Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) has indeed become the elephant in the room for the pork industry, forcing major changes in all aspects of biosecurity.

Producer and veterinary leaders at the Pipestone System and the Pipestone (MN) Veterinary Clinic are tightening biosecurity rules on pig production and transportation, and adding air filtration systems to stop aerosol spread of the virus in sow farm complexes across Minnesota and Iowa.

Their strategy also calls for strengthening biosecurity programs for all people who enter the farms, reports Pipestone veterinarian Gordon Spronk at the Leman Swine Conference in St. Paul in late September.

Staff veterinarians, farm supervisors and technicians have spent hundreds of hours in sow barns studying human behavior and learning how to make employees more accountable for biosecurity. Some concepts are working, but Spronk admits there are still more questions to resolve.

Early Lesson

Biosecurity protocols are relatively straightforward, but the mistakes people make are a very difficult challenge to overcome, Spronk says.

“We thought we had biosecurity protocols in place in the fall of 2008 when we filtered a 3,000-sow farm,” he recalls. “While I was standing in the entrance area, a vendor came in and placed his tool belt on the counter, showered in and followed biosecurity protocols. After showering, he opened the sliding glass door, took his tool belt and headed into the hog barn, while the farm supervisor and veterinarian were standing there.”

For Spronk, that defining moment led to rethinking biosecurity to focus more on the human element.

It starts with the farm staff knowing the status of your farm — is it PRRS negative or positive? Keep it that simple for the farm staff.

The second part is assurance that staff understands the methods of disease transmission. Refer to the Pork Quality Assurance Plus manual (www.pork.org) developed by the National Pork Board. “We can talk about internal vs. external biosecurity, for instance, but at the barn level, biosecurity in the Pipestone System is about what works to keep PRRS out,” he says.

The third step is acknowledging the importance of communication and holding staff accountable when an error is made or a machine breaks down, Spronk points out.

Employees must embrace the vision of the operation and accomplish two objectives: produce pigs because that is what makes the farm go, and be a responsible employee to keep out PRRS virus.

Avoid Mistakes

There are a few cold, hard facts about farm staffs that have led to mistakes he hopes others can avoid:

  • Failure to understand, from a pure biosecurity standpoint, that 90% of people working on any project will violate their own rules. The story about the vendor and the tool belt is a good example.
  • Failure to realize it isn’t always true that once you’ve trained people right, they will correctly follow through with a biosecurity action.
  • Failure to understand that there is more than one solution to a biosecurity problem on a farm. Listen to employees and you will learn what works.
  • Failure to realize the value of training and testing. “Now we train and give a written test immediately. If the person fails, we know that maybe the teacher is the problem the first time. But if the student continually fails, then maybe it could be a student problem,” he says.
  • Failure to understand that monitoring must take place on the farm. “This is one we still struggle with in knowing what to monitor and how to improve on it,” Spronk says.

Hire Well

Be sure new staff knows your core values and goals. One tipoff: if new hires have attendance issues, there will very likely be problems with compliance of biosecurity protocols. Confront this issue as quickly as possible to correct the situation, Spronk advises.

Lack of attention to detail in performing daily tasks is another early-warning sign. “Once the right job culture was established, we had a lot better success,” he says.

Establish written protocols and make vendors participate in the same training and testing processes for biosecurity as any employee or visitor.

“Understand that your motivation is to keep PRRS out. We test staff every month on protocols,” he says. “Then we monitor, simply showing up at the farm to look for deviations from the protocols.”

Reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. “We don’t have to reward good behavior like we do production achievements, just make a point to recognize it verbally,” he says. “We learned this the hard way. It takes pig-headed determination to be successful.”