From animal health to facilities and breeding stock, pork producers need to focus on reinvesting in their hog systems now that prices have finally returned to profitable levels.

“There has been a lot of repair work that just has not been done in facility maintenance and upkeep,” remarks swine veterinarian Larry Rueff of Swine Veterinary Services at Greensburg, IN. Ventilation and fan repairs are needed, which may have an impact on animal health.

The cash crunch has meant producers have stretched sow parities. “Some of these herds don’t look real good right now. From a productivity standpoint, they have gotten kind of old,” he continues. Producers need to move quickly to safely bring in replacement gilts to return the parity structure to normal. “Make sure you have got your gilt isolation and acclimation systems in place to avoid potential health problems.”

The cash crunch has meant some producers couldn’t make the equipment changes necessary to improve efficiency, even $50-100 ad-lib, sow lactation feeders. “In normal times, because those feeders have shown a pretty good bang for your buck, most producers would have put those in, but that has not been the case with the economic climate we have been in the past two years.

“Those feeders look like pretty good technology — providing heavier weaning weights and more consistent sow feed consumption that represent a pretty fast payback,” Rueff observes.

Biosecurity Upgrades

“Producers have been really paying attention to biosecurity, but they haven’t had the cash to make the changes they wanted to,” says Paul Ruen, DVM, Fairmont (MN) Vet Clinic and president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

But now that the market has turned, sow farms in his practice are starting to build compost buildings to move away from rendering, making changes in their pig load-outs or buying an extra trailer to have it dedicated to a flow of pigs. They are improving entryways, sealing up doors, repairing equipment and, in some cases, mulling air filtration systems for sow farms to keep out porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

During these critical times, producers may have pulled back a bit on animal health product use, but now are looking to try some products they felt they couldn’t afford before, he says.

Ruen stresses to clients that least-cost rations never pay in good times or bad. “Look at what maximizes your return and minimizes your losses. It’s the three P’s rule: A decision must be right for the pig, for the producer and for profit.”

Treatment Adjustments

For Tom Gillespie, DVM, Rensselaer (IN) Swine Services, the last couple of years has been a story of increased client scrutiny of animal health costs. “Producers are attaching financials to the use of animal health products, where it used to be when you’d identify a health challenge, you’d grab a product and run with it,” he says.

Producers want to know payback before they approve use of a vaccine or antibiotic in their herds. A great example is the use of partial dosing of porcine circovirus type 2 vaccines that don’t provide acceptable average daily gain and feed efficiency levels. Full doses will provide a great return on investment.

Gillespie says there is a trend away from the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics and more toward specific, individual animal care. Vaccine use is growing, while general antibiotic use is moderating.

Gillespie says Indiana is in the early throes of establishing an area PRRS pilot eradication project in several northwest counties. A funding request has been submitted to the National Pork Board.

The project will focus on animal flow, review aspects of attempted PRRS control and look at show pig involvement.

Health Paramount

“Health is king,” reminds Joe Connor, DVM, Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service, Ltd. As producers revamp their herd health programs, he suggests these key issues be addressed:
• Porcine circovirus type 2. Reducing the dose achieves bad results. Use a full dose of the vaccine. “Even though operations are experiencing low-level infection with this virus, vaccination still provides an excellent return on investment,” he says.
• Mycoplasmal pneumonia. Reducing feed antibiotics has led to increased activity in replacement gilts, causing a higher prevalence in nursery pigs. Institute a total control program.
• Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. Vaccinate the growing pig to stop spread of this virus into finishing.
• Mycotoxins. Test and monitor feed to prevent contamination and sow health issues.

Connor observes that a key factor related to poorer control of swine diseases during the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 has been fewer dollars allocated for routine diagnostic profiling.