High hog prices mean you can’t afford misses

Today’s high hog prices dictate a completely different mindset from a few months ago when an oversupply of hogs and low prices required cost-cutting measures.

“It’s gone from trying to save and get by to now where hogs are highly profitable so you can’t afford to miss,” reported Jordan Graham, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

“The margins are still fairly tight with corn prices as high as they are,” he added. “But when we miss out on selling a hog that is worth double what it was last year, it really hurts.”

Instead of looking at ways to cut costs, Graham says it’s time to reconsider health programs that weren’t economical at last year’s market prices. Some of those interventions may more than pay for themselves at current prices.

Shore-up vaccine strategies

“Reevaluate your vaccine strategies to make sure you are protected as much as possible from disease breaks” he said. “If you cut vaccinations now at the cost of a disease break or missing live born, then we are really shooting ourselves in the foot.

“If producers are partial-dosing, the savings gain might not be worth it if there’s any lapse in protection,” he added. “An example is ileitis prevention. Partial-dosing is done in the industry, and this would be a year where it probably does not pay because you run a higher risk of a breakdown in immunity.”

In addition, producers may also want to explore feed-additive options to improve feed conversion and average daily gain.

Treatment during outbreaks

“Being early and proactive on health challenges is extremely important this summer,” Graham said. “It’s almost certain any intervention that helps reduce mortality will pay for itself.”

For example, more aggressive treatment during a disease outbreak will likely be cost-effective.

Capital investments

“Take the opportunity while markets are good to take a second look at some capital investments that might have been cost prohibitive in the past,” Graham said.

For example, a sow-farm filtration system to minimize disease breaks may be a good investment right now.

Another potential investment area is adding space to your farm for proper gilt development. Graham said this will help increase total-born output of gilts by allowing adequate disease and housing acclimation. Gilts are the future of the farm, and investing in doing gilts right will pay dividends.

Biosecurity additions

Improvements in biosecurity to reduce disease outbreaks also may be worth the investment now, he added.

A couple of options include adding ultraviolet boxes for supply entry and building a compost facility to move away from rendering vehicles on the property.

This also may be the time to make capital improvements to truck washes. One example is adding thermo-assisted drying.

Taking advantage of the current market situation to make improvements now in herd health can pay off in the future when the market tightens up again, because as this past year has shown, markets can change fast.

“Last year I said we’d have low prices due to ample supply of hogs, and that’s turned on a dime this year,” Graham said.

 

Disinfectant fogged over pigs kills lingering pathogens

Two lingering cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) at different finishing units were frustrating Ross Kiehne, veterinarian with Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

“These barns tested positive to PED before, but these were sites we wanted to use for gilts,” Kiehne explained. “We cleaned up the barns and utilized normal disinfectants. We put gilts back in there, but oral-fluid testing indicated the pigs were positive for PED.

“We didn’t see any clinical signs so we thought it might be an environmental contaminant. But we weren’t going to use the gilts as long as they were testing positive, even if we thought it was a false positive.”

Fogging allowed over pigs

A possible solution was a disinfectant that could safely be fogged into barns with pigs present. Kiehne had heard about preliminary university tests indicating a disinfectant called Zoono Microbe Shield was effective for many diseases on impact plus residual action for at least 7 days.

“It’s a fairly new disinfectant that you can apply right over the pigs,” he said. “I convinced the owner to spray with Zoono. We sprayed and tested multiple times. The pigs tested negative every time, so we were comfortable using those gilts.”

If the product hadn’t worked, Kiehne’s client may not have been able to use the gilts. Or they needed to go through the process of moving the gilts out, cleaning and disinfecting again to try to achieve negative tests.

“What I like about Zoono is it is very safe and can be sprayed with pigs in the barns,” Kiehne said. “And the 7 days of residual action is very significant. All other disinfectants kill on impact only and offer no other action.”

Since the success with clearing PED from the finishers, Kiehne has fogged the disinfectant in rooms with pigs from 3 to 4 days old up to sows, with no adverse effects.

Further testing

“We are trying to utilize this product more now for similar circumstances,” Kiehne said. “I think it was an environmental contaminate that was causing us some headaches with the PED tests. Now I’m going to do more testing over pigs for other diseases.”

In addition, more information on Zoono’s use in swine should be available soon from a study conducted by Derald Holtkamp, DVM, at Iowa State University. Holtkamp is evaluating Zoono and should have results later this summer.

Zoono kills ASF, COVID-19

Zoono’s disinfectant product has been thrust into the limelight the past few years after outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) and COVID-19 in China. The product developed by Zoono Group Limited, a New Zealand company, kills ASF and COVID-19 on contact and offers residual action up to 30 days for some pathogens, according to information on its website.

Key to the product’s success is the Zoono Microbe Shield that forms a bond with surfaces to inhibit growth of microbes. The EPA-approved product is safe for humans and animals because it uses a technology to kill the microbes without dangerous chemicals.

Companies like United Airlines now use Microbe Shield to provide a layer of protection in the passenger cabins on everything from seats and tray tables to lavatories.

For more information on Zoono, visit www.apiamsolutions.com.

 

 

Common mistakes to avoid during PRRS elimination

Eliminating porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus from a breeding herd is not a simple task, and no herd acts exactly like the next, according to Brad Leuwerke, DVM, with Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

Looking back at years of PRRS elimination efforts, Leuwerke led a retrospective analysis of several breeding herds to determine why some were able to stay on course and achieve success while others were unsuccessful.

“We assessed several factors thought to influence a return to PRRS stability,” he said. “We found the season when the outbreak occurred, the virus strain causing the outbreak and the herd’s previous PRRS status all substantially affected the time necessary to eliminate the virus from the breeding herd.

“Largely, though, it feels like these factors are often out of our control.”

The review did highlight four factors producers can control that help drive successful virus elimination. “Failure to account for these aspects will extend the time necessary to achieve negative status,” Leuwerke said.

1) Avoid premature replacement entry

Producers must resist the urge to bring in extra replacement animals as a herd closure progresses. If replacements are brought in before the virus is eliminated, these animals will become infected and the closure time is drawn out.

“Instead, herds should ‘load up’ with replacements at the beginning of the closure to withstand the temptation to open up before the virus is eliminated,” Leuwerke said. “In addition, a reduction of culling, starting early in the closure, will also help in maintaining production goals without needing to open the herd.”

2) Set ‘day zero’ with an entire herd exposure

Start the PRRS elimination on a specified “day zero” using direct virus exposure of the entire herd.

“Infecting the entire population at one time allows for the shortest closure possible and is preferred over allowing the virus to naturally move through the population,” Leuwerke said.

This is especially important with newer, more virulent PRRS strains that look to have longer periods that animals shed virus.

3) Manage farrowing biosecurity

As a breeding herd nears the end of the closure, farrowing is the last place the virus can be found.

“The last animals to harbor and shed virus will do this through piglets, either born virus-positive or infected following birth,” Leuwerke explained. “Our biosecurity practices late in a closure influence the length of closure and, ultimately, if elimination is successful.”

At this stage, pigs should not be held back at weaning for more growth. “This is one of the worst things we can do in a sow herd working towards PRRS-negative status,” he said. It will extend the time of elimination.

Farrowing sanitation is very important, and poor practices can cause the elimination to fail. Leuwerke recommends all-out farrowing rooms at weaning so the rooms can be thoroughly washed, disinfected and dried. Common hallways also must be washed after all pig movements.

Good hygiene with processing tools must be practiced, too, to prevent the virus from spreading between litters.

4) Monitor herd status

“Newer monitoring strategies that allow us to test more animals have given us more confidence that a herd is truly negative before reopening to replacement animals,” Leuwerke said.

These new strategies include the use of processing fluids from many animals in the population.

“Before the use of processing fluids, we often would blood test 30 piglets each month,” he explained. “If we had 3 consecutive months negative, we called the herd negative. We likely missed virus using these testing procedures.”

Leuwerke admits PRRS eliminations are difficult. But good planning before a herd closure starts will help avoid common mistakes that lead to elimination failures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When swine medicine crossed over to human medicine

The tools used countless times to eradicate disease in sow herds and on hog farms became the tools to help pork packing plants reopen last spring after shutting down due to COVID-19. In an unusual turn of events, swine medicine crossed over to human medicine and helped quell COVID-19 outbreaks among plant workers and their families.

Veterinarians involved in the unprecedented effort spoke in a session at the 2021 American Association of Swine Veterinarians meeting. Tim Loula, DVM, led the effort with help from Paul Yeske, DVM, both of Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota. Also closely involved were David Bomgaars, DVM, with RC Family Farms, Orange City, Iowa, and Brad Freking, DVM, New Fashion Pork, Jackson, Minnesota.

Plant closures

“When we started to hear about the COVID-19 problems, never did we imagine that slaughter capacity would be the biggest challenge that many producers and veterinarians would have to deal with,” Bomgaars related.

While pork-processing plants were deemed essential and could stay open during the pandemic, COVID-19 outbreaks sparked alarm among workers, their communities and local government officials. Soon, plants in Minnesota and Iowa cut back production and some completely closed.

A growing backlog of market hogs created great alarm in the pork industry. Producers and veterinarians worked on ways to handle backlogs while waiting for processors to reopen. But the processors didn’t know when that would happen.

Connecting with medical teams

“It just seemed like nobody was doing anything to get an answer on how to get these plants back running,” Bomgaars said. “Tim Loula and I discussed the need to get the human medical community involved in this process. We needed to better understand the prevalence, exposure, severity and asymptomatic rate of COVID-19.”

Bomgaars started seeking connections in the medical community. He contacted the CEO of his local hospital in Orange City and was provided a connection with Sanford Health, a major medical system in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Sanford’s chief medical officer was willing to work with Bomgaars and other veterinarians to develop a plan for testing workers and getting packing plants back in operation.

“The medical doctors’ response was very encouraging,” Bomgaars related. “I was also talking with Roger Main, DVM, at the Iowa State University (ISU) Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. It was taking the state hygienic lab 10 to 12 days to get COVID-19 tests completed. The ISU lab has been running over a million PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests a year. They helped the hygienic lab expand to run PCR tests. There was tremendous collaboration with human-health providers in Iowa.”

Both Loula and Bomgaars discussed their experiences eliminating disease in a hog population with the medical doctors. They explained how they used testing to assess the infection and immunity in populations of hogs. This same process could be used to assess COVID-19 infections in workers.

“Dr. Loula’s basic premise is we need to get testing and build confidence in what’s occurring so people will come back to work,” Bomgaars said. “Through collaboration with veterinarians, epidemiologists and health care providers, he developed a testing algorithm.”

The COVID-19 algorithm

The algorithm is a roadmap for handling COVID-19 test results and getting packing plants open (link to algorithm). All workers are tested either with a PCR or antibody test. Those testing positive on the PCR must quarantine and retest weekly until negative, which is when they can return to work. Workers who test negative can work unrestricted but must continue to be tested on a regular basis.

Workers testing positive on the antibody test must follow-up with a PCR test, according to the algorithm. If the PCR is negative, they can go to work. But if the test is positive, they must quarantine and be retested weekly by PCR until they have a negative test.

“This plan was to test everyone and keep them from spreading to other workers,” Bomgaars explained. “It definitely helped keep other processing plants operating.”

Workers were managed according to their health status to decrease health risk and promote worker safety. The negative PCR and immune (positive antibody test, negative PCR test) populations could work together. Initially it was proposed that these workers and families were housed in hotels or dorms to stay safe. The positive PCR with positive antibody test were at very low risk of shedding if showing no clinical signs. They were segregated in the plant or worked different shifts from the rest of the population.

“In the initial testing, it was amazing how many workers were asymptomatic,” Bomgaars said. “One plant had 2,400 people tested with 40% PCR positive and well over half showing no clinical signs. At another plant, 370 workers tested positive, and all were asymptomatic.”

Building worker trust

The algorithm helped packing plants get back in operation. And those that didn’t close were able to stay at near capacity by taking steps to test and manage workers to stop the spread of the disease.

“We also noticed a very personal response with education and explanations about the situation in languages that people could understand,” Bomgaars added.

During the really tough times of the pandemic, gift certificates were purchased from local restaurants for take-out food and given to plant workers. On weekends, Bomgaars said they had truckloads of food brought in and donated to the workers, too.

“Doing things that show you care about their health and family had a major impact on worker confidence that you want to do what’s best for them,” he added. “That’s a huge thing we learned in this process.”

The veterinarians also took home some good lessons about working with their human medical counterparts. “Local health workers understood that veterinarians are used to population medicine, and human medicine is more attuned to individuals,” Bomgaars explained. “They learned new methods of thinking. And the synergy that occurred in those situations was remarkably good. We may need this again.”

 

Antibiotics properly timed during PRRS virus outbreak reduce reproductive failure

An outbreak of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) on a sow farm will trigger reproductive failure in gestating sows. While PRRS is a viral disease, it causes endometrial inflammation leading to abortions, stillborns and mummified fetuses.

Ross Kiehne, DVM, with Swine Vet Center, conducted a study to evaluate the use of the injectable antimicrobial Draxxin® (tulathromycin) administered to gestating sows during a PRRS virus outbreak. Specifically, he wanted to see how administering the antibiotic at different stages of gestation affected the rate of reproductive failure.

On-farm investigation

The investigation was conducted on a 2,500-sow farm in northeast Iowa that broke with PRRS virus in mid-2019. The first 5-mL dose of Draxxin was administered to gestating sows 5 days after the outbreak was detected. A live viral inoculation (LVI) was performed 2 days later. A second round of the antibiotic was administered 13 days after LVI. About 20% of the sows were not treated, and these animals served as a control.

Data collected for the study was based on the pregnancy stage when the first antibiotic treatment was administered. The gestation stages were day 0-18, day 19-29, day 30-49, day 50-69, day 70-90 and day 91-105.

Kiehne used four reproductive outcomes for analysis: 1) abortions, culls and death; 2) farrowed and found open; 3) preg-check negative; or 4) repeat mating. The number of pigs weaned per sow was also determined for each animal enrolled in the study.

Positive outcomes in later gestation

The study verified Kiehne’s hypothesis that while administering Draxxin during early gestation is detrimental, it is beneficial during later gestation.

“Administering this antibiotic during early pregnancy appears to increase negative outcome events such as found open, preg-check negative and repeat mating,” Kiehne said.

“However, there appears to be an advantage to administering it in a PRRS virus situation after 50 days of gestation,” he continued. “This advantage is apparent in a reduction in abortions, stillborns and mummified fetuses and increase in total pigs weaned.”

Overall, the study found the percentage of sows that farrowed was higher for those given the Draxxin treatment at 68.5% versus 64.1% for the control sows with no antibiotic. Sows with abortions was lower for those receiving the Draxxin treatment at 17.4% versus 22.9% for the control group. Sows not pregnant was 6.9% for those given the Draxxin treatment and 6.7% for the control group. The deads and culls category was 7.2% for sows receiving the Draxxin treatment and 6.3% for the control group.

Weaned pigs per enrolled sow was calculated in each pregnancy group. In the early pregnancy stages, weaned pig averages were lower for sows receiving the Draxxin treatment compared to controls. After day 50 of gestation, the number of weaned pigs increased for sows receiving the Draxxin treatment compared to the control group.

In conclusion, Kiehne recommends administering the injectable antimicrobial Draxxin to sows after day 50 of gestation during a PRRS virus outbreak. However, administering it any earlier would be detrimental.

 

 

Pork industry struggled but found its footing during the COVID-19 crisis

The pork industry entered one of its darkest periods in spring 2020 when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of several pork packing plants. Paul Yeske, DVM, Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minnesota, helped hog producers in the area work through the closures.

“Unfortunately, we were in the middle of the first plants that ended up closing,” Yeske said. “The biggest concern was that we didn’t know when the plants would open again, and we didn’t know [at] what capacity.

“As more things started to happen, the plants learned how to manage it more,” he continued. “I think that helped further down the road for people who were involved later to be less impacted.”

‘The wheels came off’

During the turmoil, the pork industry realized its efficient pork-producing and processing system had no room for errors.

“I think we learned just how good a system we had on a just-in-time delivery,” Yeske explained. “Producers and packers had been incentivized every step along the way to make the system more efficient and to have no slack in it.

“All of a sudden we couldn’t operate it, and then the wheels came off the wagon pretty fast.”

At that point, tough decisions faced producers, including euthanasia. “I think no one understands just how hard it is on people until they have to do it,” Yeske said. “No one can really appreciate that until they have to make that decision…and have to actually physically do the job.”

It was also something the pork industry thought it was ready to handle in the case of a foreign animal disease but really was not.

Best-laid plans gone awry

In 2019, Yeske was part of a table-top exercise with USDA to formulate plans for a foreign animal-disease outbreak. He said he thought they devised good plans to handle a catastrophe, but COVID-19 proved the plans were inadequate.

“Some of the things we thought we knew, we didn’t,” he said. “When you have to do a mass depopulation, you have to look at…how do we do it in a humane way? How do we do it in a safe way for the people? And how do we deal with the numbers?

“Ventilation shutdown was one of the things used in avian influenza outbreaks…It certainly was used here as well, but it’s not as easy as you think,” he added.

Always willing to innovate, the pork industry devised alternatives including the use of large-scale CO2. Trailers and later dump trailers with CO2 were among the best options, Yeske said. To help the pork industry, the state of Minnesota set up composting facilities to handle carcasses in two central locations, which could be done since no disease concern was involved.

Making the best of it

“I’d say today we’re probably better off to handle mass euthanasia if we have to than we were before, so that’s one of the good things that came out of this situation,” Yeske said.

Another positive is some farms used this time to reset herd health by closing and cleaning up.

Ironically, the spread of COVID-19 among hog farms was not a major issue. Hog farm staff already were well acquainted with biosecurity regimens and understood viral transmission of disease.

“The swine industry has been working on that for a number of years,” Yeske added. “I think we do have a leg up just because we had to deal with infectious disease for a long period of time, and we’ve got some good methods.”

Throughout the turmoil, Yeske says communication with everyone involved was crucial. “It takes a lot of communication and support…to make sure everybody understood what the goal was. We spent a lot of time on the phone talking to a lot of people, and I think that’s what it takes through those types of things…to make sure everybody’s at least understanding what’s going on.”

 

 

Swine veterinarians award debt-relief scholarship to Henry Johnson

A Swine Vet Center veterinarian was awarded a debt-relief scholarship by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) Foundation during its recent virtual annual meeting. The foundation awarded a $5,000 scholarship to Henry Johnson, DVM, with Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

The AASV Foundation awarded three $5,000 scholarships to early-career swine practitioners through the “Dr. Conrad and Judy Schmidt Family Student Debt Relief Endowment.” The purpose of the scholarships is to help relieve the student debt of recent veterinary graduates engaged in swine practice who still have significant debt burden. Qualified applicants must have been engaged in private practice with at least 50% of their time devoted to swine, providing on-farm service directly to independent pork producers.

Johnson is a 2017 graduate of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. He works with various sized family farms to better the health and production of their animals to ensure a safe and reliable food product for consumers. He strives to teach production staff how important they are in maximizing day-1 piglet care and identifying sick animals. He enjoys supporting students, providing the same mentorship he received through AASV, and fostering the next generation of swine veterinarians.

 

 

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.”