Small pig farmer survey part of ASF initiative

Learning more about small-lot producers could make it easier to communicate with them about African swine fever

Whether pigs are kept as pets or for a personal pork supply, Canadians who keep a small number of pigs on their property are the target respondents for an online survey expected to be distributed later this month.

The survey is part of a project to mitigate the risk of African swine fever in domestic herds.

Dr. Murray Pettitt, chief executive officer of the Prairie Swine Centre, is spearheading the project, which will also include focus groups and direction on how best to communicate in the future with the owners of smaller pig operations. Owners will be asked why they own pigs, what they feed and what biosecurity measures they take to protect their animals.

“It’s probably a safe assumption that in a lot of cases these motivators will be different than the commercial industry and we need to take that into account in designing effective messaging,” Pettitt told participants in a Jan. 6 seminar about ASF organized by Swine Innovation Porc.

There is a national effort to prevent ASF from entering Canada and controlling its spread if it does. The fatal illness, for which there is no treatment, decimated the hog industry in China and continues to spread in other parts of Asia and Europe.

Though strict biosecurity is the norm on large commercial hog operations in Canada, there is worry that smaller operations may not pay as much attention to disease prevention and control. That could jeopardize their own pigs as well as the larger commercial industry.

Dr. Egan Brockhoff, a key player in Canada’s ASF prevention and response efforts, said in a recent presentation that small-scale operations have been a factor in disease spread in other countries.

“It is a challenge for all pork producers, but if we look throughout Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, there’s no question that backyard production, small lot producers, have different biosecurity at their sites and so the disease has moved more freely,” he said.

There are an estimated 7,000 small-lot pig producers in Canada, according to industry figures. That could range from individuals with one pig as a pet to those with multiple animals raised for pork consumption and local sales.

“What we’re really looking for here is a good thorough understanding of what motivates them, why they have pigs, what’s important to them, what would they give up if they were to lose their pigs due to ASF or any other swine disease coming through Canada and based on that, can we and how do we design appropriate communication measures?” Pettitt said.

The project team believes it can potentially reach 3,800 producers with the 20-question survey and needs at least 350 to respond for an accurate data set. To encourage completion, participants will be paid $75 and have a chance to win one of three iPads.

“The concern that’s been raised by many of the people we’ve been talking to on this thing is that there may be some reluctance on behalf of the small scale producers to work with the commercial industry so the survey is being presented as a University of Saskatchewan CHASR lab study,” said Pettitt.

CHASR is the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research, which is helping design the survey, manage the focus groups and collect information.

From that, Pettitt said messaging will be developed and further focus groups will be used to evaluate its effectiveness and make revisions if necessary.

Once the project is complete, the final report, communication materials and strategy will be widely shared.

“Basically we want to share this wide and far so that all areas of the commercial industry can have access to this information and use it to everyone’s advantage,” he said.

“Really, the final outcome is hopefully that the commercial pork sector in Canada will be better positioned to effectively communicate with these small scale producers about ASF and the various risks it presents to not only the commercial industry but to the small scale producers themselves.”

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