It doesn’t take long for the topic of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) to come up in the conversation at any pork producer gathering these days. Those who have experienced the disease firsthand have a shell-shocked look about them. Those who haven’t had an outbreak are ready to do whatever it takes to prevent — or prepare for — this horrible disease. Some producers skipped state pork producer meetings this winter to avoid having the disease hitch a ride home, unseen, on shoes or clothing.
It is known that there is enough virus in a small amount of manure to do a lot of damage. But there are a lot of unknowns, too. Questions have surfaced in recent weeks about whether or not the virus can spread through the wind or in feed. The National Pork Board is supporting ongoing research efforts, but the disease is spreading faster than the research can keep up.
Grassroots communication and a team approach to pork production problems have served the pork industry well over the years. In these days of unfounded activist attacks, it takes more courage than ever to share what is going on within an operation. I have said many times that National Hog Farmer is “all in” when it comes to our pork producer readers. Because of this philosophy, I am glad that we could help one of our readers with his sincere desire to share with others the difficult details of his sow unit’s recent battle with PEDV. It took great courage for Harold Lee to share some of the hardest days of his life with you, our readers. During my discussions with Harold, one statement came up again and again: “If sharing this information helps just one other producer when they have an outbreak, it will have been worth it.”
When you read Harold’s story in “Diary of a PEDV Outbreak,” you will be able to walk in his shoes through the honest reflections he recorded while he and his employees fought hard to save future litters of pigs. He has been working closely with two veterinarians throughout the course of the outbreak, and has been following their treatment guidance. When we were preparing this story, Harold, his veterinary team and I had some discussions about whether or not sharing the real story would put him at risk from anti-agriculture types. Harold held firm that he wants to help his fellow producers, and that “sugar-coating” the story would not be fair. I want to share some of Harold’s thoughts, expressed during those discussions, here.
“What we have done while trying to fight this disease hasn’t been groundbreaking. We used some ideas that had worked for other producers, and we tried some new approaches, too. I would say that our knowledge and approach are still evolving. We made some mistakes; sometimes you don’t learn if you don’t screw up. We always tried to focus on saving as many future litters as we possibly could. Some of the details and things you have to do to reduce the virus cloud in the unit are really hard. We did everything we could to prevent the piglets from suffering. Doing what is necessary to have a period of time without pigs is a hard way to go, but it is the way to go. My vets have shared my diary with some other producers when they’ve had outbreaks, and they’ve called me to talk about what they are going through. I don’t mind talking to other producers, because maybe I can help make things go better for them by sharing both what worked for me and what didn’t.”
It isn’t clear where the virus came from that hit Harold’s unit. He estimates there are spaces for around 20,000 finishing pigs in a variety of hog units located within two air miles in any direction in his corner of northwestern Iowa. We are offering some additional discussions about biosecurity in this issue of National Hog Farmer, too. If at all possible, it is better to try to prevent a disease outbreak than to have to deal with one. However, if an outbreak hits, it’s good to know that there are others who have been there. We are fortunate to have some of the world’s best swine veterinarians on our teams, too. Let’s hope our industry continues to remember how important it is to support one another in both the good times and bad — even when the story isn’t pretty. Have courage.
Within the last month, we’ve had a few changes here at National Hog Farmer. At the end of January, senior editor and veteran pork industry reporter Joe Vansickle decided it was time to realize a longtime dream of enjoying winter in a warmer climate with fewer deadlines. Joe’s retirement came at the end of a stellar 38-year career with this magazine. His swine health reporting is the stuff of legend. I worked with Joe for 20 years, and still cannot grasp the fact that he is not typing furiously, just down the hall. I learned a lot from Joe, enjoyed working with him and miss him. However, I also wish him a very happy retirement! The first week of February brought the wonderful addition of Indiana native Ashley Bechman to the National Hog Farmer staff as our new digital editor. Read more about her on page 35.
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