Sept. 24, 2014, is a day forever etched in Chris Reimer’s memory.
It was the day his pigs caught porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.
What followed was financial loss, emotional turmoil and hours of additional work at his 1,000-sow operation called Stockridge Farm.
“That’s a real life changer on the farm, that’s for sure,” said Reimer in sharing his story with Alberta hog producers Dec. 12.
“It was a Wednesday morning. One of the guys who works in the farrowing barn, he just came and said, ‘Chris, you’ve got to come look at Room 6.’ I took one look into there and I knew we had PED. There was still a little part of me was hoping this was maybe something else, but deep down, I knew.”
The pigs were all vomiting and gripped with diarrhea. About 2,100 pigs in the 172 farrowing crates died after the disease broke, and others were euthanized because they had no chance of survival.
Though some of the older piglets may have survived, Reimer said they couldn’t be sold because of fears over infection spread.
The Manitoba farmer estimates the infection will cost him $400 to $450 per sow in lost production for the year.
The batch of pigs in the barns when the disease broke had been pre-sold for about $140,000.
Another $20,000 to $30,000 was spent on carcass disposal and extensively cleaning and disinfecting the barns.
As well, the first batch of pigs after infection had to be sold for a fraction of their value and they were heavy because of the delay in shipping.
“We shipped the heaviest pigs I’ve ever shipped in my whole life. The first batch after PED, they were just massive.”
His farm regularly ships pigs to the United States, and buyers there have no fear of the virus because PED has been endemic in that country since spring 2013. He was able to ship there within a few weeks after cleanup.
The event also took an emotional toll, said Reimer.
“It’s not a fun day when you’ve got to euthanize 2,000 pigs. That’s a tough day.”
He and his employees used a box designed to humanely euthanize small animals with carbon dioxide.
That task, coupled with ensuring that all older pigs got the virus and then recovered from it, as well as cleaning and disinfecting the barns, made it a harrowing few weeks.
PED was first found in the U.S. in April or May 2013, and eight million pigs have died as a result.
Steve Stitzlein of Heimerl Farms near Columbus, Ohio, recounted his first-hand experience with an outbreak just before American Thanksgiving in 2013.
“We thought we were doing a lot of biosecurity before but nothing compared to what we’re doing now,” said Stitzlein.
Heimerl Farms owns three 2,500-sow units. At one of these, the Pleasantville unit, 120 sows farrow each week.
All pigs older than 10 days old were weaned once PED broke. The rest died or were euthanized.
Stitzlein said the source of infection was traced to a livestock truck and trailer.
Traces of the virus were found on the handle of a pressure washer used to clean them.
The same barn was infected with delta corona virus in February 2014, which is similar to PED though not as deadly.
All told, Stitzlein estimated the viruses caused a loss of about four pigs per sow per year.
“If we’re down one pig per sow … per year, it costs us about $1.75 for every pig that we produce, so essentially that farm, it cost us about $7 or more for every pig that we weaned.”
It equated to $300 to $350 per sow in losses.
Stitzlein and Reimer noted the importance of good employees in dealing with the outbreaks.
“When things are going good, be appreciative to your employees,” Reimer said.
“Treat them well. Hire good guys and have a good team. Have a good relationship with them so that when all of a sudden if things go sour in a hurry, they want to go to bat for you and they want to help you out and they don’t just cut corners and figure this stinks and they want to get out of there.”