Ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure

Biosecurity breaches can cost big bucks.

And building the best barn controls can be expensive.

However, control measures are available that cost almost nothing and still improve disease control, producers said during the recent Canadian Swine Health Forum.

“You can keep people in barns with walkie-talkies,” said Karen Sanders, a farrow-to-finish producer from Watford, Ont.

Hand cleaners, barn-specific boots and coveralls and showers don’t cost much but can minimize the chances of disease spreading, she said.

“We are always looking to implement biosecurity practices, no matter big or small, but some are higher ticket priced items,” said Sanders, whose farm has been repeatedly ravaged by PRRS.

“Until we get back on our feet, we’re going to have to be patient with carrying some of those out.”

Sanders farms in a part of Ontario with many hog barns, so farm-to-farm transfer of PRRS strains is a big risk.

Her family’s hog farm has been dealing with PRRS for as long as it has operated, but for 15 years it had a relatively benign strain. That changed in 2008 when a new strain appeared, and the family decided to empty the barn and repopulate.

That cost a lot in lost production, but they had also been hit in 2007 with drought, which had greatly reduced the mixed farm’s corn production, and then in 2008 by sky-high feedgrain prices.

They got back into production, then got hit by a “vicious strain” of PRRS that caused 60 percent of their sows to abort and devastated production.

The strain was already present on a number of nearby farms.

They depopulated the sow barns in 2011 to rid themselves of the strain, but didn’t clear out their feeder barns. They later realized that had been a mistake when the strain reappeared, which again forced them to depopulate and repopulate.

They have only now begun shipping pigs again.

The family has been hit hard by their multiple encounters with disease, with Sanders estimating they have lost $1.5 million to disease since 2008.

However, she has tried to turn the loss into a positive by learning better biosecurity practices. Simple steps can reduce the chance of transfer, such as using walkie-talkies so that workers don’t have to leave the barns they’re working in to walk back to the office or another barn to talk to other workers or managers.

Going through a biosecurity training program and review with local producers and veterinarians also provided positive feedback.

“Having another set of eyes is never, ever a bad idea.”

Sanders said training programs can help new employees understand the importance of biosecurity.

Lorraine Langlois of Manitoba’s HyLife hog production company said employees today often travel to foreign countries and aren’t always aware of the health implications.

That can be taught, she added.

HyLife now has many Filipino, Russian and German employees, some of whom travel back to their home countries. They are trained to think about what they might have been exposed to.

“What can I do when I’m there, and how long do I have to stay out of the barn when I’m back,” is some of the thinking managers try to instill in workers, Langlois said.

HyLife also implements simple biosecurity procedures such as those Sanders uses.

“The doors are locked on the barns,” said Langlois.

Farm visitors, especially suppliers, are required to sign in and state where they have been in recent days, something not all have been keen to do.

Vincent Formier, a producer from Lyster, Que., who was hit by a local strain of PRRS in 2008 and lost most of his family’s pigs, said ensuring trucks are clean before coming onto the farm is a simple way to control disease flow. The strain that ravaged his farm came on a truck that had visited an infected farm 35 kilometres away.

Rules about barn safety and delivery truck cleanliness need to be imposed and followed.

“It’s important for this to be respected by everyone,” said Formier.

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