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.”




How to tackle mortality-causing lameness in finishing hogs

Lameness is now the leading cause of mortality in mid- to late-finishing pigs. How did lameness develop into such a big problem?

Mike Eisenmenger, DVM, Swine Vet Center, and Kathleen Wood, DVM, Christensen Farms, addressed the lameness issue during a recent webinar produced by the Swine Health Information Center. Both shared insights from their experiences managing lameness in finishing hogs.

First, pathogens that used to drag down finishing pigs are under control. “We worked really hard to remove the major pathogens that flow out vertically from sow farms,” Eisenmenger reported. “We want to be able to give the nursery-grow-finish system PRRS- (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae-negative pigs so we can get the lowest mortality possible.

“In reality, even though mortality has improved, it seems we hit a baseline threshold. It is getting harder and harder to make continuous improvements…and there are a multitude of reasons.”

Lameness caused by bacterial arthritis has become the big reason for mortality today. Eisenmenger credits the infectious “small bugs”— Strep suis, Mycoplasma hyorhinis and hyosynoviae, Actinobacillus suis, Glaeserella parasuis — for the arthritis.

25% to 40% lameness new normal

Industrywide, lameness affects 10% to 25% of hogs in grow-finish. But Wood was stunned to see how much lameness increased during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“It has been on the upward trend in the summer months,” Wood said. “Recently 25% to 40% severe stiffness or lameness is not uncommon. Lameness is the No. 1 cause of mortality in our mid- to late-finish hogs. Unfortunately, it has become the new normal.

“Mild lameness has always been there,” she continued. “We just weren’t recognizing it as an issue because it doesn’t raise red flags as a cause of high mortality. Stiffness and subtle lameness aren’t alarming, and they don’t trigger the need for immediate treatment in the industry. But we need to change that. We need to start reacting to low-level mortalities.”

Back to basics: necropsy it

A focused, coordinated effort to reduce lameness by Christensen Farms started with the veterinary team going into the field and regularly working with service staff on necropsies to help identify causes for stiffness and lameness.

“Our service team is very well trained, but there are still nuances and additional things that they can learn about on causes of lameness and post-mortem exams,” Wood explained. “We started cutting open a lot of pigs with them and getting our team to open pigs on their own. They weren’t confident cutting open joints, so we walked it through with them.

“It’s not always about just the heart, lungs or brain,” she added. “If a pig can’t walk properly, it’s chances of making it to market as primary pig has severely decreased. This means that getting into the bones and seeing what’s going on is an obvious but underlooked necessity.”

The results of the additional training are a game changer for Christensen Farms, she added. It reset what the farm’s service teams expect with lameness.

“Pigs are not supposed to be stiff,” Wood said. “Lameness and stiffness are not normal. Pigs are not supposed to be in pain when walking.”

Treat early signs

The second part of the Christensen Farms plan involves early recognition of lameness, with a priority placed on treatment.

“We have to do what’s right for the pigs,” Wood said. “Treat them. We are limited in our options, especially with anti-inflammatories. But they are equally as important as antibiotics and give pigs pain relief. In our system, we are limited to two, and there are withdrawal times that make it difficult to use them in late-finishing pigs.”

To help caregivers identify when to treat, Wood created a chart with photos of pigs showing three stages of lameness, with the required treatments. The chart helps farms quickly identify when help is needed.

Work with diagnostics

Another part of the lameness fight means working closely with the diagnostic lab. Wood wants all lameness samples sent to the lab with a detailed history and other communications of the problem to help the lab more quickly find the cause.

Also, samples sent to the lab should be the entire limb and not be fluid from an open joint. Conditions in the barns are not sterile enough to collect the fluid, according to Wood.

Other interventions

Wood also works with other departments at Christensen Farms to determine the best treatment options. For example, she suggests working with the marketing group if 5 days are needed to provide medication with a withdrawal time to get on top of a lameness issue.

Another department that can help with lameness issues is nutrition. “Nutritionists are your friends, not enemies,” Wood said. “Ask them what we can do to make this better and be open to their suggestions. Spending time with them in the field is a great way to get aligned on the issue.

“And don’t forget the sow farm,” she added. “What are they selecting for on confirmation? What can we do to knock down their bug load? How about maternal immunity? Everything goes downstream.”



Ventilation systems need winter check-up to keep pigs healthy

Ventilation systems in hog buildings need regular check-ups to prevent environmental issues that can compromise pig health. Winter audits are especially important, with ventilation running at low levels with little room for error.

“A lot of the winter is spent in minimum ventilation mode,” reported Sam Holst, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota. “When we do run into ventilation issues, it can be when we are in minimum ventilation, and winter is a good time to monitor that and make adjustments.”

A common problem is moving too much air and chilling pigs, especially in the critical time shortly after weaning. “Pigs will be cold and won’t have the energy to get to the feeder and start on feed,” Holst said.

“On the flip side, if there’s not enough ventilation, humidity will build up,” he added. Gas contaminants like carbon dioxide and ammonia accumulate, causing growth and performance problems. At certain levels, the contaminants can increase respiratory disease and other pathogens in a group of pigs.

Ventilation basics

Many variables go into determining correct ventilation rates. “It is a pretty intricate process,” Holst admitted. “We have multiple barn styles and ventilation systems to start with, and multiple controllers. It’s pretty easy to set up incorrectly and make mistakes.

“Even when I’m on visits for something other than looking at ventilation, there will usually be some issue or adjustment to improve ventilation,” he added. “There’s no doubt it has a big daily impact, and there’s room for improvement on almost every site.”

Minimum ventilation rates are based on the number and weight of pigs in a barn. A reference chart is needed to know how much air (cubic feet per minute or CFM) must be moved per pig per room. Settings to achieve minimum ventilation will then vary, depending on fan inventory and size. Things can go wrong when calculations are not correct.

Incorrect ventilation rate

The first big issue is the efficiency of the fans. Fan CFM ratings are determined at the factory when the fans are new. Fan efficiency takes a hit after being used for several months, and the accumulated dust and dirt aren’t removed.

“A lot of times we overestimate what the output will be in the barn because we are not dealing with factory conditions,” Holst said. “Make sure to clean up those fans with a power washer, and get the dirt off the fan blades and louvers.

“Even 1/8-inch of dust or dirt will reduce efficiency up to 40%,” he added. “That can really throw the ventilation settings out of whack.”

Also be sure to clean fans after fall harvest because extra dirt and chafe will accumulate on them.

Poorly placed temperature probes

“Improper probe location can be another often overlooked cause of ventilation issues,” Holst said. “The controller is getting data from multiple probes, and if they are next to a heater or an inlet, it won’t be an accurate read of what’s going on in the room.”

He recommends setting temperature probes for nursery pigs at 35 inches off the slats and finishing pigs at 51 inches off the slats. In barns with curtains, the probes should be located 5 feet from the outside wall or curtain. In tunnel-ventilated barns, the probes should be located over the areas where pigs sleep most of the time.

Heater issues

When heading into cold weather, all heaters should be cleaned and checked over to make sure they are working. It’s also important to review heater settings.

“The common error I see is incorrect heater settings with the heater programmed to shut off too close to the set point,” Holst said. “Typically, we want the heater to come on 2 to 3 degrees below set point and shut off at least 1 to 2 degrees before getting to the set point.”

If heater shutoff is set too close to set point, the minimum ventilation fans will start up and blow heated air out of the building, leading to higher utility costs.

Blocked inlets

Attic inlets and soffits that are plugged with dirt or chafe also lead to insufficient ventilation.

“If not enough air gets into the attic, then there’s not enough air going into the barn to be exhausted,” Holst said. “You will end up with improper mixing and air exchange.”

He recommends regular cleaning of the soffits and inlets, especially in the fall after harvest.

Fall is also an important time to clean pit fans. “It’s even more critical because a lot of barns are getting close to full manure capacity which can decrease pit fan output,” he added. “Make sure those fans are clean.”

Help solving problems

Producers with ventilation problems that aren’t easily solved can call on veterinarians like Holst to help. He uses several sophisticated meters and data collectors to spot problems in ventilation.

For example, a client of Holst’s noticed an increase in tail biting in a barn and could not find the source. Holst sent a Hobo data collector to the barn where it was installed for a couple of weeks to chart room temperature.

After reviewing the temperature data, Holst noticed the barn at night was not cooling off enough to make pigs comfortable. So the pigs were agitated, leading to increased vice behavior. Without the data collector, he would not have seen the incorrect overnight temperatures.

He also uses meters that measure percent of oxygen, carbon dioxide and ammonia, as well as meters measuring air speed.

“There are a lot of tools and gadgets that I utilize on the full workup that allow me to fine-tune ventilation and find out what’s going on and potential problems,” he said.

Any producer experiencing ventilation issues in hog buildings should contact their veterinarian for help identifying the problems.


How hog farms used COVID-19 to improve herd health status

When faced with the COVID-19 crisis, some producers made the most of the situation by depopulating to get rid of disease issues, according to Paul Yeske, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

“People looked at ways to take advantage of these opportunities to improve the health status of herds,” Yeske explained. “Certainly, market prices had a major impact on us…The question often asked was, ‘Are you better off to lose less?’ Many people were frustrated dealing with sick pigs that were unlikely to be profitable.”

Economics of disease elimination

In budget models, eliminating disease pays off for hog farms. Even modest changes in overall productivity add up, Yeske said. For example, a 1,000-sow farm undergoing a disease elimination for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) returned an extra $13 per pig or $420 per sow to the bottom line.

The cost of eliminating disease varies by method used. A depopulation/repopulation with off-site breeding to reduce downtime costs $12 per sow and takes 1 year for payback. Without off-site breeding, the cost is $20 per sow and up to 2 years for payback.

A herd closure used to stabilize health is a much cheaper route for clean-up. Yeske said the cost of a closure ranges from $1.50 to $3 a sow with payback in 1 to 3 months.

Depopulation/repopulation considerations

While the cost for depopulating is high, it is successful. “Depopulation is a time-honored method for improving health status,” Yeske said. “It works very well for a number of different diseases. When executed properly, it is nearly 100% effective.”

Many herds were dealing with tough strains of PRRS, leading to death loss downstream in commingled pigs. Other health problems like mycoplasma also were present.

“We know sow herds are very likely to perform much better than previously when they start with a healthy herd,” he said. “The new pigs beat the old pigs to market before we’re done.”

This was also a good time for farms to correct parity-distribution imbalances and to make genetic changes.

But repopulation during COVID-19 was very different. Yeske said this was the first time he’d seen clients depopulate and then wait to repopulate. Some farms were even “mothballed” indefinitely.

“Repopulation is always a bit of a challenge,” he added. “Timing is always the hard part. If you start too late you miss the higher markets, and if too early, you lose too much money before you get a chance to profit from the decision.”

Herd closures

In the last few years, herd closures to stabilize herd health gained popularity, especially with multiple-site farms.

“The farrow-wean farms can be stabilized, and no other pigs brought on site,” Yeske said. “It allows the site to develop good, solid immunity. Then we empty wean-finish sites and do a repop on each of those. It’s the old ‘load, close and homogenize’ system.

“What we’ve learned over time is we can do it without losses in production,” he added. The herd closures are good options for diseases like PRRS, mycoplasma, influenza, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, transmissible gastro-enteritis, etc.

A different method used by a few hog farms was closing the herd and not loading it. “It accomplishes the same goal of improving health but with less pigs in the system,” Yeske said. “It may not affect the numbers as much as you think.”

Some producers created a hole in production to allow a herd to clean out and reduce numbers in the system, he explained. Farrowing was left empty while stabilizing disease.

Other producers euthanized pigs to create a hole in production, reducing numbers and allowing pigs to stabilize. They purchased high-health pigs to replace inventory.

Weaning age, batch farrowing

Some hog farms made adjustments to weaning age during the COVID-19 crisis. Yeske said these farms were using a 19-day weaning age, but it wasn’t working well. After returning to a 21-day weaning age, the sows performed better with more born live, a shorter wean-to-first-service time and better farrowing rates. The pigs also were easier to start on feed and posted a better average daily gain.

Other farms took the opportunity to convert to batch farrowing. Synchronization products available today make this production model more successful than in the past.

“The advantages to batch farrowing are on the wean-to-finish performance,” Yeske said. “You can run all in, all out by site and can run bigger sites. It improves average daily gain and mortality. You can make a small farm perform like a large farm.”


How to reduce wean-to-finish mortality: Part 1 — Plan your strategies

High wean-to-finish mortality continues to trouble the pork industry. While lowering rates is possible, it’s not easy, reported Ryan Strobel, DVM, and Chris Sievers, DVM, with Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

The two veterinarians offered 10 strategies to reduce wean-to-finish mortality during an Iowa Swine Day webinar, organized by Iowa State University. The presentation can be accessed here.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, Strobel and Sievers discuss how to plan your strategies — the first step to successfully reduce mortality rates. Part 2 of this article series covers recommendations from Strobel and Sievers about how to implement plans to reduce mortality rates.

Planning Strategy #1: Track progress with benchmarking

“We start with benchmarking because if you don’t know where you’re at, you don’t know the direction you are headed,” Sievers said. “You need accurate data systems to measure and track where you are at and compare year by year and group by group.”

One set of production data available for comparison is MetaFarms. Its data shows wean-to-finish mortality trends down slightly from 6.4% in 2018 to around 6% in 2020, Sievers said.

But mortality rates between the top and bottom farms show wide disparities. Nursery close-outs averaged 2.5% overall, with the top 10% achieving just 0.95% mortality and the bottom 10% farms at 6.4% mortality. Sievers suggested setting a goal to be in the top 20% of the MetaFarms data.

Planning Strategy #2: Thorough prep required for nursery

All-in, all-out is key to helping weaned pigs start off strong and thrive in a wean-to-finish facility. “Do as much all-in, all-out as you can,” Strobel said. “By site is ideal but if [not possible] then by barn or at a bare minimum by room. We don’t want different age pigs in the same room.”

Thorough cleaning and prepping of the facilities before the pigs arrive also help the animals get off to a good start. This means washing with hot water, drying, disinfecting and drying again. Be sure to degrease periodically and definitely after a disease outbreak. White-washing with a thick coat on all areas also ensures a thorough cleaning.

Next, Strobel recommends the cleaned facilities be inspected by someone else to make sure everything is cleaned properly (feeders tipped over, under gates, etc.). Pay close attention to cleaning and drying water cups. Use a battery-powered leaf blower for best results. Also clean out the water lines.

“Transitioning pigs to water is an important step because 75% of a young pig is water,” Strobel said. “They can dehydrate quickly. Make sure to inspect those water cups.”

Make sure brooders and heat lamps are clean and working before pigs move into the facility. Also recheck controller settings to make sure fans and heat are set correctly. Do an exterior building walk-around, looking for maintenance issues and cleaning dust and dirt off pit fans. An 1/8 inch of dust on a fan reduces its efficiency by 40%.

“If we don’t get this cleaning process done right and we can’t get the pigs in a clean barn, then we are fighting an uphill battle,” Strobel explained.

Planning Strategy #3: Know sow-farm health issues

“The goal for everyone is to get a high-quality, healthy weaned pig,” Sievers said. “How do you get that? Working closely with the sow farm [through] sound communications. How are pigs doing on the sow farm and on your farm?”

Optimize the age and weight of the pigs. Sievers’ ideal age is 20 days and older. He will compromise with 17 to 18 days of age and 7 to 8 pounds of weight.

From the health side, he wants pigs coming from a sow farm that’s negative to porcine epidemic diarrhea, Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia, mycoplasma and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus.

But if the sow farm is positive, he recommends focusing on biosecurity and filtration at the farm or looking for a different partnership. Nothing affects wean-to-finish mortality more than disease, Sievers noted.

For other bacterial pathogens in the sow farm, he recommends knowing what’s in the flow and creating autogenous vaccines to provide good immunity in the pigs.

“All this is to help dictate your feed budget, pull space and set up proper expectations,” he explained. “Previous health challenges and diagnostics are important in vaccination plans and strategies, timing…Make sure you have products on hand.”

Planning Strategy #4: Communicate your vaccination program

“One of the biggest issues we see is communications,” Strobel said. “What I mean is, ‘We switched over to a new [vaccine] at the sow farm and didn’t get it executed right on the second booster in nursery,’ or ‘The E. coli vaccine on the sow farm didn’t work and so now we need to do this group.’

“Making sure all communications happen in a timely manner is very important, especially from the contract grower or employee standpoint downstream,” he added. “Having some type of transfer sheet helps at every stage.”

Execution of vaccines has gotten better over the years. Strobel recommends retraining employees and growers at least once or twice a year. During training, be sure to not only tell what needs to be done but also explain why for improved understanding.

He recommends changing a vaccination program no more frequently than every 2 months and at least once a year. Also, do not cut corners on vaccines. If you need to reduce costs, work with a veterinarian for a solution.

“Communicating proper vaccine storage, if that’s dry ice or in the refrigerator, or just not in the sun. are all important factors to talk about with employees and growers,” Strobel said. “They don’t always realize the cost. If you vaccinate a 2,000-head nursery, it can be $1,000 of vaccine in that box that just showed up.”

Strobel suggests using a vaccination form filled out by a supervisor or owner that shows how a vaccination should be administered. It also includes a sign-off to document when the vaccination occurs. Some farms put up pictures of vaccines and labels to help employees identify the correct vaccine.

“Execution is just so important and not only the right protocol, but make sure it is done right every single time,” Strobel said. “Watch and observe at a nursery at least twice a year. Make sure the supervisor has unplanned visits when vaccinating. Watch vaccine crews to make sure they aren’t going too fast or stressing the pigs out or not changing needles.

“Going over all those little things regarding vaccinations is the way to make the program really work,” he added.

Planning Strategy #5: Determine barn layout, sorting pigs

Before pigs arrive, write up the barn layout that includes the number of pens for each pig category and location, including sick and recovery pens.

Strobel also suggests planning mandatory sorts. For example, some flows set pulls on days 1, 3 and 8. “This forces [employees and owners] to pull because there will always be small pigs,” he said. “They are out there if you look hard enough.”

Include the sort spaces on the barn layout, allowing 5% to 20% of the barn for these pens.

“Spending the right amount of time during the first 2 weeks in nursery and finishing saves time throughout the turn,” Strobel added. “The more you can sort and plan out where you put pens, the better the rest of the turn will go.”


Read Part 2 in this two-part series:
How to reduce wean-to-finish mortality: Part 2 — Implement your plans