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Finding opportunities to improve pig health during these challenging times

By Joseph F. Connor, DVM, MS
Carthage Veterinary Service


While participating on an advisory board several years ago, I commented that within 5 years there was a high probability that the industry would experience a foreign animal disease within our pig populations because of global activity. I did not anticipate that this would be a human virus that would catastrophically alter human lives, devastate the economy and interrupt the pork supply chain.

With the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in huge financial losses and undetermined time of return to normalcy, it is a great opportunity to use this situation to improve the health of the individual herd or, more excitingly, the area or region while also contributing to long-term sustainability of the supply.

Disease is a key driver

Disease remains a key driver of cost of production as it has for years. Globally, US producers have the lowest cost of production, but there are countries that are closing this gap. Recognizing that approximately 30% of our pork is exported drives the continuing need to consider lowering cost of production.

Eliminating disease through removal of the pathogen can lower the cost of production by reducing mortality, morbidity, and treatments and ultimately increasing full-value pigs. Diseases caused by agents such as Brachyspira hyodysenteriae, Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae (APP), porcine epidemic diarrhea pirus (PEDv), porcine delta coronavirus (PDCoV), porcine respiratory and reproductive virus (PRRSv), transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae all are candidates for elimination.

Many of us participated in elimination of the pseudorabies virus (PRV) and used it as an opportunity to eliminate other diseases such as atrophic rhinitis (AR) and parasites (Sarcoptes suis). Compared to when the industry eliminated PRV, we have a lot more tools to undertake elimination in an individual herd or area. These tools include diagnostics, segregated production, data, biosecurity and veterinarians focused on the science of control and elimination.

Segregated production gives us the flexibility to improve health of the sow herd with herd closures or partial depopulations with growing pig site emptying in the normal flow to eliminate PRRS and mycoplasma.

With our experience with PEDv we have developed an understanding that a natural removal of a certain segment of pigs (suckling pigs in this case) when combined with intensive sanitation eliminates the virus and at the same time reduces the prevalence and severity of rotavirus.

‘Never been stronger’

As I consider disease elimination in all of these examples, strategic vaccination programs plus increased execution of biosecurity at each production phase combined and increased use of transport washes and drying reduces the risk of recontamination. There is always the concern that the pathogen will return, but I would challenge us that technology for elimination and bioexclusion has never been stronger.

Of the pathogens considered, the PRRS virus is the one that you would likely say that my mind has strayed. However, I would challenge us that we do not know what effect removal of a segment of the sows due to farrow that are going to have piglets of low survivability or piglets from those sows for a combined period of time combined with herd closure would do to shorten the time to negative PRRS out of that herd. This activity extended to several herds may improve the area control.

As I think about each of these pathogens, each of them has their own steps for elimination and bioexclusion. Fortunately, the procedures and processes are quite well known, quite well defined and have a long history of success.

The decision process initiates with a definition of an active disease in the sow herd and growing population and revolves around the objective of reducing activity or eliminating the agent. For all of these diseases, templates exist for elimination and can be modified as part of an individual herd plan. It is easy to become overburdened with the immediate decisions and lose the vision of greater accomplishments in challenging circumstances. Producers can use this opportunity to enhance sustainability by elimination of endemic diseases.


Editor’s note: The opinions and advice presented in this article belong to the author and, as such, are presented here as points of view, not specific recommendations by Pig Health Today.


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While the COVID-19 pandemic caused huge financial losses for pork producers, it did offer an opportunity to use the situation to improve pig health, contributing to long-term sustainability of supply.

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Posted on May 20, 2020

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  • Connor: Cautious optimism in future management of ASF

    African swine fever (ASF) has continued its steady, insidious spread in other parts of the world, but the fact that the US has remained free of the virus to-date has given veterinarians a window of opportunity.

  • When swine medicine crossed over to human medicine

    The tools used countless times to eradicate disease in sow herds and on hog farms became the tools to help pork packing plants reopen last spring after shutting down due to COVID-19.

  • Connor: Innovation driven by necessity and opportunity

    The pork industry has had a tremendous number of innovations over the years, said Joe Connor, DVM. Connor, who serves as a consultant within Carthage Veterinary Services, is a pioneer in pig production and has been involved in innovation projects for decades.

  • One year later: How the US pork industry dealt with the COVID-19 crisis

    The pork industry entered one of its darkest periods in spring 2020 when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of several plants. Paul Yeske, DVM, helped hog producers in his area work through the closures.

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Challenges associated with controlling porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) have resulted in the increased use of molecular diagnostic tests and sequencing, according to Phillip Gauger, DVM, PhD, Iowa State University.

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