Let’s just put it right out there—Iowa is a tough place for a sow system. Iowa has the most pigs of any state, and while this is one of the best places in the world to raise pigs (and corn, soybeans, eggs, poultry, cattle, sheep and turkeys if anyone is keeping track), it’s a difficult place to maintain a high health, disease-free herd because of the sheer volume of pigs and pig movements throughout the Midwest.
As a company we’re proud of our roots and our Iowa farms, yet for years we’ve struggled with keeping diseases like PRRS and Mycoplasma out of our sow herds. And while they have no impact on pork quality or human health, these swine diseases can be nightmares for pork producers of all shapes and sizes. Not only can they have a large impact when a herd is infected, the long-term instability can handicap a farms’ production, bringing down caretaker morale and robbing teams of the satisfaction that comes when sows birth big, healthy litters of piglets.
Through the years our employees have done a tremendous job of practicing biosecurity, following the daily rituals of showering in and out of farms, practicing “downtime”, following a biosecurity matrix, sending their lunches through a UV chamber and hundreds of other practices to protect our animals.
Our veterinarians take an oath to protect animal health, walking pens alongside the caretakers observing their behavior and clinical signs, administering vaccine regimens and treatments and analyzing health data flowing in hourly from the farms and our diagnostic lab partners. They oversee the pig flows and lead weekly, daily and oftentimes hourly communications with our production teams, all in an effort to protect the health of our animals. But PRRS is tricky as it can be transferred via pigs, supplies, manure, rodents, fomites, trucks and people. And as new highly pathogenic isolates of PRRSv have emerged their ability to travel long distances via the air has increased.
“Through the years we’ve learned how to reduce PRRS, minimize its impact and even live with having PRRS-positive sow farms in our system,” said Pete Thomas, DVM and Director of the Health Services Team. “But it can be the difference from holding back a good farm from being a great farm, and the people who care for the animals deserve better than that.”
Which is why Iowa Select Farms is working toward a major goal of having the GDU and sow system free of PRRS and mycoplasma by the end of 2018. “There is a rejuvenated and renewed spirit throughout our system to stop living with it and start figuring out how to get rid of it,” said Shamus Brown, DVM.
“We’ve made a big commitment to changing our approach on PRRS elimination, creating stronger strategies and working together as an entire production team,” said Thomas. “Everything from establishing better protocols and creating training materials down to reiterating the importance of biosecurity every day.” And this year Iowa Select Farms has finally had some wins in the health arena.
First, a strategy of PRRS exposure for the gilt source that flows into nine sow farms (Sow 1-9 stabilization project) resulted in a 40% reduction in mortality in their downstream nurseries and finishers. Thanks to the transportation team for taking on the extra movements of 12,000 gilts in three short months and to the 31 employees who stepped up to care for and breed those gilts while they were being housed in four off-site finishers and three GDUs during the exposure. So far, those nine farms have weaned 64,692 more pigs in the last 12 months than the 12 months prior.
Second, a similar project was launched to stabilize the gilt flow into the Galt farms (Sow 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117), and while some of those farms recently experienced a rebreak of PRRS, these six farms still sent more pounds of pork to JBS than any year prior.
Third, thanks to the diligence of the team at our multiplication farm, Sow 29, they were able to move all of the sows from the farm to allow our construction teams to remodel the gestation area and ventilation, then move the animals back in with no PRRS breaks. The farm continues to be a filtered, PRRS negative farm.
We have also depopulated/repopulated and positively-filtered Sow 11, 12, 13, 14, 25 and 26, each taking a 40-week timespan to complete the project from start to finish. The efforts at these six farms included 22,000 additional sow and gilt movements and 16 different off-site GDUs and finishers. Despite Sow 12 breaking with PEDv during the effort, the teams at these six farms weaned 20,718 more pigs than the year prior.
It is impossible to capture in one story the hundreds, and we mean hundreds, of people who jumped on board and said, “let’s do this,” and joined the fight towards PRRS free pigs, helping out with moving animals in and out of the sow farms and caring for and breeding sows and gilts in offsite farms.
“Consider 2016 the year we took the first steps towards creating a world class system,” said Thomas. “We have a lot more work to do over the next few years but we owe it to our caretakers and everyone here to try our hardest to become a high health system.” #billionpounds