Tighten up biosecurity protocols for supply and equipment entry

Erin Kettelkamp discusses biosecurity protocols on hog farms

All types of supplies and equipment enter a hog farm every week, putting an operation at risk of a disease outbreak. But improved biosecurity protocols with multiple layers help ensure items entering a farm are fully disinfected, reported Erin Kettelkamp, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

Some supplies are at greater risk than others. New supplies coming directly from warehouses probably won’t have a big risk of introducing pathogens. But if there’s cross contamination with other supplies or equipment traveling from other farms or housed at different warehouses within a system, she explained, it can be a cause for concern.

Kettelkamp detailed some of the updated biosecurity protocols for supply and equipment entry onto a farm.

Disinfecting supplies

Time with temperature is a simple way to disinfect items that are bulky or difficult to disinfect. Place the items in a segregated space and heat it to 100° F for 24 to 48 hours for removal of pathogens, she said.

Different fogging-type disinfectants may also work if a fumigation room is available. In addition, she said items can always be sprayed down or hand-wiped with disinfectant.

Maintenance tools shared with other farms in a system pose a much greater risk than new supplies entering a farm. “If tools have come from another sow farm or other swine operation, we know there’s been contact, and those items pose a risk, especially if there are pathogens associated with it,” Kettelkamp said.

She suggested a layered disinfection approach where a producer could utilize both time/temperature and disinfection, such as utilizing a fogging practice and layering that with spraying those items down.

Fogging practices

Kettelkamp spent some time during her veterinary studies at the University of Illinois looking at fogging practices. Originally, she said, foggers weren’t very effective because producers didn’t realize the fogged disinfectants weren’t permeating the room and acting like a true fog to disinfect the items in the fumigation room.

“Items were getting stacked close together where the droplets couldn’t reach,” she explained. “The droplets were just rising and falling, like you hand-sprayed them, so the bottoms weren’t getting contacted. There was shadowing. Sometimes we forgot to put disinfectant in the fogger, so that was a big hiccup and obviously that doesn’t work.”

In her university work, she searched for what could be done to make these systems work better. She identified a dry-fog system from human medicine that distributes the disinfectant using a very small particle size. A traditional fogger used more of a fine mist.

However, a true dry-fog system isn’t currently available commercially to swine farms because of durability and ease of use. “Hopefully, we’ll develop that technology so it is more readily available on farm,” she added.

In the meantime, Hurricane foggers, operated at the lowest flow rate with a hydrogen peroxide/paracetic acid blend, can provide a 90% efficacy rate for disinfection.

Auditing biosecurity

People are creatures of habit, Kettelkamp said, so how can bad habits be broken or good habits be reinforced so good biosecurity practices are maintained? Even if there is a procedure list in place, it’s always good to have a third party or another person from the farm come in and check to make sure the staff is following these practices, she recommended.

As far as shoring up biosecurity, Kettelkamp said it depends on the farm. Overall sanitation is very important and should not just be something that is talked about maybe once a month or whenever the veterinarian visits.

“[Biosecurity] needs to be a true culture to keep everything in order, and that stems from the office into the hallways, and exudes out into how clean we keep the farm in general and protecting it from all sorts of biosecurity risks,” she added. “It’s also making sure our barns are up to date and making sure our loadout chutes are getting clean and all of those things.”



Nursery transition tied to increase in pig scours

Swine producers may be seeing an increase in young pig scours, particularly in the early nursery, according to Ross Kiehne, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

Baby pigs do well in farrowing, but when they are weaned onto solid feed in the nursery, some of the pigs do not make that transition. After 3 to 6 days in the nursery, about 5% to 7% of pigs become thin and end up in a sick pen, he explained.

Kiehne has been doing more diagnostics trying to determine what diseases may be involved and then coming up with a management plan to help nursery operations do better.

Rotavirus main culprit

“The disease I keep coming up with is rotavirus,” he said. “I think what causes this is the change to the gut; then rotavirus sees an opportunity to cause some scour issues.

“It’s usually something that you can treat with just really good water,” he continued. “You can get them through it, but it doesn’t seem to be enough right now. The levels I’m finding in the guts are higher than I think we’ve had in the past.”

Kiehne is looking into different products that could be fed to young pigs to help with rotavirus. He’s working with nutritionists to make changes to feeding plans.

“We’ll try feed A versus feed B, and it might have more whey in it or less whey in it or more sugars, less sugars or whatever the nutritionists come up with,” he explained. “Then we’ll do a fecal scoring on them, and we’ve actually seen we can improve it with a change in nutrition.”

E. coli also a threat

Another culprit with young pig scours is Escherichia coli, Kiehne said, which can be easier to treat since there are antibiotics that can help with the infections. “But we’re finding some E. coli that are resistant to almost every antibiotic that we have,” he added.

Kiehne summarized the infection cascade as a harder-starting pig entering the nursery, getting some rotavirus, and then opportunistic pathogens like E. coli jumping in and becoming a real nuisance. “It’s usually a little worse in the winter because you can chill pigs, and you have to shut down barns and that kind of thing,” he added. “So I’m a little worried this winter could be another battle.”

Know the threats

To combat these nursery scours, Kiehne recommended getting out into the barns and posting pigs to see what is involved disease-wise.

“Then work with your nutritionist because…moving from a sow to solid feed is probably the most stress those pigs will ever go under,” he said. “Making sure it’s the best transition for these pigs will be very helpful.”



How to attract people to work on your hog farm

The biggest issue facing most hog farms today is a shortage of workers, according to Laura Bruner, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

“If you ask (producers) what their challenges are in their day-to-day life, it’s finding labor and enough labor to be able to take care of the sows and get the production they want,” she said.

COVID initially played a role in having fewer workers available. But other issues are also involved. “People are getting farther and farther away from the farm,” she added. “Finding people who want to work with pigs was difficult before COVID, and it is certainly more difficult now.”

Create strong company culture

Producers hoping to attract workers who are interested in agriculture need to consider their company culture and if it’s a place people want to work.

“The culture that is probably the most successful is the culture that puts pigs and people first,” Bruner said. “When you’re making decisions, you ask two questions: Is it good for the people, and is it good for the pigs? That’s a culture that across our client base has never failed.”

Operators wondering if they have a good culture can figure that out by asking employees if they would refer a sister or brother to work there.

“If the answer is no, then you probably need to take a look at the health of your company,” she said.

Improving a culture can start with a well-written mission statement to reflect the company’s overall purpose. Bruner said most of their clients have mission statements.

“It’s the one mission that everybody, from the person feeding the animals all the way up to the owner, are all striving for,” she said. “They are all pulling toward the same goal, and everybody knows that goal and mission.”

Help workers win

Attracting and keeping employees means making sure they feel like they are “winning” either professionally or personally with the job.

“I think everybody, when they go to their job, wants to feel like they’re winning in some capacity,” Bruner said. “For a guy or gal just starting a family, winning for them might be learning and gaining more experience to make more money and support the family.”

Flexibility in the job may be a winning solution for other workers. For example, she suggested some people may want to assist sows overnight or work evening hours versus early morning.

“Everybody is different, and if you’re a company that can flex to that, I think you’ll have a better shot at getting and retaining employees,” she said.

Where to find workers

In today’s culture, social media is the best way to find workers, besides personal connections in the community.

“Everybody is on social media, and developing that platform is important,” she said. “Plus having your employees who currently work for you being your advocate and recruiter is a good thing.”

Temporary visa workers

Another option to find workers is the Trade NAFTA (TN) visa program that allows professional agricultural workers from Canada and Mexico to work in the US for up to 3 years. Bruner has seen some farms use just a few TN workers while other farms hire TN workers for a majority of their positions.

“This has been a good resource for finding farm labor,” she said. “But it comes with a bit of ownership because these people are coming from other countries. They usually don’t have a driver’s license, and they don’t have a place to live…So it takes a little bit of time and investment for the employer.

“The TN visa program has been very good for our clients, and we have the ability to help them on the recruiting and training end,” Bruner added. “It is just another example of the industry continuing to think outside the box to solve problems in their business.”