Doug McDougald Luc Dufresne Tom Graydon
Having to euthanize newborn pigs was probably the toughest task of all for barn staff dealing with the consequences of porcine epidemic diarrhea, says an Ontario producer.
Tom Graydon runs Catfish Creek Pork Ltd., a multi-site operation located near Brownsville, about midway between Detroit, Michigan and Buffalo, New York.
Graydon outlined for delegates at the 2015 Banff Pork Seminar the difficult decisions he and his staff had to make when contaminated feed carried PED into both of their 3,000-sow farrowing units in February of 2014.
“Leadership from management and the veterinary team was key in helping to keep staff motivated and focused during these trying times of sick pigs and high mortality,” said Graydon.
As soon as the first signs of the disease appeared, Graydon and his veterinarians set up an aggressive plan to clean out their sow barns, condition incoming gilts to protect their future litters from becoming infected and eventually eliminate the disease from their operation.
Probably the most difficult aspect of the entire protocol was to immediately euthanize piglets at the first sign of scours. People working in those units had historically tried to save sick piglets. In the face of a PED outbreak, however, those piglets were not going to make it anyway and there were already enough challenges in the barn, so Graydon felt it best that any sick piglets be put down as soon as possible.
“The longer you leave it, the worse it is, so you want to be pretty strict on the time lines and make sure everyone’s buying in,” he said.
Protocols outlined at staff meetings were reinforced through individual conversations with each worker to ensure that they understood what needed to be done and the reasoning behind the protocols.
The gilt developer units were modified to an all-in, all-out regime, and were cleaned three times after being emptied. The heat was jacked up as high as possible in emptied rooms to ensure that any lingering virus was killed, and then fogged with hydrated lime.
Halls are washed three times a day and the lime is laid down afterward.
Catfish Creek also wanted to make sure that its next litters were protected from the virus by setting up a bio-feedback protocol for its sows and for the gilts coming into the sow units.
The intestines from infected pigs were ground up into a meal that was then given to sows and developing gilts to prepare their immune systems for future litters.
“One piglet’s intestines ground up is enough to treat 10 sows. The sows do break very quickly. They kind of go off feed for three or four days and it gets pretty rough.
But we really only had, I think, one sow that died from it, and I think that sow was already compromised.”
There were some communication issues and a couple of setbacks as a result, said Graydon. However, by July 7, all weaners were tested negative and, by the end of December, the nurseries and finisher barns were also testing negative and the barns were being filled from the negative nurseries.
Graydon says he has learned some hard lessons, but comes away feeling confident in the industry and his farm’s future.
“There’s an old saying that you don’t have to make all of the mistakes yourself. You can learn from other people. So I’d like to thank the US for breaking first, because it really did give us a lot of information,” he said.
“I figure we lost about 5-6 weeks’ worth of piglets. The way it hit, the way we got rid of it . . . it’s an expensive disease.
“But I also want to point to the flip side of that. How many people in the pork industry made the most money this year that they’ve ever made – and some of that’s due to PED. I would say a lot of that’s due to PED,” said Graydon.
“As a farmer, I think you have to stay positive. You have to look at the good things about it. We lost the most money we’ve ever lost in a year and we made the most money we’ve ever made in a year,” he said.
Some of the first farms to break ground on the PED knowledge base that has been so helpful in Canada were located in the Oklahoma panhandle and operated by Kansas-based Seaboard Foods.
Veterinarian Luc Dufresne, senior director of health assurance at Seaboard Foods, outlined for delegates the way his company discovered and responded to the outbreak in its barns.
Probably one of the most important bits of information they uncovered was that, although it is classified as a coronavirus, PED is much more aggressive and difficult than the more familiar disease, transmissible gastro enteritis (TGE).
“The main take home message for you is how easy . . . that virus is tracked from site to site, by a lot of different means.”
Transport is the major culprit, said Dufresne. People, gear, manure equipment and semen can also carry the virus, and there is some indication that it may be able to travel on air currents.
The risk of spreading by air may have been higher in the southwestern U.S. because the region had experienced high winds and the buildings are naturally ventilated, so there was no barrier to prevent contaminated air from escaping into the environment.
There have now been two vaccines developed for stock in barns where the disease has broken, said Dufresne. While the second vaccine is effective in an elimination protocol, neither is effective for animals that are naïve to the virus, he said.
Seaboard’s goal, at this point, is to have a population of immune sows producing negative piglets, he said.
The most important aspect of any protocol is repeated washing, disinfecting and white-glove inspection, said Dufresne.
“Good enough will not cut it. You need to be perfect.”
Dufresne described the outbreak at his farms as “the worst six weeks of my life.”
He cautioned Canadian veterinarians and producers to take whatever lessons they can from past experience and redouble their efforts to keep PED from getting into their hog sites.
“We cannot get complacent at this point. You’ve got to work to keep it out of your country,” said Dufresne.
Ontario veterinarian Doug McDougald, who has been running point on PED from the outset, called for a nation-wide strategy to eliminate the disease by the end of this year and to monitor and manage all threats.
“We need an Ontario, Quebec and Western Canada swine health strategy, with one rapid response team that keeps its fingers on all the buttons,” said McDougald.
“PED isn’t the big threat – that’s still to come. The difficulty faced in eliminating what should be, at least on paper, a relatively easy to control outbreak, is humbling. It’s also a grim reminder that we’re not ready for a pandemic or a trade-limiting disease,” he said.  •
— By Brenda Kossowan