Iowa producer takes a disease hit when basic transportation biosecurity practices are violated.

Craig Rowles, DVM, closely scrutinizes extra costs at Elite Pork Partnership, an 8,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation near Carroll, IA. He knows he will need a sharp pencil to survive these risky times.

He also understands why cash-crunched pork producers might question allocating limited resources for biosecurity.

“When you start focusing on biosecurity, and the fact that you are probably going to invest in capital expenses, supplies and labor, from a producer's perspective, it is very difficult to understand what the return on investment (ROI) for biosecurity will be,” he explains.

Biosecurity Breach

For Rowles, biosecurity has become an integral part of his risk reduction strategy that he views as a health insurance policy.

He learned that lesson the hard way when he purchased a 3,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation a few years ago. “We were trying to make sure we were doing a good job, and I ordered a truck and trailer for the flow for transportation purposes,” he explains.

But when the trailer was not immediately available, he decided to rent one for a while. When the new trailer finally arrived, Rowles decided it might fit better at another production site.

He received a phone call a couple of days later from one of the breeding site managers that new gilts had arrived in the rented trailer. The manager said the trailer “didn't look very clean, but we unloaded the gilts anyway.”

Rowles cringed and made a note on the calendar to check those gilts in three weeks. Sure enough, three weeks to the day, a sentinel sow aborted and that spelled trouble for Elite Pork Partnership.

“It was a PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) break that ultimately cost me about $200,000,” Rowles lamented in a talk at the Transportation Biosecurity Summit in mid-July in Kansas City, MO. The truck driver was fired, but the damage was done.

“The introduction of disease in a swine operation has a significant impact on its overall economic well being,” he emphasized. “And money spent on biosecurity can have a significant return on investment.”

Pointing to some Canadian studies, Rowles reports an introduction of Mycoplasmal pneumonia can set you back $400,000; a PRRS break can cost a minimum of $275,000; and an outbreak of Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) can produce a hit of $400,000.

He urges producers to look at biosecurity expenditures as a tool to manage potential health-related disasters.

Assess Your Risk

Individually, producers have to figure out how much to invest in biosecurity, says Rowles. Design a production system that has natural breaks in it to reduce the potential for lateral introduction of disease, while maintaining the most cost-effective use of assets.

“We designed our transportation system to guard our upstream production, placing more importance on segregated transportation for replacement gilts than on weaner pigs we take to market,” he says.

Trailers are owned; trucks are not. Rowles contracted with a couple of trucking firms, guaranteeing that they would haul all of his pigs if they would likewise guarantee that they would only haul his pigs in their trailers. “It's a good deal for both of us.”

Production flows are arranged so that nursery and feeder pigs are transported to finishing sites first thing on Monday mornings. Those trailers haul market hogs the rest of the week.

On Friday afternoon, trucks and trailers are washed and disinfected and sit idle over the weekend.

Other trailers used to haul weaned pigs on Mondays are also used to haul cull sows and replacement gilts. Rowles says weaned pigs are hauled, followed by cull sows. Then those trucks and trailers are washed and disinfected and sit empty until weaned pigs are hauled again on Wednesday. The trucks and trailers are washed and disinfected again, then used to haul replacement gilts on Thursday and weaned pigs again on Friday. They are washed and disinfected again on Friday, then sit idle over the weekend.

Truck Wash

“In a smaller operation like ours, we try to design in these natural breaks, but we did spend $80,000 on a single-bay truck wash,” says Rowles.

He admits it is hard to figure the ROI for a truck wash, but with all of the pig movements it's become a key part of biosecurity.

Living without TGE for nine years and getting PRRS under control has made Rowles a believer it's all worthwhile.