may resist paying a lot more for phosphorus and potassium if, as the examples show, those amounts appear to greatly exceed their current crop needs.

Livestock producers need to explain that the higher levels of those nutrients in manure can be used for subsequent corn and soybean crop rotations.

If the livestock producer can convince the crop farmer that his manure provides these additional benefits, he is more likely to get more than the $80/acre commercial fertilizer price for his manure, he says.

Another roadblock to manure sales comes when some crop farmers explain that their land already has enough phosphorus and potassium.

Massey suggests that manure sellers may need to haul the manure further to find land that would benefit from the additional phosphorus and potassium. The crop producer must be able to pay enough to offset the additional cost of transportation.

With the high cost of nitrogen, Massey suggests applying all needed nitrogen through manure.

He offers this scenario: A corn crop commonly needs 150 lb. of nitrogen/acre. The crop farmer may only want to apply 100 lb. of manure as nitrogen fertilizer because he plans to add 50 lb. of commercial fertilizer. While there are some reasons for doing that, it requires two trips across the field, one for the manure and one for the fertilizer, he reminds. A better plan is to apply 150 lb. of nitrogen/acre as manure and eliminate both the fertilizer expense and the cost of the extra trip.

Choose the right cropping system to achieve the best results for manure nutrients, Massey continues. Corn and soybeans provide good cropping rotation in many cases, maximizing value and reducing costs by applying only manure and not commercial fertilizer.

Targeted Manure Sales

“Remember, your manure marketing strategy should be to focus on selling crop farmers what they want, not what you have,” emphasizes Massey.

For example, don't try to sell crop farmers on the value of micro-nutrients, such as sulfur and zinc, if they aren't interested in them or don't need them.

“Take pride in the product you produce. Keep your manure free of contaminants, minimize odor and do a good job of transporting it,” Massey says.

If you are an integrated crop/livestock producer with a sizeable land base, make the best use of manure nutrients with a properly managed slurry system and apply all the manure possible to your own cropland.

Limit water usage when cleaning buildings, eliminate leakage in hog watering systems and consider using wet-dry feeders. “The drier you can get your slurry, the less expensive it will be to apply it,” he says.

A larger tanker or dragline hose system may seem like an expensive investment, but the time and fuel savings for manure application will reduce overall costs in the long run.

For producers whose manure production exceeds their land base, now may be the time to develop a manure marketing plan with the needs of the crop farmer in mind.

Massey and John Lory, nutrient management specialist at the University of Missouri, have just published a guide on maximizing the fertilizer value of manure. It can be found at

Table 1. Valuation Choices: Dollars/1,000 Gallons of Manure
Nutrient lb./1,000 gal. Dollars/lb. Dollars/1,000 gal.
Available nitrogen 40 $0.35 $14.00
Phosphorus 42 $0.37 $15.54
Potassium 30 $0.23 $6.90
Total value $36.44
App. rate 1,000 gal./acre 4,000
Value/acre $145.76
Table 2. Valuation Choices: Dollars/Acre
Manure-Supplied Nutrients Comm. Fertilizer
Nutrient Dollars/1,000 gal. Dollars/acre @ 4,000 gal./acre Dollars/acre1
Available nitrogen $14.00 $56.00 $52.50
Phosphorus $15.54 $62.16 $18.50
Potassium $6.90 $27.60 $9.20
Total value $36.44 $145.76 $80.20
1Iowa State University continuous corn budget.

Energy Costs Add to Manure's Value

The ever-increasing cost of natural gas and commercial fertilizer is making manure look more attractive to crop farmers every day.

Extension specialists across the Midwest are urging crop producers to consider manure as a viable option to commercial fertilizer, says Ted Funk, agricultural engineer and Extension specialist at the University of Illinois.

Though manure application does have challenges, it is a valuable resource and needs to be treated as such for land application.

Here are some questions farmers need to address:

  • What are your crop needs? Soil tests determine the levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in your fields. Apply P and K to nutrient-deficit areas and not to areas already rich in those nutrients.

  • What manure is available within a three- to five-mile radius? Hauling manure this distance is doable. As a rule, the cost of manure application should be kept below 1-1½¢/gallon. Funk says many commercial applicators have purchased equipment that allows them to increase the distance they can efficiently haul manure.

  • What is the form of the manure? Solid manure must be spread on top of the ground, and is sometimes incorporated or disked in afterwards. This can produce noticeable odor and a significant loss of nitrogen through volatilization until the manure is incorporated. “If you're on highly erodable land or in an impaired watershed, surface application is not a good economical or environmental choice,” says Funk.

    Liquid manure can be applied using sprinkler irrigation or injection. Sprinklers should only be used far from roads because of the intense odors released. Injection retains nutrients better and reduces odors, evaporation and runoff problems. But application by injection costs about four times as much, so be sure to place the nutrients where the crops will best utilize them, he stresses.

  • What is the sampling history of the manure? “One question a crop producer can reasonably ask the livestock producer is, how confident are you in the composition of the manure you're offering for sale? Manure differs from commercial fertilizer in that commercial fertilizer supplies the amount and ratio of nutrients you ordered, while manure supplies the amount and ratio of nutrients it contains.”

Livestock producers with a history of sampling manure over several years can provide important data for making informed purchasing decisions, says Funk.

What is your cropping system and when can you apply manure? Spring manure application is avoided because it coincides with the time fields need to be prepared for planting. Fall application is preferred, but the downside is a higher nitrogen loss over winter months, he says.

Circovirus Solutions Remain Unclear

The diversity in clinical signs of porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD) has swine veterinarians perplexed in finding common themes and treatment regimens to make a dent in this disease complex.

Six months ago, swine veterinarian Keith Erlandson and his colleagues at Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service weren't too worried about PCVAD. Occasionally, an individual pig would get sick and they'd try to treat it.

However, reports of some serious problems in Canada soon heightened concerns, followed by a few isolated cases of high mortality in finishing pigs about four months ago.

“Then about two months ago, all heck broke lose,” Erlandson says. “Producers were calling to report fall-off pigs all over the barn. They would swear they weren't there yesterday.”

Another common observation producers are making is more graphic: “Producers will call and say, ‘We've got pigs with purple ears and purple butts; it kinda looks like salmonella, but kinda not. We've shot the heck out of these rainbow pigs (referring to the multitude of treatment marks on the pigs), but they just never respond,”’ he adds.

Erlandson shares producers' frustrations in trying to find anything that works against PCVAD. “It is very disheartening to me to go out and look at rainbow pigs and try to think of some therapeutic in my arsenal I can tell this producer to use that is going to help his pigs. We've tried several therapeutic strategies, and many times none of them have seemed to work.”

Co-Infections, Treatments

The Illinois swine veterinarian says the most common co-infections implicated with PCVAD in his practice include porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), Mycoplasmal pneumonia, salmonella, swine influenza virus and E. coli.

Even PRRS serum inoculation has been blamed for igniting PCVAD problems. “Some of the veterinarians in our clinic say they have really seen an increase in circovirus in herds that have undergone serum therapy,” he says.

Erlandson says equally frustrating is the inability to find a pattern or common denominators in herds that get infected with PCVAD.

“I've got well-managed, PRRS-negative, mycoplasma-negative herds and there is nothing they can do to save the pigs. I've seen herds that are PRRS-positive and mycoplasma-positive that get PCVAD, but other PRRS-positive and mycoplasma-positive herds that never seem to get any circovirus-associated disease,” he explains.

Vaccination for PCVAD has been implemented in a number of production units experiencing problems, he says. But product has been in short supply in the face of heightened demand. Fort Dodge Animal Health's Suvaxyn PCV2 One Dose is currently the only fully licensed vaccine for PCVAD. Several other companies are reported to have vaccines waiting in the wings.

Erlandson recently spoke at a PCVAD Strategic Planning Workshop in South Sioux City, NE, sponsored by the National Pork Board, to develop research priorities.

Nebraska Experiences

In a talk at the George Young Swine Conference just preceding the Pork Board workshop, Nebraska swine veterinarian Keith Schumacher of Howells, NE, says he has heard comments about moving to small finishing pens to combat the effects of PCVAD. However, his clients with large-pen finishing rooms (250-500 head) have had fewer problems in general than other producers with small, 30-head finishing pens.

Typically, operations will go through “3-4 weeks of just like a nightmare to get through circovirus,” he explains. In his practice, Salmonella cholerasuis is a common co-infection. In the past, salmonella breaks lasted 7-10 days. With PCVAD, salmonella problems can last three weeks, he adds.

Recent outbreaks include a trio of players: circovirus coupled with salmonella and PRRS virus. To a lesser extent, circovirus co-infections consist of Streptococcus suis, Pasteurella multocida, mycoplasma, ileitis and a little bit of swine influenza.

Many pigs with PCVAD will look like a greasy pig, but often perform similar to normal-appearing penmates, he says.

Schumacher has not had much success using antibiotics to control disease factors associated with PCVAD. “But anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin) have proven helpful in reducing viremia (the presence of virus in the blood) and fever, stimulating appetite and just making the pigs feel better.

“Inferon alpha pulsed in the water once a day for 20 days has been implemented to try and help reduce viremia,” he says.

While it has been difficult to identify proper control measures for PCVAD, Schumacher believes it is important to focus on environment and pig comfort. “If you have really healthy pigs, you can get away with being lax on a lot of that stuff. But if you have a lot of bugs in there, those things can really come back and bite you,” he stresses.

Minnesota Observations

The bulk of PCVAD cases that Pipestone (MN) Veterinary Clinic swine veterinarian Cameron Schmitt sees are in the pigs ranging from 90-130 lb., commonly observed as wasting, mild diarrhea and pale pigs that get stomach ulcers.

What's striking to Schmitt is that when he submits samples to the diagnostic lab, circovirus is invariably present in low levels in lymphoid tissues in pigs of all ages, from birth to market. He says surveys of slaughter hogs have shown a high prevalence of circovirus.

He suggests the disease is also sex-linked. “We lose 2-3 times as many barrows to this disease as we do gilts,” he relates.

Circovirus-salmonella co-infections are controlled through vaccinating for salmonella. Circovirus-ileitis co-infections are more common; vaccine has worked fairly well to control ileitis.

Pneumonia problems linked to PCVAD can be severe, and he has yet to find an antibiotic that works consistently to treat it.

Economic Case Study

Tom Gillespie, DVM, Rensselaer, IN, provided a glimpse at what PCVAD can cost an operation. A 1,200-sow, two-site production unit in Indiana was producing 26-27 pigs weaned/mated female/year during 2002-2004. PRRS-naïve weaned pigs were overstocked into conventional nursery and finishing barns.

In late 2004, the system was diagnosed with pneumonia, a variant form of H3N2 swine flu, but no PRRS virus. Lymphoid depletion with porcine circovirus Type 2 (PCV2) was present, and a histological (tissue) diagnosis of inflammation by the pathologist supported the clinical disease expression. The herd was experiencing PCVAD, he says.

The disease challenges produced the following changes in production:

  • A 3.24% increase in finishing mortality, producing an increase in costs of $2.78/pig;

  • A loss of 22.7% in average daily gain, valued at $2.09/pig; and

  • A loss in feed efficiency of 0.23 g./pig, worth $1.73/pig.

In all, the direct loss from the disease insult came to $6.60/pig. Based on 13,300 pigs placed during the six-month period of PCVAD losses, there was a lost opportunity of $87,780.

Gillespie says those losses due to PCVAD during 2004-2005 actually constituted a $100,000 difference in returns, because the feed the dead pigs consumed, which was not counted as a loss in the above numbers, was instead included with the feed consumed by the live pigs.

But that still doesn't tell the whole story of the impact of PCVAD and related diseases, he says. Before the disease bout, 90% of all weaned pigs went to market.

In contrast, based on the last set of 1,073 pigs placed in the finisher, 635 were marketed, 255 were lights, 110 were “off pigs” that the producer didn't receive value for, and 73 died.

“Suddenly we were dealing with 7% mortality and almost 24% lights and culls. We ended up marketing just 59% of the pigs that were placed in a typical 1,000-head finisher room. That's the true cost of this disease. It's the deads that get our attention. But what do we do with these lightweight pigs and under-market value pigs?” questions Gillespie.

He points out the costs of PCVAD are “very, very similar” to the cost of a PRRS break.

PCVAD Task Force

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) has developed a PCVAD Task Force with members from the United States, Mexico and Canada, says task force chairman Gillespie. He spoke at a PCVAD conference sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., held at their Swine Health Management Center in Ames, IA.

The main thrust of the task force is to explore epidemiology — “where this disease is and where it is going,” explains Gillespie.

He says the key disease characteristics of PCVAD include a doubling of mortality and attrition — pigs that don't make market weight. PCVAD exists in many forms — reproductive, respiratory and enteric — well documented by European experience.

The University of Minnesota and Purdue University are coordinating an effort to track PCVAD cases worldwide.

PCVAD Research

The National Pork Board, using $300,000 in Pork Checkoff dollars and $200,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has assigned 10 projects to researchers in the United States and Canada, according to Pam Zaabel, DVM, director of Swine Health Information and Research for the Pork Board.

“We asked the USDA to allocate funds for PCVAD because it is a high priority for the industry,” she explains.

The projects look at the unique causes of PCVAD, strain or type differences, immune responses, transmission, pathogenicity or how disease develops, the role of co-factors and biosecurity.

Zaabel's goal is to build a specific research initiative at the Pork Board to address PCVAD issues similar to the PRRS Initiative.

Circovirus Cases on the Upswing

Diagnosticians have been identifying porcine circovirus in pig tissues for quite a long time at the Iowa State University (ISU) Diagnostic Lab in Ames, according to Kent Schwartz, DVM.

Over time, the swine circoviruses have seemingly evolved and grown in virulence. It used to be that non-pathogenic Type 1 was most common. In recent years, pathogenic Type 2 has become more prevalent than Type 1.

As it has become more prevalent in the swine herd, porcine circovirus Type 2 (PCV2) has caused more damage as it teams up with a seemingly endless variety of co-infections, Schwartz reported during the George Young Swine Conference in South Sioux City, NE.

After somewhat of a dip in cases submitted to the ISU lab in the last few years, Schwartz has seen a resurgence in porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD) positive samples submitted to the lab in the last 12 months.

“What has really struck me in the last couple of years is the amount of PCV2 associated with inflammation that we are seeing in multiple organ systems of the pig,” he says.

Schwartz postulates that inflammation and immune response associated with co-infections or co-factors can augment PCVAD severity. The virus seems to zero in on areas of inflammation to make conditions worse, he continues. The virus is transported in blood and likes to localize in lymph nodes and lymphoid tissues.

In some cases, gastric ulcers contribute substantially to high mortality, he comments. He reports of the 30% spike in finisher mortality in his own hog operation, 10% was traced to gastric ulcers and circovirus, with not much else detected at the time of death.

He reminds veterinarians and technicians not to forget to cut open the stomachs of submitted pigs to check for this ulceration.

While lungs are often damaged by PCVAD, increasingly, Schwartz finds cases where lungs are okay but the intestines, kidneys or other vital organs are severely affected.

The bottom line is that quite a few different tissues can be affected by circovirus, making diagnosis of PCVAD and host co-infections in each case a unique challenge, he points out.

Sample Submissions

Select three acutely affected pigs and a couple of chronically affected pigs and submit a complete set of tissues for laboratory work-up to identify agents associated with disease and mortality.

This information can be supplemented by a serological profile (for example, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, swine influenza virus, Mycoplasmal pneumonia) of 5-10 pigs at several time points leading up to and following peak mortality.

“Often, peak mortality is a crescendo of the effects of infections occurring in previous weeks. Careful selection of pigs several weeks before peak mortality will likely reveal the agents that will be associated with peak mortality,” says Schwartz.

MAGIC Program

For producers/veterinarians working with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. (BIVI) on PCVAD, the company has developed MAGIC — Monitoring Assignment for Global Insight into Circovirus.

The goal of the program is to understand how the syndrome is linked to farm practices and how the disease impacts pig production, says BIVI's John Kolb, DVM.

The process starts with a serological screening of the breeding herd to establish a case diagnosis of PCVAD.

Then five pigs are selected for further diagnosis — four sick pigs and one healthy pig. Samples are collected at specific times during and before peak mortality to attempt to define all of the specific disease agents at work in the herd, says Kolb.

  1. Kent Schwartz, DVM, Iowa State University (ISU) Diagnostic Lab, conducted a pig necropsy session during a recent swine conference on porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD), hosted by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. Swollen mesenteric lymph nodes are a good sign that salmonella or porcine circovirus Type 2 (PCV2) may be present.

  2. In the second panel, Schwartz dissects a lung with lesions of interstitial pneumonia; this is not specific for a particular disease agent, but is often associated with multiple agents and co-infections.

  3. The yellowish abscess appears to be due to improper pig castration procedures, emphasizing that not all diseases or wasting conditions are infectious

  4. In finishing up a necropsy, Schwartz stresses that it's vital to post several pigs to confirm a pattern of disease. Laboratory assistance is helpful to determine which agents are involved before making a disease diagnosis.

Ball-bite Drinkers Save Water

Switching drinkers has dramatic effect on Alberta hog operation.

Dennis McKerracher of High River, Alberta, expected water savings when he embarked on a one-year study to monitor water usage vs. consumption using different drinkers on his 3,000 head, all-in, all-out grower operation. He didn't expect the trial would lead to a new barn management style.

Switching drinkers from the standard nipple drinkers to a ball-bite model had a dramatic impact on his operation. Benefits included reduced energy consumption, less manure volume and handling costs, medication savings and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The reason for these savings is simple — the ball-bite drinkers force the pig to hold the whole valve in its mouth and bite down to release water. And, to get the best drink, pigs have to approach the ball drinker straight on. When they do both, pigs spill less water into the pit.

On-Farm Trials

McKerracher tracked six batches of 500 pigs over the course of a year. Equal numbers of barrows and gilts were placed in two groups, one using the ball-bite drinkers and the other using standard nipple drinkers, which served as the “control” group. Pigs were weighed coming into and going out of the barn.

The scale confirmed their visual observations — both groups posted the same weight gains. The only difference between the groups was that the ball-bite drinker groups used significantly less water than the control group.

Over the course of the year-long trial, the ball-bite drinker groups used 35,174 gal. less water than the control group using standard nipple drinkers, a 35% reduction.

Water Use Aids Troubleshooting

McKerracher installed a water meter, to determine exactly how much water entered and exited the building, and a pulse meter, a graduated water monitor, to measure precisely how much water the animals consumed. With time, he realized that the animals' water consumption levels were extremely revealing, and he began using the readings as a diagnostic tool.

“It's allowed us to react to things quicker,” explains McKerracher. “For instance, if you see a spike or a decrease in water use that can't be explained by the weather, you investigate. Are the pigs not feeling quite right? Has there been a change in the feed, in the ingredients, in particle size?

“You could never tell right away unless you were a really good hog person. But I could tell by the daily (water) consumption numbers when the bin was almost empty. With low-density feed, hogs don't eat as much and water consumption goes down. This could really cost you in average daily gains.”

Knowing exactly how much water your pigs consume also helps when using a water medicator to prepare a vitamin electrolyte or when administering antibiotics, adds McKerracher. “If you assume that the pigs are drinking four litres when they're only drinking 2½ litres, it's like taking a half an aspirin; it doesn't work.”

Lower Flow Rates

McKerracher says he was concerned at first because the flow rate was at least 20% below what literature recommends for a grower pig.

“We started the trial and, on Day 2 and Day 3, I was panicking because the difference was so large between the two groups,” he explains. “I thought something must be wrong. I was going to stop the trial right there because I thought they could not be getting enough water.

“I phoned an agricultural engineer and told him what the flow rates were and he said, ‘well, look at the pigs’. They looked fine. I got a neighbor over who doesn't look at pigs very often and asked, ‘Do you see a difference between group A and group B?’ He said ‘no.’ Since I could tell that there was no negative effect on feed usage, we continued.”

Dollars and Sense

The George Morris Centre, a Canadian independent agri-food think tank, studied the financial and non-financial benefits of installing ball-bite water drinkers and confirmed McKerracher's initial assessment. Not only do the reduced manure volumes and energy use offset the extra cost of converting his entire operation to ball-bite drinkers, it also translates into an increase in annual net income.

“It's more than economically sustainable. It makes you money,” reports Cher Brethour, senior research associate, and Beth Sparling, research associate.

Their findings estimated the payback period to be approximately 3.5 months.

“From a straight economic standpoint, it offers a great return on investment,” says Brethour. “The initial cost for the purchase of the Aqua-globe ball-bite drinkers (USD $11.14, in Canada) is higher than for standard drinkers (USD $6.10). However, the reduction of energy costs for pumping water, the decreased manure volume and, therefore, handling costs, more than offsets the capital cost of the drinkers. As a result, a USD $409 investment would likely turn into an increase in annual net income of USD $1,400.”

The ball-bite drinkers are available from Farmer Boy Ag Supply, Myerstown, PA (800-845-3374); Price per drinker ranges from USD $8.14 for the piglet ½-in. piglet size to USD $8.56 for the ½-in. finisher size,

Sparling suggests another way to illustrate the financial benefits is to buy six or eight pigs less in the next batch, invest the USD $450 to install ball-bite drinkers for 500 pigs, and enjoy tripling your money in less than a year.

“It is highly unlikely that the six or eight pigs would give you the same rate of return,” explains Sparling. “Besides, these drinkers are sturdier than conventional nipple drinkers and won't need replacing as often.”

The researchers' analysis was based on an operation with 500 pigs/cycle using a ball-bite drinker for every 15 pigs. Brethour suggests that the financial results can easily be extrapolated for grower and finishing operations of different sizes, but points out that the cost would be higher for operations with sows, as each would require a drinker.

Reduced Emissions

McKerracher was concerned that the reduced water use might impact the consistency of the manure, and wondered if it would affect the flow rate. His custom applicator hasn't indicated any such problem.

In 2004, the McKerracher operation generated approximately 200,000 gal. of liquid manure, which would have dropped to 130,000 gal. had the whole barn been retrofitted with ball-bite nipple drinkers.

To project the reductions for larger operations, the Canadian Pork Council (CPC) applied the same reduction in manure volume (34.8%) achieved on the McKerracher farm to evaluate the impact ball-bite drinkers would have on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for a 2,000-head finisher barn.

Using a 6.2 lb. carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent provided by Climate Change Central, the results indicated that the model barn could reduce GHG emissions by 1.32 tons of CO2 equivalent on an annual basis.

“I have yet to find any disadvantages to using ball-bite drinkers,” says McKerracher, who is busy testing another brand on the market. “It has a greater flow rate than the Swedish-made Aqua-globe drinker I used during the trial. It's too early for me to give any quantitative numbers, but so far, I can't tell the difference.”

Figure 1. Overall Reductions for a 2000-head Finisher Barn
Standard Drinker Ball-bite Drinker
Manure volume (gallons) 1,000,000 650,000
Gallons moved/hour 50,000 50,000
Engine hours/unit required for:
120-hp. agitation unit 20 13
120-hp. stationary pumping unit 20 13
120-hp. injection unit 20 13
Average diesel fuel consumption (liter/hour)*: 20 20
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions** 7,222.34 lb. CO2 equivalent
3.64 tons CO2 equivalent
4,693.64 lb. CO2 equivalent
2.3 tons CO2 equivalent
* Average diesel fuel consumption/hour is based on statistics from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (2001). Average diesel fuel consumption/hour is based on the operation of the tractors at full throttle and estimates represent maximum amounts of GHG emissions.
** Estimated reduction in GHG emissions due to technology: 13.2 tons CO2 equivalent
Source: George Morris Centre and Canadian Pork Council, 2006.