Hog barn biosecurity emphasized in Alberta

Producers are urged to disinfect feed ingredient packaging and also find a way to disinfect the pallets or at least get them off the ground

When Dr. Egan Brockhoff drove to the Lethbridge Exhibition where he would speak to hog producers about biosecurity, he noticed a one-ton pickup loaded with a full mini-bulk bag sitting on a pallet.

That bag became an object lesson during his talk on “wartime” biosecurity as Alberta producers acknowledge that porcine epidemic diarrhea is active in the province and enhanced efforts are needed to protect against infection.

“Where did that pallet start from?” asked Brockhoff. “What are you going to do with that pallet when you get it home tonight?”

His point was that PED virus can travel in feed, on packaging and pallets, and on almost any other surface unless proper care is taken.

He encouraged producers to disinfect feed ingredient packaging and find a way to disinfect the pallet as well, or at least stack it atop another pallet to prevent any clinging material from contaminating a feed area or barn.

“Is it possible that that pallet was in Winnipeg, Brandon or somewhere like that in the last 72 hours? It’s possible. PED happens to have a real big thing going on in Manitoba, so that’s possible,” the swine veterinarian said.

Then there’s the feed itself.

“There’s a ton of panic about feed and we should all be worried about how feed can move virus,” Brockhoff said.

“Almost all ingredients in your (hog) diet could sustain PED virus for various amounts of time. Soybean, lysine, methionine, cornmeal — all of those could sustain the virus if the product was exposed. So the ingredient matters. The packaging matters.”

Mark Wipf, hog manager at Lakeside Colony near Cranford, Alta., said he has taken enhanced biosecurity to heart.

“I think it’s pretty important right now,” he said. “We’re all walking on thin ice.”

There have been four confirmed cases of PED in Alberta since the start of the year and at least two of them are in southern Alberta, within 100 kilometres of Lakeside Colony.

Wipf said he stores feed ingredients for two months before providing it to the pigs. Storage is one way to ensure safety because 20-day storage at 20 C will kill the virus, as will 100 days of storage at 10 C.

Wipf said the first priority for biosecurity is trucks, considered to have one of the highest risks of PED transmission because the virus clings to fecal matter, which is hard to remove from every surface.

He said Lakeside trailers are thoroughly washed, as are the trucks, including the interior of the cab. Then they are allowed to dry for a week, which works well for the colony’s weekly shipping schedule.

The barn itself has a Danish entry, a barrier system requiring those entering the barn or areas of the barn to change shoes and don coveralls. Wipf said there is also a shower-in, shower-out process for the four hog barn workers and no one else is allowed inside.

Wipf said the colony has employed strict biosecurity ever since the virus was first found in Ontario in 2014. Since then it has spread to Quebec and Manitoba, then skipped over Saskatchewan to appear in Alberta this January. PED is considered endemic in the U.S., where it has killed millions of piglets since it was first identified there in 2013.

In a March 13 update on the Alberta picture, epidemiologist Dr. Julia Keenliside said the source of the virus in the province hasn’t been determined. She noted the farm with the first case had purchased equipment from Manitoba and although that was not a confirmed vector, it illustrated the need for producers to ask questions about the source location and cleanliness of any equipment they buy.

She said investigators are focusing on transport and feed as possible vectors but the source has not yet been found and might never be determined.

In his talk, Brockhoff encouraged hog producers to establish Restricted Access Zones (RAZ) and a Controlled Access Zone (CAZ) and then establish protocols for each. The barn itself would be a RAZ, for example, while the CAZ might begin at the entrance to the yard.

Brockhoff engaged producers in experiments showing the inadequacy of footbaths to remove potential PED-bearing material from footwear. Using powder that glows under ultraviolet light, he also showed them the ease with which that material can spread on hands and clothing.

“When we looked at the U.S. data on PED virus entering farms, the number one risk factor was the number of visitors or transports that entered the farm. Full stop,” he said.

“The more people come into your CAZ and the more that people come into your RAZ, the more likely you are to get PED virus. Full stop.”

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