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Working hard to stay PED-free

By Staff | Mar 28, 2014

CRAIG JOHNSON, an employee of Kerber Companies, in Emmetsburg, power-washes a trailer after hauling Kerber Companies’ hogs.



EMMETSBURG – According to Dave Stender, an Iowa State University swine specialist based out of the Clay County Extension office, owner/operators of their own swine herds have the best chance to keep swine diseases at bay, especially the virulent porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

“Owner operators,” Stender said, “have skin in the game.

“They do their own hauling and they really care.”

PAT JOYCE, chief executive officer of Kerber Cos, consults hog futures in his Emmetsburg office. Joyce’s company manages 25,000 sows in several locations around Palo Alto County and so far, he said, his sow herds and farrowing units have remained PED-free through a series of rigorous biosecurity measures.

He said integrated pork companies are at higher risk of catching diseases in their operations.

“If you have 10 employees,” Stender said, “and only nine are serious about biosecurity, it does you no good.”

PED virus is not easy to keep out of an operation.

“All it takes is a bit of contaminated bedding to fall off the chute,” Stender said, “then step on it and take it inside, and it’s over.”

It’s over, that is, if the virus gets into the farrowing units, where PED is virtually 100 percent lethal to pigs not yet weaned.

Older pigs can tolerate the virus as it goes through their system, although it will set them behind their feed schedule.

“The guys who have upped their security,” Stender said, “have also reduced their exposure to PRRS.

“The number of PRRS cases is way down this winter.”

PRRS is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, which generally results in mild to severe lesions in lungs and pneumonia typically develops.

Staying PED-free

A pair of North Iowa pork producers Riley Lewis, of Forest City, and Pat Joyce, of Emmetsburg are two owner/operators who have managed to duck the ravages of PED in their farrowing units.

Lewis said PED showed up in one of his finishing houses in December 2013.

After selling two semi loads of finished pigs to Hormel, in Albert Lea, Minn., just 36 hours later, other pigs in that unit “started showing some looseness,” Lewis said.

His veterinarian took stool samples and the ISU Diagnostic Lab confirmed it was PED.

The virus ravaged his pigs for 10 days, he said, before it played itself out.

“I knew the hogs were off their feed,” he said, “and we lost an extra 1 to 2 percent more than usual.”

He said the disease caused him to keep those feeders in the building longer to reach market weights.

But these were feeders, not farrowing units, where PED is deadly, rather than a nuisance.

“It’s bad news for farrowers,” Lewis said, “which creates problems with fulfilling contracts.”

He said the outbreak of PED is tragic for farrowers who fought high feed prices for two years. Now that feed costs are manageable, PED cuts down virtually every litter in the two weeks it takes the virus to run its course.

“And there is no insurance,” he said. “But the guys who farrow without PED are going to be very well off.”

That’s because, as of March 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated PED has killed 5 million pigs nationwide since its U.S. outbreak 11 months ago, 1.2 million in January alone.

This constitutes an estimated 3 percent of the anticipated 2014 pork supply. Pork futures are climbing as a result.

Another part of the price jump, Lewis said, is wondering is how soon infected “sows will be back in production, and will they have full litters?

“Futures are good until August, but how soon will the numbers bounce back?”

In Emmetsburg

Pat Joyce said his company’s farrowing units have been PED-free through the worst infections created by the extreme cold temperatures this winter.

“We take ownership,” Joyce said, “of every step of biosecurity.”

He said the company’s protocols for herd health safety have been in place since 2008 and are under constant review.

“This is a highly hog-dense area,” Joyce said, “so PRRS is always a threat.

“What weighs on my mind is controlling disease. The same controls for PED controls PRRS.”

Kerber’s security measures include;

  • Filtering incoming air into hog buildings.
  • Exact tracking of people and animal movements.
  • Drivers stay in the truck or the trailer, never stepping onto the farm
  • Kerber mixes its own feed and use no animal byproducts for farrowing hogs.
  • In 2008, Kerber built a truck wash for its vehicles on the west side of Emmetsburg. On one side vehicles are washed and on the other they are “baked” to kill any bacteria or virus that survives the wash.

“Health management is a complicated topic,” Joyce said. “But the question in precautionary measures is, where do you stop?

“We know all viruses can’t be avoided. You have to identify the critical factors and execute well, but you can’t lead people to be paralyzed. They still have jobs to do.”

Kerber contracts with pipestone Veterinary Clinic, in Pipestone, Minn., as a third-party monthly monitoring of its biosecurity and building maintenance needs.

All of Kerber’s security and maintenance needs are third-party monitored by Pipestone Veterinary Clinic, in Pipestone, Minn

This creates awareness, Joyce said, showing how the company is executing its measures, where more training or resources are needed.

“It’s a continuous improvement process,” Joyce said.

He complimented the managers and employees saying, “they’re focus and execution makes (being PED-free so far) possible.”

In Forest City

Lewis is one of five local producers in a cooperative buying partnership Five-Star Pork Marketing, which formed in 1994.

Farmers Cooperative in Forest City serves as the broker for Five-Star, buying upward to 90,000 Isowean pigs annually from Illinois. Lewis stocks his barns with 24,000 of the pigs.

Isowean is a tool for isolating same-age pigs during weaning to protect them from pathogens within the parent herd.

Lewis’ PED infection was determined that one of the trucks that hauled his December finishers away was not properly cleaned. He was the only one of the buying group whose pigs were PED-infected.

So now when any truck comes onto the farm property, Lewis said, the trailers do not touch the ramps.

“We do what we can to keep the driver from getting out of the truck,” Lewis said, “or stepping down from the trailer.”

If stepping from the truck is necessary, the driver dons clean, one-time-use plastic “booties” to cover shoes.

“Before the truck leaves our farm,” Lewis said, “we spray the tires at the end of the driveway with disinfectant.”

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