Virulent PRRS outbreaks in grow-finish require fast action to cut losses

A particularly difficult variant of the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus recently hit hog farms in south-central Minnesota. Henry Johnson, DVM, with Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minnesota, was called to diagnose and treat the PRRS outbreaks on client farms.

The virus has been identified as PRRS 1-4-4 and, to date, is the most virulent PRRS variant to infect hogs in the US.

“More herds have gotten infected, and this PRRS strain seems to be extremely pathogenic and more prone to airborne transmission,” Johnson said.

When it affects grow-finish units, he recommends immediate and aggressive treatment to reduce mortalities.

First symptoms

“When you walk into a PRRS 1-4-4 outbreak, you see a lot of pigs with varying degrees of respiratory challenge,” Johnson explained. Often, he sees pigs “thumping,” where the animals labor to breathe through airways blocked by bacterial and viral pneumonias.

“Other times, pigs are very, very lethargic because PRRS attacks and disables the whole immune system in pigs,” he said.

An outbreak can be identified early if grow-finish units are tracking water consumption. Pigs will quit drinking first, causing a dramatic drop-off in water usage. This should signal the need to start intensive pig care immediately, Johnson noted.

These symptoms may affect 5% to 25% of the pigs, depending on where they are in the disease challenge.

Diagnose, separate sick pigs

Johnson’s first action is to gather samples and send them to a diagnostic lab. The PRRS virus strain needs to be verified, and secondary bacterial infections identified.

“Get good bacteriology and susceptibility information from the lab, so you can make better microbial decisions and have confidence that you are putting the right medication for the right bug and utilize it appropriately,” he said. “It’s also good, judicious antibiotic use.”

At the same time, he wants to be aggressive and get help started for ailing pigs. He recommends moving critically ill pigs to sick pens for individual care.

“The best thing to do is provide a warm, dry, comfortable area with less pressure and competition for feed, water and space,” Johnson said. “Pigs can recover and subsequently move back to the general population where they are mixed in with other pigs. Then you can cycle other pigs through that sick pen.”

Another immediate action should be to increase barn temperatures, especially for young pigs. Pigs rarely die from being too warm in the winter during the nursery phase but can die of complications from being too cold.

Suppress secondary bugs

“A lot of times with these nasty PRRS [outbreaks], you are already behind the eight ball when you start,” he said. “You will never cure viral disease with an antibiotic. You are just trying to suppress secondary bacterial infections and control them when the immune system is devastated and rebooting after going through the PRRS infection.”

Depending on the herd and challenge, Johnson said they will use different antibiotics and delivery methods. He recommends starting water medication right away to address common secondary bugs like Streptococcus Suis, Glasser’s disease, Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae and Pasteurella.

When pigs are unable to get up to drink, Johnson recommends a mass injection followed by oral antibiotics or water medications.

“A lot of focus for me is to make sure we use the right antibiotics and follow up with caregivers to make sure the pigs that need help are moved and getting the necessary care,” he said.

Even with these care regimens, mortalities can still be high. He estimates as much as 15% mortality can occur.

Biosecurity alert

“When you get a virus that is really severe like this and spreads quickly across multiple production systems and geographies, it is a wake-up call to biosecurity practices in grow-finish,” Johnson said.

If any labor or equipment is shared, make sure all parties involved know what is going on. It’s also good to keep the feed mill in the loop as well.

“It’s a hard culture to establish, but if you are able to reduce a break like this, it demonstrates the importance of keeping our barns clean,” he said.

 

 

 

Highly infectious PRRS variant causes high mortalities on sow farms

A variant of the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus is taking a heavy toll on hog farms in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. The variant, identified as PRRS 1-4-4, hits sow farms especially hard, causing 10% to 20% sow mortality and high mortalities in the nursery of 50% and even as high as 80%. In grow-finish units, mortalities are less but still can be significant, and growth rates drop dramatically.

“This PRRS virus hasn’t done anything we haven’t seen with PRRS; it’s just way more dramatic,” reported Paul Yeske, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota. Yeske talked about PRRS 1-4-4 as part of a webinar presented by the Swine Health Information Center and American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

Clinical signs

“From what we’ve seen on sow farms, this virus has a pretty distinct footprint,” Yeske explained. “You almost don’t have to wait for sequencing because you know what it looks like from the clinical signs.”

Symptoms include sows going off feed, abortions, increased sow mortality, increased piglet mortality, increased mummies and high post-weaning mortality.

“One thing that’s unique to this virus is it tends to move quickly through the herds once you see clinical signs,” he added. “You’ll start with four to five animals off feed and then 200 the next day and 300 the next. It marches through the herd quickly.

“The abortions start about the same time the animals go off feed. We’ve seen upwards of 3 to 5 weeks of production aborted and 10% to 20% of the sows dying in 2 to 3 weeks.

“Also, there’s high piglet mortality in the farrowing house…50% up to 80%, which I didn’t think was possible.”

In addition, neither vaccination nor prior exposure to the virus appears to reduce the outbreaks, he added, but it’s difficult to tell with the limited number of herds experiencing an outbreak.

High viremia

The PRRS 1-4-4 variant produces high levels of viremia, allowing it to spread easily in an area, Yeske explained. In addition, a milder winter with overcast, warm weather has helped the virus move around.

An increased number of diagnoses started in October 2020 in the two-state area, beginning with outbreaks in grow-finish sites and moving into sow farms.

“Certainly, the worst breaks have been, like we always see with PRRS, when you have viremic pigs leaving the sow farms,” he added. “But with this virus, we have lateral outbreaks even at the end of nursery with significant mortality.”

Yeske indicated some of the farms that broke were filtered, while others stayed negative even when located next to positive finishing sites and lots of positive pigs.

“Filters continue to show us they help but are not perfect,” he added. “The PRRS viral load is very high. There are lots of opportunities for this virus to get in, and if there’s a weakness, it’s likely going to find it.”

Stabilizing herds

After a 2- to 4-week period where herds experience the devastating losses, farms start to stabilize.

“We see sows start to return to normal,” Yeske said. “We see normal pigs born again but with very low, live born due to mummies, even though total born are still in the 16 to 17 pigs range. There are a lot of mummies on these farms but not necessarily all farms.”

As the herds continue to stabilize, Yeske said they will track them on the PRRS timeline to see if it runs similar to other strains they have dealt with in the past.

Review biosecurity

The big lesson Yeske hopes producers will learn from these outbreaks is the importance of a biosecurity plan that is strictly followed. He urges everyone to review their biosecurity.

“Identify the greatest area of risk in your herd,” he explained. “Risk is how likely something is to come into the herd and then how many times a week do you do that activity. Multiply those two to give you the risk.

“Then improve any weakness in your biosecurity system, and do it sooner rather than later,” he added. “Don’t wait to identify it in your outbreak investigation.”

 

 

Fine-tune nursery management to achieve optimal pig performance

By Kate Ayers
Better Pork

 

Meeting new people, trying new food, and exploring a new destination can be exciting but daunting experiences that we encounter. Now imagine combining all three experiences into one day.

It would be justifiable for anyone to feel apprehension about leaving the comforts of home for so much “newness.” Young pigs face new litter mates, feed and environments when they enter the nursery. These stimuli can be inherently overwhelming and stressful.

Fortunately, swine producers work hard to ensure the health of their herds and provide a smooth transition into the nursery.

Success in the nursery can be attributed to supporting the development of “bulletproof pigs that get off to a good start, have a lot of antibodies, and can handle the immune challenges that they face in the nursery. Piglets that have antibodies are often less susceptible to scours at farrowing and post-weaning in the barns,” says Dr. Laura Bruner, a veterinarian at

the Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minnesota.

“After weaning, we want the piglets to just focus on eating, not rotavirus, strep or any other diseases. We want them to hit the ground running. So, preparing for the nursery phase is important.”

This month, Better Pork speaks with Bruner, swine nutritionists, and other sector specialists to learn how pork producers can level up their nursery management skills and overcome pig health challenges during this critical production phase.

Before the nursery

Optimizing health and performance in the nursery begins in the farrowing room and, more specifically, originates from sow comfort and milk production.

“This process starts six weeks before the piglets are born. We get the sow ready to produce the highest amount of antibodies that she can and make sure she is in the right condition, so that when the piglets are born, they are set up for success,” Bruner says.

Colostrum antibodies help prepare the piglets for farrowing and then the transition into the nursery.

Once the piglets are born, “make sure sows are eating well and producing lots of milk to optimize piglet growth while they are still suckling,” says Dr. Lee-Anne Huber. She’s an assistant professor in the department of animal biosciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Her research focuses on swine nutrition.

Producers can help “piglets prepare for life without mom and the comforts of the farrowing crates,” says Dennis Robles, the production specialist for Swine Health Professionals in Steinbach, Man. The company helps producers develop herd health plans, monitor production progress, and maintain biosecurity targets.

For example, “exposure to small amounts of creep feed after their second week of life will help familiarize the piglets with the first-stage ration that they will get in the nursery,” says Dr. Tim Blackwell. He’s a lead veterinarian in the animal health and welfare branch of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and is based in Elora, Ont.

Huber agrees that creep feed can help make nursery transition easier for piglets.

Producers can “offer a highly digestible and palatable diet to the piglets that only they can access. The young pigs can then learn how to eat away from the sow.

“Not all piglets will participate and, if they do, it does not always translate to heavier weaning weights. Typically, though, piglets that do eat creep feed will have higher feed intakes after weaning,” she says.

Indeed, “heavier pigs at weaning will reach market weight sooner than lighter pigs,” Huber says.

“An old rule of thumb is that if a piglet weighs 100 grams (3.5 ounces) heavier at weaning, it will reach market weight half to a full day sooner than lighter pigs. This fact motivates us to set up pigs with solid weaning weights.

“In addition to creep feeding, producers can provide piglets in the farrowing room with a water source, such as a cup or nipple drinker that is close to the floor. The drinker teaches piglets that feed and water don’t always come from the same place as it does when they suckle the sow. If you can teach them that aspect ahead of time, you’re already a step ahead,” Huber says.

Weaning age can also play a significant role in the well-being and success of piglets in the nursery.

“Wean age is huge. The older the pig, the better it handles stress of transitioning from farrowing to the nursery,” Bruner says. “And the better the pig takes off in the nursery.”

Traditionally, weaning age is 21 days, but shifting to 24 days, for example, can help piglets put on more weight and thrive in the nursery, says Dr. Crystal Levesque, an associate professor of swine nutrition at South Dakota State University.

In operations that require transportation to another farm location, staff members can help reduce weaning stress through gentle handling, “moving pigs in a calm manner, preventing overcrowding, and loading them into a clean, disinfected and dried or baked trailer,” Robles says.

Clean and chemical-free shavings are better for footing, and trailers should have appropriate covers to protect the pigs from outside conditions, he adds.

Before piglets enter the nursery barn, producers should take extra care ensuring that “the room has been adequately washed, disinfected and dried before a new group of weaned pigs arrives. Farmers should be attentive to the removal of organic materials on floors, walls, pen dividers, gates and pins, and other surfaces,” Robles says.

Producers must use “disinfectants according to manufacturers’ accurate dosages and allow enough time for the disinfectant to work effectively. Also, never underestimate the process of drying the room or barn to provide the new batch of pigs with a truly clean environment.”

As part of pen or barn preparation, temperature is also an important factor to consider. “A day before the pigs arrive, warm the room to the nursery entry temperature, which is between 29 and 31 C (84 and 88 F). This preparation will help them get off to a great start. Indeed, correct ventilation and environmental settings must be in place even before the first hoof steps into the barn,” Robles says.

Solid start

Newly weaned piglets may experience environmental, social, nutritional and physiological stressors during their transition to the nursery. As a result, producers should keep watchful eyes on their newcomers to identify piglets that may get off to a slow start.

“The first two to three days in the nursery are the most critical as the piglets adjust to a new environment,” Blackwell says.

Producers can use qualitative or quantitative measurements to monitor pig health and progress, he says.

“My favourite metric is feed intake. Depending on the weaning age, which is commonly around 21 days, I like to see 400 grams (14 ounces) of feed disappear per pig in the first 48 hours. A little bit more if you wean them later and a little bit less if you wean them earlier,” Blackwell says.

Studies show “that 85 per cent of newly weaned pigs take approximately 35 hours to find water and 90 per cent of them take 30 hours to find feed,” Robles says.

Indeed, some pigs may go without food for a substantial duration, Levesque says. “This length of time without anything going into the gut can increase risks of diarrhea, infections, coughs, or flu. It doesn’t take long for the gut to weaken,” she says.

To ensure that pigs consume enough feed and water as soon as possible after entering the nursery, farmers can use several tactics.

One approach is to wait a couple hours and allow the piglets to settle into their new home before feeding the pigs their first meal.

“When piglets are weaned from litters into bigger pens with multiple litters, there is an enormous amount of distractions for them. They investigate the pen and pen mates and figure out where the water and heat are located,” Blackwell says.

“There are just too many other distractions in those first two or three hours. If feed is already in the feeder, it gets stale and the pigs don’t key in on it because there are so many other things going on.”

Mat feeding can help piglets find feed and become more comfortable.

During “the first five to seven days in the nursery, this feeding strategy allows the pigs to sort through the feed. In farrowing, eating is a social event. So, if pen mates see pigs gathering in one spot, they’ll be curious and want to see what is going on,” Bruner says.

Pigs also become accustomed to a signal at feeding time.

“For the first few days, that signal could be a caretaker coming into the pen to deposit feed. Staff members can then more easily identify pigs that are laying down or not interested in the feed, and you can provide additional support to those pigs,” Blackwell says.

Farmers who closely monitor their herds can identify lighter or weaker pigs and provide the extra care they need to thrive.

“Curious and hungry pigs who ate creep feed will come up to the feeder pretty quickly. They will encourage other pigs to come up with them. This time is a good opportunity for producers to see which pigs do not come up to the feeder and to help them,” Blackwell says.

“If you have a group of lighter pigs, they should go in their own pen. You can keep an extra eye on those animals,” he says.

Feed types

The number 1 factor to get piglets off to a solid start in the nursery is to get them to eat, many experts say. To ensure that piglets consume adequate levels of nutrients, the feed must taste good and be fresh.

Typically, nursery diets are highly palatable with high inclusions of “animal proteins, such as fish meal or milk products, which help piglets transition from a milk-based diet to solid feed that is primarily made up of plant protein,” Huber says.

Producers must examine nutritional, feed and management factors in their operations and identify any gaps or areas that they can improve.

“After piglets are weaned, they often experience a post-weaning growth lag” from stress and changes in diet and the environment, Huber says. “They also have immature digestive tracts. Their stomachs are not as acidic as older pigs, and their digestive enzymes are not as active.

“If you can shorten that postweaning growth-lag period, pigs may reach a heavier weight sooner and could have higher exit weights,” she says.

“Producers can use feed additives to promote nutrient absorption and gut health development. Such products may include acidifiers, prebiotics, and exogenous enzymes. But definitely consult with your nutritionist before making any changes.”

Feeder hygiene and dispensing mechanisms are also important. Producers must ensure feed is fresh and not caked onto the feeder, Huber says. Increasing the frequency of feed delivery can also help stimulate intake.

In addition, “make sure feeder pan coverage is approximately 50 per cent,” Huber says.

“You don’t want the feeder pan to be overflowing because the excess feed could build up in the corners, but you also don’t want the feeder to be too scarce because you want feed to be present when the pigs go looking for it.”

More feeder space for each pig could help smaller and quieter pigs access feed without getting bullied out of the way, Blackwell’s research team recently found.

“An inch and a half to two inches (3.8 to 5.0 centimetres) of feeder space per pig will ensure they do not have restricted feed intake,” Blackwell says.

“One inch (2.5 cm) per pig may be adequate for the first two or three weeks after weaning, but for the next three or four weeks, when the pigs put on more weight, more feeder space is better. Adding another 50 per cent of feeder space costs between $0.05 and $0.10 per pig over the lifetime of the feeder. You easily get that back in added weight – particularly for the quieter and less aggressive pigs who don’t want to push their way in.”

Another strategy producers can use to reduce post-weaning lag growth and feed costs is to take advantage of compensatory growth, a recent study showed. “Healthy pigs can exhibit compensatory growth after a period of feeding them a less digestible diet, such as a corn- or soybean-based ration, instead of a diet with lots of animal protein,” Huber says.

“Their growth will slow down early in the nursery but then their growth accelerates, and they can achieve the same exit weight as piglets fed a conventional nursery diet. This approach can be a way to reduce feed costs in the nursery, too.”

Overcome nursery challenges

Hog producers can use technology and work with their teams to address issues and promote pig performance in nurseries.

“Always have an accurate data recording system and room monitoring datasheets that provide information on the number of pigs in the nursery, date of entry, age of animals, treatment provisions, mortality and incidence of disease,” Robles says.

Producers can also collect information on out-of-feed-or-water events, storms and power outages that pertain to each batch of pigs, he says.

Measure “entry weights of every batch of pigs. Have another weigh-in at the mid-nursery stage to know if they are growing according to the growth curves you expect and project.

“Your veterinarian, feed nutritionist or production specialist can help you understand reasons why the animals may not be growing as projected.

“On exit, knowing how the group performed throughout the nursery can help you compare and improve on subsequent batches you bring into the barn,” Robles says.

Indeed, nursery management is like a “Jenga puzzle. Every time you miss feedback, feed intake, or temperatures in the barns, for example, a block comes out of that Jenga tower,” Bruner says.

“It is crucial to make sure all the pieces are stacked properly” throughout this production stage.

As a result, perhaps the most important piece in the nursery production puzzle is to “maximize feed intake in those first two to three days after young pigs enter the nursery,” Blackwell says.

Overall, “every barn has its own set of challenges,” Robles says.

“But the universal truth about having great biosecurity to prevent entry of diseases, sourcing animals from a high-health-status herd and following herd veterinary guidelines are the main focus areas to work on” to mitigate challenges and promote optimal animal performance, Robles says.

 

View this article in Better Pork, February 2021.

 

 

 

 

Cost-cutting measures take the sting out of high feed prices

The last time pork producers worried about high feed costs was 2015. Now, higher commodity prices have producers revisiting strategies to reduce feed costs and preserve profits, according to Ryan Strobel, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

“Six months ago, we were sitting at $3 cash corn,” Strobel said. “Now it is over $5 cash corn. That’s about $20 per head difference in feed costs…and might take all our profits.” Every dollar increase in corn price is roughly $10 difference in cost per head.

Strobel offers three strategies to help reduce feed costs.

1. Reduce slaughter weights

“A quick, easy way to save on feed costs is to bring down slaughter weights,” he said. “If you are selling at weights of 280 to 300 pounds, back off to 270 to 275 pounds and save 10 to 25 pounds a hog.”

However, the ability to cut slaughter weights depends on the packer’s current kill situation, the grid at your packer and contracts. This option is not possible for everyone.

Another challenge for cutting pig weights is the quality of the 2020 corn crop. Strobel said pigs are gaining well on corn produced in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa in 2020. It can be a challenge to get weights under control. Plus, continued genetic improvement is making a difference. Pigs may be ahead of normal marketing windows.

2. Feeder settings

Other obvious ways to reduce feed costs is to make sure you aren’t wasting feed. “Recheck your feeder settings and make sure they are set at 30% to 40% pan coverage,” Strobel said. Feeders set too open will result in poor feed quality and feed wastage.

Check over feeders regularly for other problems that can lead to waste like moldy feed. Repair feed lines that have holes in them, cracked bin boots that can allow moldy feed and any cracks in feeders that can result in wastage.

Mat feeding in wean-to-finish also can lead to feed waste. Strobel recommends working with the staff to make sure they understand feed is expensive and shouldn’t be dumped in the pit.

“I still recommend mat feeding as much as possible, but smaller amounts more often will help the pigs continue to eat and not waste as much over the side of the mat,” he explained.

Sow farms should periodically weigh feed boxes to make sure the feed amounts are accurate. Also conduct body-condition checks more often to make sure sows aren’t eating too much and adding condition when they don’t need it.

3. Feed production issues

Make sure the feed mill is set so that particle size is below 700 microns, Strobel said. Coarse feed particles will cause poor feed efficiency and reduced nutrient utilization. It can also increase feed waste at the feeder. More consistent micron size really helps with settings as well as feed utilization. Check micron size at the mill at least once a week to make sure the rollers or hammer stay accurate.

Double-check your tandem bins to make sure the right diets are used at the right time for feed efficiency. For example, this means finishing the phase 3 diet before moving on to the phase 4 diet, he explained. Diets are specially formulated for specific weight ranges and genetics. Blending two diets will hurt performance and feed efficiency.

Some producers also may decide to replace soybean meal in pig diets to cut costs. Strobel said in the next 6 months, if soybean-meal prices continue to rise, he expects to see producers move to replacements like canola meal, bakery byproducts or distiller’s dried grains with solubles, depending on market prices of what can be added.

 

 

Nicollet’s Loula honored with MN Pork Board’s Distinguished Service Award

By Katelyn Gradert, Minnesota Pork Board

 

The Minnesota Pork Board recognized Dr. Tim Loula, of Nicollet, as this year’s Distinguished Service Award recipient.

An enduring passion for pigs, hard work ethic, and determination to serve farmers well set the stage early on for Dr. Tim Loula’s legacy. Without his countless contributions, pork production today would likely look much different, for Loula has spent his career challenging the status quo and pushing farmers outside their comfort zone to be the best.

Passion for pigs

Growing up in Northfield, Loula spent his summers on a dairy farm working with family and a nearby farmer, along with riding alongside Dr. Roger Green, the local veterinarian, exposing him to all aspects of raising livestock. These experiences intensified his love of livestock, paving a natural progression to becoming a veterinarian.

Swine practice became his true passion after interacting with the late Dr. Al Leman. Loula traveled to farms and meetings with Leman while he was studying at the University of Minnesota, gaining an appreciation of herd health visits and being pushed to “think out of the box”, as Leman commonly encouraged. Loula carried his knowledge and passion to the Nicollet Vet Clinic after graduating in 1978, where his mission was to “develop the swine part” of the mixed animal practice.

While there, he learned how raising pigs indoors, multi-site production, and European genetics had the potential to change the U.S. swine industry. Loula’s love for swine practice became his focus and in 1991, he started the Swine Vet Center in St. Peter with his partner and colleague Dr. Paul Yeske. This practice has since grown to 15 exclusively swine veterinarians.

“Tim’s ability to quickly analyze problems and be able to sense the right direction to move forward, even without a lot of data behind the idea, was what helped propel our business forward,” stated Dr. Paul Yeske. “He is a great leader who challenges everyone around him to be their best and drive their own destiny.”

Inspiring teacher

Loula’s wife of more than 40 years, Dr. Ruth Loula, declared, “Tim’s passion is and has always been teaching. Not so much in a classroom setting, rather out in the field and barns working with farm staff to raise pigs the best way possible.”

Tim has always been driven to continually learn to stay on top of his field to be “at least as smart” as his clients. He is known for being a self-learner and avid reader, talking with and learning from people both within and outside of the swine industry, constantly gaining knowledge and insight valuable to him, his clients, and family.

His teaching knows no bounds, as “he continues his teaching with our six grandchildren – the loves of his life,” described Ruth. “He takes them out to see newborn calves, feed the cows, work in our son’s wean-to-finish barn, and ride the 4-wheeler to check on crops, newly planted trees, and the pumpkin garden.”

Steve Langhorst, owner of Wakefield Pork, stated, “One of Tim’s greatest strengths is his ability to work on the slat level teaching entry-level caretakers production skills. His dedication to working with caretakers is paramount to the success he has had in the industry.”

Loula’s goal is to create relationships with staff members and engage them during his visits; he believes in the importance of making work in the barn fun, interesting, and rewarding. When he sees people learn and develop over time with more production and leadership skills, he feels a sense of pride, since he is always challenging others to keep improving.

“Tim has and always will be an incredible teacher. He takes people out of their comfort zone and helps them to think bigger, challenge their status quo, and encourages them to be the best, all while detailing why these steps are so important,” Yeske added.

Committed success

Loula’s success within the industry can be widely acknowledged and appraised by any bystander simply by the list of accolades associated with his work. To this day, Loula has done consulting work in 34 U.S. states and 30 foreign countries. He has made countless contributions to eradicating diseases, being an early adapter of new technologies, leading world class production, and challenging farmers to think bigger and make the industry better.

However, his leadership and relationships built with farmers and veterinarians alike is what has made his legacy so paramount.

“Tim’s relationship with his clients and fellow vets, along with his drive to see them succeed is evident. He has an uncanny ability to understand how to motivate others and is excellent at finding what drives producers to be better, and how to challenge them when he sees an opportunity to grow,” Langhorst noted. “Tim always stresses that great benefits come from networking with others, and is famous for being in hallways having discussions many hours after meetings and conventions end. His passion to continuously learn from others and share his knowledge is very evident by his actions.”

Yeske described Tim’s relationship with producers as one of mutual respect. Loula’s philosophy is to meet the producers where they are most comfortable, build a personal relationship with them, and then provide them with a plan to help improve their operation. His presence is one of service, consistently seeking to understand and assist, always asking, “How can I help you today?”

Producers he has worked with over the years described how each person he comes in contact with has his full attention. His objective is to be present in the moment; “when he is with you, no one is more important than you at the time.”

Loula stated he has always prided himself, and urged all staff members of the vet clinic as well, to push clients to excellence.

“Tim is unapologetic in challenging clients that they can do better,” Yeske proclaimed.

He contributes much of his success to his clients, for their willingness to listen, change, and push themselves to be better is what has propelled the industry forward and made Minnesota production so successful. He feels his accomplishments have always been linked to the success of his clients.

One of Loula’s favorite sayings is, “Listen to the pig – do what’s right for the pig, and your clients will be successful. If your clients are successful, you will be successful.”

Pride for generational farms

Loula’s love for working with pigs is easily connected to his respect and passion for the family farmers of whom the pigs belong. In his early years, he established leadership and commitment to the development and growth of farms – both large and small – across the state which continued throughout his career.

“He has grown close to the families of many of his clients and feels a real sense of pride and accomplishment when younger generations come home to the farm,” Ruth said.

“Tim has worked with multiple generations of family farms and vet practitioners. No doubt his early contributions to these folks and farms have allowed other generations an opportunity to return to the farm,” stated Langhorst. “I would say he most looks forward to seeing upcoming generations succeed with world-leading production numbers.”

When asked what advice Loula would give to incoming generations, Yeske stated, “He would tell them to be good neighbors and make sure they are running responsible operations creating opportunities for themselves and for the greater world in abundant food supply.”

The 2021 Distinguished Service award winner, Dr. Tim Loula, is a tireless leader who helped shape pig farming as we know it. His contributions to the state of Minnesota and the rest of the country have benefitted pig farmers, veterinarians, and researchers significantly and will continue to do so with future generations to come.

 

 

Tactics to reset herd health learned during COVID-19

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Pork producers learned many lessons during the COVID-19 crisis, including how to improve herd health.

“The goal was, how can we do something to help us on the back side of [COVID-19]?” related Paul Yeske, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota. “Our thoughts were, is there any way we can help farms come out of this healthier?

“We had to do some depopulations anyway, and could we do something that might improve the health status long term for the herd and hopefully for the industry?” he explained.

Yeske already had plenty of experience with disease elimination programs. He figured they could use those methods with some new options to help producers attain better herd-health status when the crisis was over.

Depopulation for health, genetics

Typically, depopulation is planned to target specific diseases, but it can eliminate other herd problems, too.

“You can also make a genetic change,” Yeske said. “If you’ve got a bad parity structure or a bad parity distribution, you can handle all those things with one process. That’s the advantage of depopulation. The disadvantage is it takes a while to come back into production.”

During COVID, some producers delayed herd repopulation to wait for a better market. Other producers decided to repopulate right away and purchased healthy pigs to get the herd up and running.

Herd closures popular option

“Herd closures have been a very successful technique for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) mycoplasma and many of the smaller bacterial diseases that we deal with,” Yeske said. “We’ve been able to stabilize a herd.”

Herd closures work well in multiple-site production with farrow-to-weaning on one site and wean-to-finish on other sites. Once the site is totally exposed to allow herd immunity to develop and stop shedding, then new negative animals are brought back into the herd.

There were variations on this process, though. Yeske said some units did the load, close, expose and then downsized by not adding outside animals.

Farrowing unit clean-out

Another option used in this crisis involves emptying an entire farrowing barn at once to break the transmission of disease.

“We always have multiple stages of pigs in most farrowing houses, particularly the weekly systems,” Yeske said. “We empty out the farrowing barn like we do in a batch system to help break the transmission chains for influenza, PRRS and some of those. This helps speed up the process.”

This option works well for farms in a herd closure but still experiencing disease shedding in farrowing or want to speed up the process. Completely emptying and disinfecting the farrowing building breaks the disease cycle.

Other options

Some farms used this time to transition to batch farrowing because it reduces the number of animals in the system, Yeske said. “They might have waited a little longer to go there, but it was a good opportunity to do it.”

Other farms increased weaning age. The goal was to produce a little older weaned pig that is more stable when it moves to the wean-to-finish facility, he explained.

Making the decision

Deciding when and how to clean up a herd has always been a difficult decision. “And in stressful situations, it’s more challenging to make them,” Yeske admitted. “But certainly where some herds were experiencing some very difficult problems, it made sense.

“Long term, what we’ve seen out of the closures is that they’ll have a healthier pig on the back end. And for the depops, you hit the restart button.

“But you have to make sure you’re doing all the biosecurity things, too, as you come back in when you’re on the healthier side,” he cautioned.

 

 

Reducing PRRS outbreaks by using air filtration: What you need to know

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Jeff Feder, DVM, with Swine Vet Center (SVC), has spent 15 years fine-tuning filtration systems in client hog barns. Today, Feder has records to prove air filtration does reduce outbreaks of disease like porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

Looking back over records from 85 farms with filtration, he found these farms prior to filtration were breaking with PRRS over three times more frequently than with filtration.

“Many of the early farms were located in very pig-dense areas and, as a result, were having more breaks with PRRS and other respiratory pathogens than we would like,” reported Feder who works from SVC’s clinic in St. Peter, Minnesota.

“We looked at PRRS break rates to understand if we were moving the needle and changing the number of PRRS breaks…We were able to cut those breaks by a third.”

Explaining filters

Air filtration systems are expensive. Feder said the early ones cost $150 per sow space, but today are at least three times that amount. They can be installed on new and existing facilities.

The filters are key to keeping pathogens out of hog buildings, and Feder has learned which ones are best. Fiberglass filters retain efficiency much longer than synthetic filters. He took used filters of both types out of hog buildings to be tested for filtering efficiency at certified labs.

“Often clients budgeted for those filters to last 2 to 3 years,” he said. “What we found was…the fiberglass filters will maintain their efficiency for a long time.”

Feder also recommends using fiberglass filters with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of 15 or 16. This means 92% to 95% of the very smallest particles will be removed by the filter.

“Typically, in a filtration system in a pig barn, you have what I call the main filter or end filter, and most commonly those have MERV 14, MERV 15 or MERV 16,” he explained. “Then they have a type of prefilter like the furnace filter in your home. The goal of the prefilter is to take out the large dust particles so those particles don’t plug up our expensive end filters.”

Impact on existing ventilation

Most of the filtration systems used by SVC clients are retrofits put on existing ventilation systems in hog barns.

“One common scenario in the top-down ventilation system is to simply install the filters over the top of the ceiling inlets, and that is your point of filtration,” Feder explained. “In tunnel-ventilated barns, you build filter banks in front of the cool cells before air enters through the end of the barn.”

Other modifications may be needed to accommodate air filtration. Often existing fans don’t move as much air as before the filters were added due to higher static pressure. Keeping fan shutters and blades clean may be enough to increase their efficiency. Otherwise extra fans can be installed to boost airflow.

When cool cells are involved, Feder recommends making sure they work correctly and are on a timer. Airflow filtration is reduced when water is running through the cell pads.

Negative versus positive pressure

Most existing hog facilities are negative-pressure ventilation systems, according to Feder. Some new buildings with filtration use positive-pressure systems.

“The benefit of the positive-pressure system, at least in a filtration scenario, would be if there are any leaks in the barn, those leaks are getting pushed out so it’s filtered air being pushed out,” he explained. “On the flipside in negative-pressure systems, if there are leaks, it’s unfiltered air leaking into the barn and that’s not a good thing.”

While the positive-pressure system sounds better, he cautions that ventilation rates run higher which can lead to higher LP usage rates in colder climates. In addition, there’s more potentially contaminated air being pushed into the barn, which could be a problem.

“Negative-pressure systems run at much lower ventilation rates in the winter, but we do have to worry about leaks,” Feder said. “We’ve spent a lot of time over the years figuring out how to build them tighter with different construction ideas using foam and caulk…to get these barns very tight.”

Air filtration works

“I completely believe in filtration and think that it’s a good tool to use, especially if you’re in a pig-dense area,” Feder said. “I would just caution, though, that it’s like any other tool that has to be managed.

“Along with filtration come some additional things that need to happen. Make sure we’re monitoring the performance of the filters, looking for air leaks on farms and we do all the other things for biosecurity correctly as well.”

 

 

Top-notch gilt management requires attention to details

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The basics of managing gilts for optimum pig production and longevity are well known. But successfully applying them requires meticulous attention to details, according to Jake Schwartz, DVM, Swine Vet Center.

“The best farms really embrace the details and make sure they’re executed 7 days a week,” Schwartz said. “That’s the difference between average farms and great farms.”

There are some basic rules he recommends for ensuring gilts realize their full genetic potential and become prolific members of the sow herd.

Disease management

The first is managing disease threats like porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), which can derail gilt performance. Schwartz suggests either keeping PRRS out of the herd or finding an appropriate way to handle it in a herd.

“[If] PRRS management strategy involves vaccine or serum exposure, the timing of those two events is important,” he said. “Do exposure early in the gilt’s life so when she farrows the first time, she’s not giving birth to PRRS-positive pigs.”

He also recommends avoiding PRRS exposure around time of breeding or right after breeding to prevent reproductive issues like mummies and abortions.

Parvovirus type 1 also causes reproductive issues with gilts, including increased rate of mummies, especially when they’re exposed for the first time post-breeding. All gilts should be vaccinated pre-breeding. If there is an elevated rate of mummies, there are some creative ways to get parvo exposure pre-breeding and minimize its impact.

No breeding on first heat

One breeding rule tops the list of production techniques for optimum gilt management. “It’s been well documented that when we breed an animal on her first estrus, we give up total born and farrowing rate,” Schwartz said. “Proper gilt management includes heat-no-servicing and breeding on a second or third heat.”

This rule is in place because a gilt’s uterus is still developing during first estrus and not quite able to handle a large litter, he explained.

Also remember not to equate gilt age with sexual maturity. “Some animals will cycle for the first time when they are 24 or 25 weeks of age. Others will cycle for the first time when they are 30 or 31 weeks of age,” he said. “It’s kind of a bell curve.”

Acclimate gilts early

Another technique for good gilt development is making sure nothing occurs to throw a gilt off feed in the 14 days prior to breeding. This means vaccinations should be completed and the gilts moved to their stalls at least 14 days before they are bred, Schwartz explained.

“Both of those things will, in some animals, throw them off feed around the time of breeding,” he said. “Then in subsequent farrowings, those gilts will have less pigs.”

Early estrus equals longevity

Time of puberty can be a trait used for gilt selection because gilts coming into heat early usually are the most prolific in the herd.

“When an animal comes into heat early or is one of the first third or half…we know those gilts tend to be more long-term, prolific members of the herd versus a gilt that first comes into heat at 30+ weeks for the first time,” Schwartz said. “Those gilts tend to be more short-term members of the herd and have lagging total born and farrow rate.”

The ideal gilt management program would select females that cycle by 30 or 31 weeks of age and younger. “In a perfect world, that’s what you would do,” he explained. “But unfortunately, given the constraints of some of the system’s farms, that’s often not the case.”

Not making biosecurity improvements can cost more than making them

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Biosecurity ranks high on the list of concerns for swine veterinarians who want hog units tightened up to reduce disease. But the cost of new improvements can be overwhelming, according to Jordan Graham, DVM, MS, Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minnesota. He recommends reframing the question to what’s the cost of not making biosecurity improvements.

“It’s pretty easy for us veterinarians to walk into a farm and say here’s the 10 things where we have gaps in biosecurity,” Graham said. “Some of these measures are…costly. What we have to weigh is the cost of not implementing some of these things, especially in this part of the world where disease breaks are fairly often, given our pig density,” he continued.

“A lot of producers have learned how to function in that world of ‘I had a disease break and I learned to manage through it.’

“We try to monetize those disease breaks and say, if we could reduce that break, what could we gain back in production? But I would take it one step further and say what are you missing out on by preventing these breaks?”

Rank improvements by importance

Since there are many biosecurity options, Graham suggests producers first create a list of improvements needed for the farm and the cost of each. Rank this list by importance and keep it on file.

“Having that list with expenditures and stack ranked ahead of time helps us better prioritize when we go into a period [with] capital to expand on some of these,” Graham said.

One of the most expensive but effective biosecurity improvements is air filtration. But there are plenty of other biosecurity options that can make a big impact on the health of the farm.

For example, ultraviolet (UV) chambers to disinfect small supplies and lunches going in and out of a farm are very effective, he said. The chambers are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Even a homemade UV chamber works well.

Mortality removal

Another example where an improvement can make a big impact is mortality removal.

“It’s a big issue on a lot of farms, especially older farms that aren’t set up to get sow carcasses out of a sow farm in a biosecure manner,” Graham said. “The dead drop or door…comes into contact with rendering or composting equipment, which is contaminated.”

Instead, he recommends setting up a system where the sows and other mortalities are physically out of the farm for the dead drop.

Biosecurity culture

Effective biosecurity also requires all members of the farm staff to follow biosecurity protocols.

“Biosecurity is a culture,” Graham said. “It’s never a question of are we going to pass things across the clean-dirty line or are we going to step outside.

“How do you foster that culture of biosecurity on the farm? It starts from the top down. People will act by example. If they see the owner come onto the farm and they’re not obeying the biosecurity rules that they have in place, you can bet they’re not going to do it when they’re not there.

“Putting a protocol in place is fantastic, but if we’re not auditing to that expectation, it will not get executed on a consistent basis,” he added. “The staff will understand that it’s important [enough] that you will be monitoring the processes you put in place.”