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Practical Steps to Truck Biosecurity

Keeping the transport-monitoring program simple and practical, yet comprehensive, makes biosecurity principles more workable.

When Ron White, DVM, went to work as the director of Health and Biosecurity for Iowa Select Farms, based in Iowa Falls, IA, he was asked to edit and update a detailed book on standard operating procedures (SOPs) for transport biosecurity. Reluctant to set hard and fast rules, he opted instead to draft a set of guidelines he considers more practical.

“The problem is farms have books on biosecurity that are gathering dust because they don't get used,” says White, who now works as a senior veterinarian for Pfizer Animal Health.

What's needed are clear, definable goals on acceptable levels for cleaning, disinfecting and drying trucks and trailers, communicated in English and Spanish, and demonstrated to staffs, White says.

The goals and SOPs should be posted where they can be seen and reviewed with staff to ensure they know what is expected of them. Then it is important to find out if those expectations are being met, he adds.

White offered the following key points from his program during the Transportation Biosecurity Summit held recently in Kansas City:

  • Diagram your biosecurity programs. Hopefully, you will make mistakes on paper before you build or retrofit them into your operation.

  • List all areas inspected and scored. Include everything that comes in contact with the pigs. For truckers, that means closely inspecting their cabs, underneath seats and in storage compartments. White has dug up scores of probes, hot shots, shakers and all kinds of items that had been in contact with pigs but hadn't been disinfected or discarded.

  • Check all supplies going in and out of the farm. “Are you using a common maintenance staff throughout farm sites?” he asks.

  • Define where the clean-dirty line is in the operation. Design people and traffic flows, including location of runoff water, to protect the integrity of that line. Post signs in areas that must not be breached.

  • Know what fails. If a truck fails wash requirements, make sure the entire truck gets rewashed. Make people accountable for mishaps by ensuring wash staff and truck drivers both review and sign off on cleaning procedures.

  • Don't tolerate even mild deviation away from your protocol. “Make sure staff understand that when you write the protocol, and they read it, that they know the level of expectation you have. It is amazing the level of variation that is out there when it comes to clean, dry and disinfection procedures,” he says.

  • Explain the consequences of biosecurity mistakes. Include the big one — when a truck shows up dirty at the farm. “They've got to know what is going to happen to them if they break biosecurity principles,” White stresses.

  • Explain the economic consequences to your operation when disease introduction occurs. Offer examples of the amount of money, time and production that are lost.

  • Define the personal consequences of not meeting the proper level of cleanliness. Suspension, pay cuts or termination of employment are possibilities.

  • Tell staff it is okay to inform managers when a biosecurity leak has occurred to prevent reoccurrence.

  • Vary spot inspections of transportation vehicles. “It doesn't take the wash crew long to know whether they should be concerned about inspections if you get into the habit of showing up at a particular time,” White points out. “Vary the time and the day. You cannot be predictable when you are going to show up, or I will guarantee you the trucks that are done an hour or two before you arrive will be the cleanest and most spotless trucks you ever saw — and there will be a large variation in the quality of the washes before and after that.”

  • Make it clear to staff where washing improvements are needed. Again, explain the importance of the job when areas fail inspection.

  • Realize it is impossible to over-inspect. And it is nearly impossible to explain the importance of “acceptable clean.” White uses bacterial plates to test for pathogen levels. Swabs in test tubes are used to monitor difficult-to-dry areas in trailer compartments. “When we evaluated the level of dry in a production system, we used the swab test at the right rear corner. It is said you can always get live virus out of that corner because it is the last place to dry on a trailer,” he says.

  • Design workable documentation and tracking systems to determine audit and inspection procedures.

  • Don't forget to heap praise on workers for a job well done. “When is the last time somebody in management told your wash crew that they did a good job? Think about that. They are some of the lowest-paid people and they have a job that nobody wants to do, so take the time to tell them when they do a good job,” he reminds.

Prioritize Biosecurity

If you question the value of transportation biosecurity in protecting your hog enterprise, then listen to what agricultural economist Steve Meyer had to say at the Transportation Biosecurity Summit in mid-July in Kansas City, MO.

“The animals you are working with today are way more valuable than they were two years ago,” says Meyer, president of Paragon Economics.

“That 280-lb. market hog was worth $101 in 2006, compared with $155 today — that's a 50% increase in value.”

Using the $155/market hog value and an estimated loss of 1% in transit for dead on arrival and crippled hogs, Meyer estimates the industry is absorbing about 50¢/head in transport losses for every hog marketed — or $50 million!

Disease Interruption

Transport biosecurity is also critical when it comes to the threat of foreign animal diseases, says Meyer, who tracks the wide movement of weaners, feeder pigs and market hogs that move daily across the United States.

“We have a chance of regionalizing any kind of disease if we do a good job of managing live hog biosecurity and transport and if we do a good job of identification at the start,” he says.

Pork Exports

If the pace of exports recorded in May extends throughout the year, U.S. pork exports will total 4.7 billion lb., 52% higher than a year ago, Meyer says.

That would put pork exports right at 20% of total pork production, increasing the return to pork producers' pockets, but also escalating the consequences should disease or other issues disrupt that trade flow.

“If we had to take that 20% of our production and put it back on the U.S. retail market, retail prices would fall by about 27%,” Meyer says. The average retail pork price in 2007 was $2.88/lb. Take 27% off that price, and the average retail price for pork drops to $2.10/lb.

With the average farm-to-retail price spread last year at $2.10, that means if retail prices drop to $2.10/lb. and the price spread stays the same, the value of those pigs at the farm gate essentially drops to zero, Meyer warns.

And that per-market-hog value may advance to $186/hog sold by May 2009, if mid-July futures market prices hold up, he notes.

“The point is, it is so critical to manage biosecurity now because we are at much more risk than we were a couple of years ago,” he emphasizes.

State Commission Vetoes Hog Permit

Iowa agency grants county's request to deny building permit.

With permit approvals by both the Dallas County Board of Supervisors and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Dallas County farmer Robert Manning Jr. figured he was set to build two hog finishing sites south of Dawson, IA, to house 14,400 hogs.

Manning's applications to build were based on the need for enough manure to fertilize 7,000 acres of land he farms with his father and brother. Cargill would own the hogs.

Dallas County supervisors scored the application on the state's master matrix and the proposed sites passed that test. The master matrix, approved by the state legislature in 2002, rates proposed livestock confinement operations for their potential impact on the environment.

In addition, the DNR gave its nod of approval for a building permit. For hog finishing operations in Iowa, the permit is required when production exceeds 1,000 animal units or more than 2,500 hogs.

Despite those approvals, there was a lot of opposition from neighbors and environmental groups. The Des Moines Water Works has been opposed to the construction because of concerns its location would further pollute the Raccoon River, one of the major waterways supplying drinking water to the Des Moines area in neighboring Polk County to the east.

“The way our law is written, the county board of supervisors can appeal the DNR's issuance of permit approval to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), even though the county has given the producer a passing score on the matrix,” explains Eldon McAfee, a Des Moines attorney who often represents the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) and its members in legal matters.

At a recent monthly meeting, the EPC, a state commission comprised of citizens appointed by the governor, granted Dallas County's request to overturn the DNR's decision to permit construction.

“There have been several other permits denied by the EPC throughout the years, but those were always based on a failure to meet a requirement of the law,” McAfee clarifies. This time, however, the denial was based on the potential pollution to the Raccoon River from the application of hog manure to nearby fields.

But that ruling misses the point that the hog manure this farmer would have applied under his manure management plan would have, by law, replaced commercial fertilizer with hog manure, McAfee points out.

Besides not adding potential pollutants to the watershed, manure is a more environmentally friendly source of crop nutrients when compared with petroleum-based commercial fertilizer, he adds.

McAfee adds in representing IPPA: “The association believes that when the producer meets the extensive requirements of state law that a permit should be issued.”

The concern is that EPC will be pressured to take the same action when other Iowa counties faced with public opposition to a permit application file an appeal, he says.

“Producers need the uniformity and certainty of objective permit standards,” McAfee stresses.

Nutrients on the Side

Nutrients on the Side

Veldkamp Farms. Inc. Jasper, MN

Ridge-till system brings side-dressed nutrients to growing crops for this Minnesota operation.

Back in 1983, Jim and JoAnn Veldkamp switched to a ridge-till system for growing their corn and soybean crops as a way to keep yields high while protecting soil and saving moisture. When the Veldkamps became shareholders in the Pipestone System, a network of independent family farmers, they switched over to total confinement barns with deep-pit manure storage systems. With that change, they have found that side-dressing nutrients into the valleys of the ridged crops is a perfect fit for their southwest Minnesota farm.

“By ridge-tilling, we have mini-terraces every 30 inches,” Jim explains. “The crop residue stays in the valleys and helps hold moisture. Our goal is to hold rainwater where it lands, and not let it run off. When we inject manure into the valleys, the injectors lift the residue and place the manure beneath it, where it can't get away. It also minimizes any chance of odor during our application.”

While that approach to nutrient management helps the Veldkamps grow bumper crops on these deep, rich soils near Jasper, MN, the farm also benefits from Jim and JoAnn's perfectionist nature. A generous, well-landscaped farm yard, weed-free rock borders around building perimeters, and a farm entrance with a laser-scribed quartz boulder and a lighted flagpole displaying Old Glory are all hints of the family's devotion to stewardship.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a more pristine pork operation. “The Veldkamp farm illustrates total farm management at its best,” says Gordon Spronk, a swine veterinarian at the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic. The Veldkamps purchased shares in two sow units managed by the clinic in the Pipestone System. They receive weaned pigs for the farm's three, 600-head nurseries; three, 1,200-head finishing barns; and the new, 2,400-head wean-to-finish barn.

The Veldkamps often host pork-loin lunches for international visitors who come to learn about the Pipestone System. Guests from Japan, Australia, Sweden, Italy and other countries get a positive image of America's pork producers as they enjoy food and exchange pork production philosophies, just an arm's length away from facilities that produce about 16,500 market hogs each year. “The operation looks great every day of the year,” Spronk continues. “The Veldkamps prove that a family farm operation can compete and be a positive part of agriculture in the 21st Century.”

Guided by GPS

Ridge-till is a controlled-traffic farming system in which crops are planted on the same rows year after year. A GPS guidance system helps keep the 16-row, 30-inch planter on track. A pair of 4,200-gallon Balzer tanks with five shanks matches up to that traffic system. Three tanker passes match the width of one planter pass.

A ridging cultivator used on the growing corn crop rebuilds the ridges, so a set of ridges is used for the following soybean crop as well. “We use a Row Stalker to process stalks in the spring, so 100% of the residue stays on the field in the valleys,” Jim says. “The next spring, the planter removes residue and makes a clean black strip on top of the ridge for the next crop to be planted in.”

Savings from recycling nutrients from the pork operation are substantial, with a recent estimate that each 1,000 gallons of manure applied to the crop puts $60 to $70 worth of nutrients into the ground. “That's why we put so much effort into testing manure and testing soil, and working closely with our agronomist to decide on which fields to apply the manure,” Jim says. Centrol Crop Consulting advises the Veldkamp farm on all of its agronomic and nutrient-management plans for its 1,250 acres of crops. Centrol personnel take soil samples from all soybean fields — fields that will be planted to corn the following year — each fall. Manure samples are collected as pits are pumped.

All the farm's crop ground is within three miles of the pork operation. “That greatly reduces our application costs and saves a lot of time,” Jim says. In addition to side-dressing both corn and soybean crops, the Veldkamps do some fall application after harvest, with application rates matched up to each field's nutrient needs.

The farm also has been a research site for a pit additive called Accelerator Plus, which aids in maintaining live bacteria in the pit. A high level of live bacteria can help reduce both odor and nitrogen loss. At certain rates, the product seems to help keep manure in suspension, Jim observes, helping to reduce the amount of solids settling in the pit. That reduces the amount of agitation needed for pumping and also reduces the amount of odor and prevents surface crust from forming, he explains.

Reducing dust also is a priority. Pit fans are washed and mechanically maintained for peak efficiency. Added fat in the diets helps reduce dust. And there are a number of mature trees in a grove around the buildings, which also help filter out dust.

Nutrient loop

Corn raised on the farm is processed through an on-farm feedmill to supply the pigs. Formulating swine diets for split-sex feeding and adding phytase in feeds helps minimize any environmental impact from the standpoint of feed formulation.

Because the nutrients from the corn crop feeds the pigs, and the nutrients from the pig manure feeds the corn crop, the Veldkamp farm is taking advantage of the full circle of fertility that is as old as agriculture.

Judging by yields, the system is working pretty well. In a national corn-yield contest, the Veldkamps have been top finishers in the ridge-till dryland category. “We consider our manure nutrients to be a valuable farm resource,” Jim says. “We spread it over as many acres as possible.”

Neighborly touch

Community service is important to the Veldkamps. Both Jim and JoAnn have been active emergency medical technicians in the local ambulance service for the past 20 years.

Located on a heavily traveled state road, the Veldkamps make an extra effort to make sure the aesthetics of the operation are top-notch. “We want to make sure that people have a good image of today's pork producers when they go past our place,” JoAnn says. “We know they are potential consumers, and we want them to have confidence in our pork products.” JoAnn adds that employees Randy Baden and Joe Buysse make an extra effort to keep up the appearance of the farm. “They treat it like their own,” she adds.

The Veldkamps also are located close to a rural cemetery. Rows of evergreens and lilacs, which bloom around Memorial Day, have been planted as an additional buffer around the finishing barns. “We don't want to interfere with anyone's visit to the cemetery,” JoAnn says.

It's unlikely that anyone will have a concern about the look of this operation, with its professional, highly landscaped appearance. The Veldkamps say keeping it looking so nice is nothing more than a habit. “I've never thought of our place as some award-winning operation,” Jim says. “To us, it's just home.”

Wild About Wildlife

Wild About Wildlife

Oetting Hog Farms, Concordia, MO

Partnering with nature is a way of life on this Missouri farrow-to-finish farm.

When Steve and Sharon Oetting want to capture the attention of visitors to their hog farm, they head to a 2.8-acre freshwater lake that shares a dam with the lagoons for their hog operation. The Oettings toss a 5-gallon bucket of fish food into the water and then step back to behold the frenzy. The lake, stocked with bluegill, catfish and bass, boils with action as the fish clean up the pellets in only a few minutes.

“We use the fish to prove we are doing an environmentally sound job of raising hogs and managing our effluent,” Steve says. “We have a dock there, and we feed the fish every night or two. It's a way for us to relax without having to leave home.”

Oetting Hog Farms, Inc., is truly a family farm. Steve's great-great grandfather homesteaded the 40 acres where the hog buildings are located back in 1839. Steve and Sharon's oldest son, Sean, came back to the farm in 2002. His twin sons, Lukas and Logan, were born 162 years to the day after Christian Oetting homesteaded the place. They now represent the seventh generation on the land.

Located in the rolling hills of central Missouri, the farm sits only a couple of miles from the town of Concordia, and only about a mile from traffic-laden Interstate 70. So keeping a good environmental profile is a high priority for the Oettings, but it's not their only priority. Farming is their only source of income, so the economic success of their modest 125-sow, farrow-to-finish operation is critical.

The family operates about 700 acres of cropland in addition to managing the two farrowing units, a 480-head nursery and two curtain-sided finishers that hold 480 head each. Their annual production of 2,400 market hogs is marketed through an MFA, Inc. (formerly Missouri Farmers Association) network marketing group.

Going to the dogwoods

The Oettings have worked with a number of state and federal agencies to help conserve soil and boost wildlife habitat on the farm. Working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on an experimental project in 1999, the family planted a row of dogwoods — the Missouri state tree — as part of a windbreak around the finisher site. That windbreak also includes about 300 oak, ash and cedar trees.

“The dogwoods turn into a solid row of vegetation,” Steve says. “They're about 8 ft. tall and very dense. Wildlife like the dogwoods.”

NRCS personnel also helped the Oettings plan Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) tracts that help reduce erosion in problem areas. In 1999, the family planted 9,675 trees in riparian buffer strips. Filter strips are used along streams in other areas. And there's also an emphasis on getting field edges approved for USDA's CP-33 practice, designed to improve habitat for upland birds.

It's no coincidence that bird hunting just happens to be one of Steve's passions. “My hobby is putting out bird habitat and following my four English Setter bird dogs in the fall,” he says. “Raising hogs and improving bird habitat are two passions that can complement each other.”

Capturing nutrients

After enrolling in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Oettings began to use a precision agricultural program through their local MFA cooperative. They grid-sample crop ground to which lagoon effluent is applied, and monitor nutrient levels and determine crop needs. All pumping of effluent through the traveling-gun irrigation system is documented through the GPS capabilities of the yield monitor system to map those hose pulls.

Lagoons are pumped from one of three cells based on the nutrient needs of the crop and the lagoon levels. Lagoon samples are taken prior to and during application to determine the nutrient content and quantity of lagoon water to be applied. Any commercial fertilizer needed is custom-applied using variable-rate application equipment.

The savings from the combination of 2.5-acre grid sampling, lagoon sampling and matching those nutrients to crop needs is showing some significant payback. “With today's fertilizer prices escalating, an inch of applied effluent has significant value on plots that need the nutrients,” Steve says. “It's not hard to see a $100-$125/acre benefit.”

EQIP opportunities for 2008 include installation of a new manure-transfer line, completion of the Oetting's Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP), and the purchase of a hose reel with an additional 2,640 ft. of soft rubber pipe. This new setup will bring effluent to an additional 95 acres, 80 of which were purchased two years ago. Recent soil tests have shown this new ground to be low in phosphate levels, so hog effluent should be a perfect tool to help build that farm's soils.

Speaking out

Sharon Oetting speaks out for pork producers in a variety of roles. She's a participant in the National Pork Board's speaker bureau and has completed the 1.0 and 2.0 levels of its Operation Main Street outreach.

“The average person is three generations removed from the farm,” Sharon says. “They are surprised to see that agriculture has progressed, and uses the kind of technology that we have today. People have been very receptive and positive in their remarks.”

The Oetting farm also hosts a number of tours each year. In August 2007, a Lunch-and-Learn farm tour, sponsored by the Missouri Pork Producers Association, Missouri Department of Agriculture and 13 agricultural commodity and business groups, visited the operation. About 60 people enjoyed a pork chop dinner and a hayride tour of the farm to help them understand the pork industry and the importance of agriculture to the state.

There are many more visitors each year, many of them students. “We host a group of preschoolers and their parents each fall,” Sharon says. “It's quite a challenge to be able to present the right information during the attention span of a 3-year-old. But it's also a good chance to present information to the adults in the group.”

Recent visitors included a group of Japanese high school students who wanted to see a pork production facility. “It's not often you have a chance to talk about pork production with your No. 1 export customer,” Sharon adds.

Wildlife is priceless

Coexisting with wildlife is an important part of daily life for the family. The Oettings' yard is an example of the family's love of nature. There's a border of pine trees to the west, a wildflower plot to the south, and a food plot (in the yard) to the east. “Wildlife is a joy to see first-hand every day,” Sharon says.

Steve serves on the Missouri Department of Conservation Quail and Grassland Birds Leadership Council. During the 2007-08 quail season, he and a hunting buddy harvested six limits of quail, although not all came from the Oetting farm.

Those rewards from boosting wildlife may not be financial. “But they are real,” Sharon says. “The enjoyment we receive from this is priceless.”

Marketing Grain Through Hogs

Adding value to grain through hogs hit a snag when corn prices escalated, but this Grundy County, IA, cooperative is in it for the long haul.

In the mid-90s, Bruce Hayes and his brother, Sid, left the hog business to concentrate on growing crops. With only 200 sows and outdated facilities, the Parkersburg, IA, brothers didn't feel competitive with the big integrators operating nearby.

The Hayes brothers briefly considered contract finishing, but they weren't too crazy about returning to daily pig chores. Besides, grain production has always been their first love. “That's what we feel we do best,” Bruce Hayes says.

Still, taking all of their chances in the grain market wasn't comfortable either. “We wanted to find a way to diversify and get involved in a value-added enterprise,” Hayes says.

The Hayes brothers joined a group of area grain farmers, mostly from Grundy County, to establish Value First Cooperative (VFC) as a means to raise livestock using member-grown grain. “We put together our resources to gain some of the advantages of the large operators without all of the risk,” Hayes says.

Cooperative Launched

In 2001, 29 farmers invested $2,500 per share to join VFC. Fifty shares were sold; no investor was allowed to own more than 15% of the total shares.

Initially, VFC considered buying an egg-laying operation, but eventually they settled on hog production. Proceeds from share sales, along with a revolving loan from a local bank, were used to buy pigs and set up production contracts. Bruce Hayes was elected president, and the Farmer's Cooperative Company (FCC) in Dike, IA, was enlisted to manage VFC's operations.

VFC pigs are started in nurseries and moved into 1,000-head, grow-finish facilities built to the cooperative's specifications. All of the production facilities are owned by VFC members who provide contract services. They are paid a yardage fee to cover housing, utilities and pig care, with bonuses based on performance. VFC purchases about 1,000 weaned pigs per month from a commercial sow unit. FCC's Fred Diers works with the contractors to oversee management of the pigs.

Hayes says part of the appeal of starting VFC was the potential impact on Grundy County's economy. “The owners of the buildings are local patrons of the co-op and members of VFC. This keeps our money in the local community,” Hayes says.

Corn Deliveries Required

Each VFC member is required to deliver 500 bu. of corn quarterly, per share owned. Corn is delivered to FCC's locations in Parkersburg, Dike or New Hartford, where the grain is weighed, tested for moisture and pooled with other VFC members' corn.

Members are paid for their corn deliveries each quarter. Price per bushel is calculated from the net income for all groups of pigs sold during the quarter, divided by the number of bushels of corn fed to those pigs.

Costs include feeder pigs, feed (less corn since that is not purchased), veterinary care and medicine, trucking, yardage, bonuses (paid to contractors), interest (for revolving loans that have not been paid off), insurance, a management fee ($1/pig sold; paid to FCC) and other administrative costs.

Income is derived from the sale of finished pigs (VFC has a marketing agreement with Cargill) and any proceeds from hedging and market options for hogs and soybean meal.

“We hedge our market hogs when prices on the futures get up to a level we think will give us a satisfactory return,” says Jim Hawkins, who serves as VFC's secretary-treasurer. “We also buy bean meal on the board. So we have a hedge gain or loss (to add to the live hog income).”

More recently, VFC's marketing strategy is to use marketing options. “We are now doing option spreads to try to give us more upside,” Hawkins says. “We expect some liquidation (of hog inventories) and as time goes on, we expect hog prices to improve. If we hedge, we are locking ourselves into what the profit could be. If we do options and the markets trend higher, we'll be able to get higher prices.”

Hayes and other board members meet quarterly or as needed to monitor production and financial performance and discuss overall business strategies. Although many of VFC's members have raised livestock in the past, the cooperative relies on Hawkins and Diers to make day-to-day decisions.

“Some people are hands-on and want to have the control to make the decision to do this or that. But as a member of VFC, you have to feel comfortable with someone else managing your investment,” Hawkins says.

Understanding the Cycles

Hawkins admits the financial summaries looked better when corn was $2.00-2.50/bu. vs. today's all-time-high prices. “A few years ago, there was a time when our return was 30 to 35 cents above the average corn price,” he explains.

For pigs sold during the first quarter of 2008, VFC netted an average of about $2/bu. less for corn than the average market prices during the feeding period. Hawkins says higher feed costs have caused VFC's profits to slip in the past year, but the larger issue affecting the cooperative's comparative financial performance is the fact that alternative corn bids have been so high.

“The whole logic is to add value to our corn,” Hayes says. “It was easier to do that with corn at $2 than it is now, with corn at $4-5.”

Some members questioned whether to continue the cooperative as grain prices rose. “When the corn market first started rallying, some of the guys asked, ‘What do we do? Maybe we ought to get out of the business,’” Hawkins says. “But others have the thought that when corn goes high, hogs will go high. Because most of the members have had livestock themselves, they were in it for tough times and good times as well, so they understand it.”

“This is not a get-rich-quick deal,” Hayes agrees. “We are all aware of the cyclical nature of the livestock business. We have decided to weather the storm.”

Undoubtedly, patience to wait for better times comes easier when you are diversified. “Our biggest plus is that most of us, if not all of us, are not dependent on Value First for our mainstay of income. We can give up a little bit for a while and easily survive given the prices on the grain side are so good,” Hayes concludes.

A Message from National Hog Farmer

The Environmental Stewardship recognition program is co-sponsored by National Hog Farmer and Pork Checkoff. The program is for pork producers with all types and sizes of production systems who demonstrate a positive contribution to our natural environment.

A national selection committee of experts from various pork industry and natural resources disciplines selected this year's winners. Nominations were scored in eight key areas: general production, manure/nutrient management, soil and water conservation, air quality and odor control strategies, wildlife management, environmental management innovations and a short essay on the meaning of environmental stewardship.

National Hog Farmer is proud to partner with Phibro Animal Health and Pork Checkoff to deliver the positive environmental management stories contained in these pages. It is our hope that this recognition of the 2008 class of Environmental Stewards will serve to inspire the nation's pork producers as they work hard to be environmentally conscious citizens.

COOL Rules

For the record, I still feel mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) is a waste of time, energy and dollars.

So, before anyone accuses me of flip-flopping on this issue — let me start by pointing out that the headline is simply a statement of fact that the COOL rules are written — not an endorsement.

To the point about dollars, USDA estimates the total first-year costs to all firms directly affected by the rules at $2.5 billion. They estimate the cost per producer at $376, for intermediaries at $53,948, and $235,500 for retailers.

That's a pretty hefty tab on a program that adds little or no value to the consumer, who is already plenty peeved about higher grocery bills.

If the concept had real merit, you can bet your paycheck that retailers would have launched a voluntary program years ago.

Regardless of how we feel about it, shortly after you receive this edition of National Hog Farmer, COOL requirements will be enacted. After nearly six years on a bumpy path, the USDA on July 29 issued the Interim Final Rule on mandatory COOL implementation and earmarked Sept. 30, 2008 as the official start date.

Commodities subject to COOL include the muscle cuts and ground meat products from beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork sold at retail. The rule also covers wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, raw peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts — and ginseng, the “root of heaven,” commonly used in southeastern Asian countries for its medicinal qualities. I'm told the most sought-after ginseng is found in the wild and its whereabouts is often tightly guarded — so good luck with that!

USDA has urged retailers to begin phasing in COOL, setting in motion a domino effect that will impact everyone down the food chain, including you at the load-out door of your finishing barn.

Here are the Rules

USDA has established four labeling categories for the commodities covered in the COOL rules:

“Product of the U.S.” — These animals must be born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.

“Product of U.S. and Country ‘X’” — The contents of this product may have originated in multiple countries. Hamburger, for example, might read: “May include product of U.S. and countries X, Y and Z.”

“Product of Country ‘X’ and U.S.” — Animals imported for immediate slaughter in the United States, such as market hogs from Canada.

“Product of Country ‘X’” — This category accounts for finished products ready for sale.

Your packer must tell you what documentation is required on cull breeding stock and market hogs.

All along, I've felt it would be far more logical to require identification of only those animals that were not born, raised and/or slaughtered in the United States, leaving those and/or born raised elsewhere with the identification and documentation chore. Of course, that sort of logic eludes Washington.

To their credit, however, they did make allowances for animals that are part of the U.S. National Animal Identification System or the official identification systems in Canada and Mexico, so long as they have the appropriate ear tag or body markings.

The official rule reads: “Any person engaged in the business of supplying a covered commodity to a retailer, whether directly or indirectly, must maintain records to establish and identify the immediate previous source (if applicable) and immediate subsequent recipient of a covered commodity for a period of one year from the date of transaction.”

Records You'll Need

The records you use for day-to-day operations, with individuals or groups of pigs identified, will fulfill the COOL requirements. Birth records, receiving records, purchase records, animal health papers, sales receipts, animal inventory documents, feeding records, breeding stock information and other normal documents used to track everyday production are examples.

The USDA-AMS rule considers a producer affidavit “acceptable evidence,” provided it is documented by someone with “first-hand knowledge of the origin of the animals and identifies the animals unique to the transaction.”

By the way, animals born or imported before July 15, 2008 will be grandfathered in as U.S. origin.

Iowa State agricultural economist John Lawrence boils it down to five easy points:

  1. Be proactive and show good faith.

  2. Develop an identification policy and stick to it.

  3. Maintain normal business records at the farm and make them available within five days, if audited.

  4. Be sure an affidavit accompanies all animal movements.

  5. Keep track of all pig movements one step forward (who you sell to) and one step back (who you acquire pigs from) and keep those records for one year.

Additional information about COOL can be found at

Manure For Sale

Planning to sell manure this fall? Tom Deters, marketing manager for FS Total Livestock Services, has some tips to make the transaction easier for the seller and the buyer.

Agitate and analyze

“One of the things about manure is that there is a lot of variation in nutrients, even within the pit,” says Deters, based in Effingham, IL.

He suggests taking multiple samples to ensure a good representative sample of the product you are selling. “You'll want to agitate and take a sample just as you are getting ready to haul, take a sample during hauling and maybe, depending on how big the unit is, obtain a sample at the end, too.”

Send the samples to a reputable laboratory and have them analyzed for nitrogen, potash and phosphorus. Then calculate the average of the nutrient values from that source. “You can then convert it into dollars and cents based on the nutrients,” Deters says.

Be realistic about value

Deters recommends calculating the value of the manure on a “per 1,000-gallon” basis, using the nutrient values from the laboratory and comparing them to the value of commercial fertilizer with a similar nutrient profile.

The “per-acre value” can be calculated using the buyer's intended application rate. The cost of applying the manure must be subtracted to establish a net value/acre, he reminds.

Sellers of manure must realize that supply and demand are big factors in striking the exact price. “If you have only 40 acres (that could receive the manure), you don't have as much demand as if you have 4,000 acres right next to your building,” he says. “Pricing is really a supply and demand issue.”

Determine hauling and application methods

Know how the manure will be hauled and applied before you finalize a deal, Deters says. You'll need to use a certified applicator to apply the manure, plus a tanker or dragline to get it to the field. If you don't have the appropriate equipment or a certified applicator in your organization, you'll want to develop a plan for who will be doing the hauling and applying.

Spell out delivery window

Manure sellers and buyers each face time constraints for when the manure should change hands. As the seller, you must empty your pit at the appropriate time in order to maintain pig flow. Your buyer must work within Mother Nature's timetable.

“Crop farmers have a short window from harvest until the time when the ground is too wet and they have to worry about compaction,” says Deters.

He recommends drafting a formal sales agreement that spells out who or what will dictate the delivery/application date. For example, as the seller, you may want to include a “drop dead” date when your pit must be emptied. “The buyer has to understand that he may have to come at a time that is less than ideal because you have to get rid of the product,” Deters says. By the same token, the buyer may want to include a “not before” date that you'll have to work within.

Deters says having a third party involved in the transaction can help keep harmony. His company often acts as a facilitator between livestock producers and crop growers in manure transactions. “Sometimes it is easier for us to monitor what's happening on both sides,” he says.

For more information, contact Deters at [email protected].

Swine Flu An Ongoing Problem

Evolution ensures survival for this multi-species virus.

Swine Influenza Virus (SIV) continues to evolve. During the last decade, many strains commingled with genes from avian, human or swine species to create new swine flu strains.

SIV infects both breeding and growing animals. A sudden onset of respiratory conditions with fever and depression of the animals is an early sign of the disease. High fever in pregnant animals can cause abortions.

Flu virus can be difficult to control on farms. Relying on vaccines can be of limited value if the vaccine strains don't closely match the herd strain. Fortunately, diagnostic tests give us very specific strain identification and comparison results.

Diagnosing SIV infections is best done through testing that demonstrates the presence of the virus itself or one of the viral antigen proteins. Nasal swabs or fresh lung tissue provide the best specimen sources for these tests. Blood testing can yield confusing results because of the cross reactivity of the strains.

Case Study No. 1

A 1,200-sow farm produced weaner pigs for three-site production. The sow farm was negative for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and produced over 25 pigs/sow/year. The nursery manager told me he had difficulty starting the pigs on feed after weaning. In the last three weeks, weaning weights had dropped by 1½-2 lb. Some pigs entered the nursery with a mild cough.

Upon visiting the nursery, I noticed that about 20% of the previous week's weaned pigs were depressed and inactive. They had rough hair coats and a gaunt appearance. Rectal temperatures ranged from 104-106 °F. About 10% of the pigs had a mild cough. Tissues were collected from four pigs and sent to the diagnostic lab.

Meanwhile, I scheduled a visit to the sow farm to follow up the weaner pig problem. The owner was confused by the recent news of the weaner pigs because breeding and farrowing appeared normal.

However, the breeding manager commented she had difficulty getting the weaned sows to express estrus and also noticed more tearing around the eyes. I blood tested several sows and collected nasal swabs.

The lab results for the sow unit and nursery indicated both were negative for PRRS virus but were positive for SIV. The SIV for both sites was sequenced at the lab and found to be the same H3N2 strain.

The clinical signs at the sow unit were minimal, yet causing subtle problems. A commercial vaccine provided blanket immunization in the sow herd and also raised colostral antibody levels for suckling pigs. Nursery pigs were treated symptomatically with water medication and injections.

Case Study No. 2

An 1,800-sow, breed-to-wean unit owner was alarmed because sow death loss had increased to 20% (annualized) and abortions had more than tripled. The sow herd was PRRS-negative, and had never seen serious health issues.

When I walked into the gestation barn, only 30% of the animals jumped up. This was odd, because sows were an hour overdue for feeding. They were obviously depressed and off feed. Rectal temperatures of several off-feed sows were 105-107 °F.

I bled the sows for PRRS virus and collected eight nasal swabs from tear-eyed sows. Upon leaving the barn, I asked the unit manager if he had brought in any new animals recently. He replied half the staff had been sick for two weeks, so there was no time to move any gilts in from isolation. Flu had been present in many of the local schools. Some of the farm employees had been coming into work when they were still sick.

The lab returned a positive SIV test. Five days after my visit, most of the sows were back on feed. Employees were told to stay home if they had a cold or a fever.

Case Study No. 3

A 2,500-head finishing barn full of 250-lb. pigs was one week from marketing. The owner said that he had received a panicked phone call from the caretaker at the barn where nine pigs were found dead that morning.

When I stopped late that afternoon, eight more pigs were dead. Most wouldn't get up, even after I stepped into the pens. Rectal temperatures on 10 pigs averaged 105 °F. Rapid onset of acute respiratory signs with widespread coughing made me suspect an influenza break.

Since the pigs were very close to marketing, I elected to place the pigs on liquid aspirin in the water to let the virus run its course. In five days, 95% of pig activity was back to normal again.

Lung tissue analysis confirmed SIV on all samples sent.

Swine flu continues to cause substantial losses. Discuss SIV with your veterinarian and the role it may play in your production system.