The swine industry is seeing downward economic trends and prices. We are starting to see packing plants slow down due to COVID-19 cases which is causing backups in production and grow finish space. Labor on our farms is concerning if we start to see positive cases within a farm. We as an industry are using many strategies to manage through these challenging times.
Loads and space availability
Loads are backing up and some producers are having loads canceled right now that would normally be heading to market. Many producers are intentionally slowing pigs down on ADG. There is a wide variety of strategies to accomplish this but here are a few we are hearing about today:
- Warm up room temperatures to 72-76 degrees F.
- Less square feet/pig
- Increasing minerals to slow intake (calcium chloride, monosodium phosphate)
- Adding fiber to reduce growth (DDGs if available, or soy hulls)
- Tightening up feeders to reduce intake.
Be sure to discuss with your nutritionist/SVC veterinarian to come up with a plan that makes sense for your system.
Sow farm/ Grow finish labor
Farm workers are considered essential employees and we are working hard as an industry to keep a safe food supply during these uneasy times. Sow farms are doing several things to reduce transmission from employee to employee, such as:
- Staggering entry times into farms so employees aren’t gathering before the shower.
- Staggering break times and spreading out tables in the break room.
- Disinfecting tables/counters after every use and at the end of the day. Disinfecting the entire office daily and fumigating weekly.
- Educating all employees on how the virus spreads.
- Making sure employees are following the stay at home order to reduce exposure outside of work.
- Splitting crews in half to a morning and evening crew.
- Half the crew works four 12-hour days. The other half of the crew works the next four 12-hour days. So workers are split (4 days on, 4 days off).
- This way if one crew member tests positive we are only down half the crew for stay at home quarantine.
Wean to finish sites are taking multiple precautions to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 to employees:
- Limiting any unnecessary visitors
- Supervisors/veterinarians are planning their site visits to avoid contact with the caretakers or contract growers.
- Reducing the size of vaccination crews and having them split up to different sites.
- Social distance.
Most systems are looking at ways to reduce cost or inputs. It’s a good time to review usage of vaccinations, routine injectable antibiotics and feed grade medications. Be sure to consult your SVC veterinarian before you reduce any vaccinations or prevention strategies.
Other strategies include reviewing sow herd inventory and making sure we don’t have extra sows on the farm. There are instances where we can keep up with production but reduce the carrying cost of sows on that herd. Check body condition across all herds and make sure you aren’t overfeeding sows.
Farm safety: Handle with care
While focusing on keeping African Swine Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease out, the U.S. has been broadsided with a different enemy…COVID-19. Instead of being a threat to the livestock, it is a danger to the people who care for the pigs. While we’ve always been aware of our farm workers’ value, it’s become even more apparent how important our labor is to our success. With different routines, shifting schedules and the strong possibility of being short staffed, we still need to make sure we’re doing our jobs safely. The following items are not meant to be new, revolutionary ideas that you’ve never heard before, but rather a review of safety points that everyone should be practicing every day.
- Pit gasses – can be both toxic and explosive. Never enter the pit without safety gear. Never shut off ventilation (even when building is empty). Pit foam is explosive but can be reduced at pumping time with additives during agitation.
- Safety glasses – should be worn when there is a danger of flying objects. Power washing, blowing alleyways, clipping needle teeth are all jobs that require safety glasses.
- Keep things picked up and neat– don’t leave afterbirth behind the crates to slip on. Put equipment like sort boards away after use so the next person doesn’t need to hunt them down. Clear away junk so it doesn’t get tripped over.
- Aggressive animals – Watch for signs of aggression in boars and sows with piglets. Use the crates as a safety shield so aggressive animals can’t reach you. When giving injections, be careful so they don’t smash your hand in the crate.
- Use sort boards when moving animals – Sort boards are huge knee savers and are a major deterrent for animals that might otherwise “take you on”. Keep them handy by putting them away after use.
- Augers – Shut off the power when working with augers and make sure others know you’re working on them. Use lock outs/tag outs on the electrical box to signify they’re not to be turned on.
- Heavy lifting – Use your knees, not your back, when reaching down to pick up heavy objects. Use the dead cart for removing large animals. Ask for help with big jobs!
- First aid kits – need to be in every barn. Know where yours are located in case of emergency.
- Sharp edges/broken crates – Sometimes crates have welds that are broken or sharp. Either grind them down yourself or make a note so maintenance can fix it.
- Showers – COVID-19 should not be the reason you clean up the shower. That dirty, slimy build-up can cause slips and falls and shouldn’t be allowed to form. Breeding mats can also be put down on the floor to help prevent falls.
- Fire extinguishers – should be located in several places throughout the barn. Take the time to know where they are and how to use them.
- Avoid needle sticks – Piglets should be properly restrained before injecting. Take the time to aim properly at sows and boars. Slower, smoother movements often work better when injecting sows and boars, rather than lunging at them. Dispose used needles in a sharps container. When not in use, cover the needle with a needle cap.
- Checking bins—Watch for slippery ladders, especially on windy days. Keep feed bin lids in good repair so it’s not a struggle to open them.
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