In the community where I grew up, there was a memorable, elderly gentleman we all called “Uncle Milt.” He was always friendly, always smiling and always reciting some good, old-time segment of wisdom or orneriness.

Sometimes when we'd ask Uncle Milt what he was doing, he would say, “just sittin' waiting for an accident to come around and happen.”

If we look back at the start of multiple-site production, I believe it was a bit like Uncle Milt said, “waitin' for an accident to happen.”

Many industry leaders developed some remarkable concepts with multiple-site production. These new technologies revolutionized the industry.

Problems on the Horizon

Many years ago, during a veterinary panel discussion at the Indiana Pork Conference, when we were all very excited about segregated early weaning and multiple-site production, I issued a warning statement. I said we would likely see more acute disease outbreaks with this new “system.” And we did.

However, another factor that I did not predict also became involved — porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

Multiple-site production has been an excellent technology for improving pig flow, performance and chronic disease levels. But, it hasn't always eliminated disease, the need for immunizations and the use of antimicrobials as the following case study shows.

Case Study

A 600-sow, single-site, PRRS-negative herd had an extended “battle” with Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia serotype 1 (APP1).

In the spring of 1999, off-site nursery space at one location and some nursery and finisher space at another location became available and contract fees were negotiated.

A medicated early weaning protocol was developed. The herd had retained its own gilts in a maternal crossing program for many years so these gilts were exposed to APP during growth. In March 1999, all sows tested were highly positive to APP.

Weaning off-site began in May 1999. Pigs did well until a few died in the off-site unit and APP7 was isolated.

Since this wasn't the highly virulent serotype 1 (APP1), we weren't overly concerned. But this should have been our first clue.

Even though serology on Aug. 4 and Aug. 24 showed no evidence of APP1, by Sept. 20 we had clinical signs and isolation of APP1.

We eventually saw clinical signs in nursery pigs (4-5 weeks of age), and in November 1999 APP1 was isolated from a 12-day-old dead pig in the farrowing room. Although I believe this young pig's death from APP is a rare occurrence, it can wreak havoc on disease control in the contemporary groups of pigs.

Extensive medication and vaccinations were attempted in this herd over the next few months, without success. Some alterations were made in pig medication protocol. Pig flow was interrupted at off-site locations, and all sites have been free of clinical disease now since early 2001.

This case was selected to discuss multiple-site production problems because the unforgiving nature of APP lets you know very quickly if things aren't working.

Size Matters

We are reminded that with biology, we are “playing the odds.” With larger systems than this herd, the likelihood of having a “carrier” pig in each group of pigs will be even greater. The immune and shedder status of sow herds is critical to reducing disease in pig populations in multiple-site production.

New herds and those with high replacement rates (many in the industry) are at higher risk of disease breakdown. The sow herd just needs to be free of some diseases in order to have predictable health in the pigs. PRRS may be an example of this in multiple-site production systems sourced from multiple sow herds.

Tailor gilt acclimation and development programs to the system and to the disease levels in the system. Medication and vaccination programs must be based on disease levels and risk assessment.

Biosecurity Critical

Multiple site production presents more biosecurity concerns due to the multiple locations. However, as long as a good biosecurity program is in place, multiple locations should reduce the risk and economic consequences of lateral introduction of disease.

Multiple-site production is an integral part of today's pork chain. It's up to the veterinarians to design health programs that maximize production for specific multiple-site situations.

The goal must be to reduce the odds of the accident Uncle Milt was waiting to come along and happen.