Invest Time in Your Herd's Health

Invest Time in Your Herd's Health
Mar 01, 2021

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Keeping pigs healthy is a time investment in the barn, and in your own pig care knowledge.
I wish I could come up with a non-pandemic reference to introduce this article, but I struggled. Particularly this month, where we would typically be gearing up to head to the Keystone Pork Expo and discussing critical issues to the swine industry, visiting with colleagues, and focusing on the PA pork community. The reduced opportunities to gather with industry colleagues and fellow producers has been frustrating to say the least. But instead of focusing on the frustrations, I’d like to focus on a silver-lining of this chaos. With the hours I gained back from not traveling, I gave my 150-year-old farmhouse some desperately needed attention. The old paint job had failed on one side and it was time to protect the original wood siding. The siding is still in pretty good shape, but a paint job was needed to keep the siding functional – protecting the house from weather and sun damage. The better shape the siding is in, the better it will perform to protect the house and my family within it.
If you’ve ever painted the exterior of a house, then you know this can be a tedious task. Especially when you have only 1-2 people working on it in their spare time. It takes dedication to detail and motivation every day. It also takes knowledge of paint quality and preparation to ensure good adhesion and routine upkeep to keep the paint functional. Though tedious, this was time well spent to prepare my house for the changing weather and environmental stressors yet to come. I think the same could be applied to swine operations. When it comes to disease and health management on farm, the uncertainty of future animal health challenges are seemingly around every corner.
Over the past 6 years, disease outbreaks have been a top focus of the swine industry. In 2014, the outbreak of porcine endemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) handicapped the pig population to such a degree that the inventory scar will be observed on record for years to come. Trade negotiation issues distracted us from diseases in 2016, but the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in China in 2018 shook pig health right back into focus. Nearly all of 2018 and 2019 left producers wondering what benefits might befall U.S. as the pig population in China plummeted and emergency planning initiatives were pushed to prevent spread of ASF to U.S. farms. Of course, most recently, the impact of 2020 and the COVID19 pandemic has been a bit of a roller coaster for pig producers, to say the least. This intense focus on animal health is changing the way producers think about getting and keeping their herds healthy.
Traditionally, we tend to talk about animal health in terms of response. What can we do to get animals healthy again after they have been ill? What can we do to treat sub-clinical illness that might be present? How do we prevent disease spread from traveling between farms? This approach has led to great advances in pig husbandry, advancements in tools available to pig producers, and greatly improved our understanding of how to use the existing tools more effectively. Now, with this new knowledge on what improves animal health, the tools are available to support animal health and prevent illness. Much like the paint on my siding, where preparation supports the tool (paint) that is protecting my siding, tools that support healthy pigs and prepare for stressors and disease challenges will be needed to deal with unknown disease risks in the future.
So, how do you take those steps? A great first step is to learn more about strategies that optimize your pig health toolbox to improve whole animal, herd, and system health. Producers who want to optimize their toolbox should attend the Swine Short Course, offered through Penn State Extension, on March 22nd – 24th of this year . This 3-part short series brings together experts from across the country to review current scientific knowledge and application to managing whole pig, whole herd health, and whole system health. Courtesy of funding from the PA Pork Producers Council, experts in gut physiology, nutrition, disease management, daily pig care, genetics, and veterinary diagnostics will focus on optimizing immune function through physiology, husbandry, and technology. This course is primarily offered online, however, call-in participation options are available. Registrants will receive a box of hard-copy education and tools for managing pig health in the barn. Attending this course will literally improve your toolbox for everyday pig care in 2021 and beyond.
The stressors of the pandemic won’t go away overnight, and as much as we’d all like to move on from that topic, I am grateful for the time we were given to focus more on our own ‘houses’. I’m not done caring for my house yet, but I now have the tools to protect my house and keep it in good shape, regardless of what the future holds. Taking the time now to re-evaluate your whole pig care approach will be well worth the time to prepare your pigs for the future.
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