Grow-finish farms are the last segment of hog production to enact strict biosecurity protocols. That needs to change, reports Mike Eisenmenger, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.
“We had to stabilize the health in the sow system first,” Eisenmenger said. “Companies invested millions into the sow farm…all to make a really healthy pig that we can flow downstream.
“But now, it becomes critical that we increase the biosecurity of the grow-finish system as we’ve made all those investments in the [sow] system,” he added.
A major biosecurity risk for grow-finish farms is the transport of hogs to market.
“We invest a ton of money and effort into getting transportation right when we haul gilts, move sows, haul weaned pigs and haul nursery pigs,” Eisenmenger said. “But when we get the finishing barn off to the market, that’s where we still have a long way to go.”
Increasing biosecurity for grow-finish is tough due to the sheer number of facilities. For example, one sow-farm system may have anywhere from 10 to 40 locations. “Now you branch off into the nursery/grow-finish world and you’ll have hundreds and hundreds of locations that may be scattered across multiple states,” Eisenmenger explained.
“Just the sheer diversity of geography and [being] able to keep your eyes focused on all areas at the same time is a big challenge.”
In reality, transporting hogs to market should pose no risk to the farm just like trucks used to transport sows and gilts, Eisenmenger said.
“I have complete confidence that we can take a truck that’s hauled infected pigs, bring it in and get it cleaned up, disinfected, baked and heated; and it’s pathogen-free,” he said. “Now suppose we could do that with all our market trucks.”
Here’s how Eisenmenger envisions it: A clean market truck brought onto a finishing site would be cleaner than the barn. The trucker remains in the cab while the barn employees load the hogs on the truck. The trucker drives to the packing plant, remains in the cab and allows the plant employees to unload the hogs.
The trucker then drives to a truck-wash facility to drop off the trailer and drives the tractor through a car-wash-type facility. At that point, the trucker is ready to pick up another trailer that’s been flushed, power washed, disinfected and baked.
“We know from previous experience and testing hundreds of trucks that we can get them clean after they’ve hauled infected pigs,” Eisenmenger said. “We know how to do it and we know what to build. The last step is who’s going to build it…who’s going to run it, provide oversight and audit the facility?”
Two market-transport scenarios
Two truck-wash strategies appear to be developing in the industry.
“One is going to be the pig farm or company owns it, runs it and controls it,” he said. “Or two, I think you’re going to leave it up to the individual private entrepreneurs who want to build it, and [pork] producers contract with them.”
He envisions a truck-wash facility with a pool of clean trailers ready for truckers to take back to a farm for another load to market.
Of course, there are issues to overcome like turn-around time for the trucker. Currently, trucks can leave a packing plant immediately after unloading and head home to get another load in a few minutes.
Another issue is most contract truckers own their tractor and trailer.
“This would be a completely new concept,” Eisenmenger said. “It’s like you don’t own the trailer. It’s just in this pool of trailers and they’re all the same. Drop off a dirty, pick up a clean and head back out. So that’s another step to clearly overcome.”
Payoff? Better pig health
Eisenmenger remembers when biosecurity in sow systems was poor, which led to poor sow health. After decades of work, biosecurity in sow units is greatly improved and sow health is robust, he adds.
“I still believe that we underestimate the cost of poor biosecurity…on a regular, routine basis in the nursery/grow-finish system,” he said.
Eisenmenger considers grow-finish biosecurity a very important tool in the toolbox to keep “diseases that we currently have in this country out of our finishers. [Then] we’re going to be much healthier, happier and, obviously, use less antibiotics in treatments.”