The National Pork Board's pork checkoff-funded Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) has exceeded expectations for on-farm participation.
In its first year, more than 100 SWAP assessments have been performed on a variety of hog operations across the U.S., reports Anna Johnson, director of Animal Welfare for the National Pork Board.
Johnson wrote the voluntary certification program with input from members of the Pork Board's Animal Welfare Committee and advice from national and international experts in swine behavior and welfare.
SWAP is an assessment of the welfare of the animal — how the animal interacts with the caretaker and type of facility, explains Johnson. SWAP is not defending a particular sow housing system; any system can be used, as long as it provides proper welfare for the animals. The program measures different aspects of animal welfare: behavior, performance and health, broken out into nine care and well-being principles, she says.
Participation in the program has exceeded all expectations. Equally important, SWAP is developing name recognition in the industry as the science-based standard for assessing on-farm animal welfare.
The Pork Board passed a resolution last November supporting SWAP's role in “assuring the welfare of pigs of all ages on the farm.”
Pork Board Immediate Past President Craig Christensen of Ogden, IA, had his first SWAP assessment done in mid-May on the farrowing and breeding portions of his 2,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation.
“SWAP is helping show how producers care for their pigs,” he says.
In Christensen's case, only a partial assessment of the farm was done. “We are going to take SWAP in stages. We wanted to have a third party come in and take a look at each segment of our operation, and review the practices and policies we follow in raising our animals from feeding and nutrition, animal health, to how the buildings are set up.”
The assessor didn't find any glaring problems, says Christensen, but suggested there are some minor issues to address, including doing a better job of documenting practices through recordkeeping.
The Iowa producer stresses that the SWAP assessment is not a confrontational process. “The whole benefit of SWAP is that the producer works with the assessor, who may give you some ideas to work with. You decide whether or not they will work in your operation. And, by having it done, I can say that I have had a SWAP assessment, and a third party has certified that I am following good production practices on my farm.”
The assessment took about four hours. He says it was very economical and compares favorably to the cost of a regular consultant.
Christensen says after remodeling projects are completed this summer, a SWAP assessment will be scheduled for the rest of the operation.
Yorkville, IL, pork producer John Kellogg's hog operation was featured in the rollout of SWAP to the media last August (See “Industry Rolls Out Swine Welfare Program,” pages 32-34, Sept. 15, 2003 issue of National Hog Farmer).
Kellogg, a longtime member of the Pork Board's Animal Welfare Committee, says producers felt 10 years ago that they were doing a good job, but that growing concerns about animal welfare throughout the food chain prompted the development of SWAP.
At the Kellogg farm, the assessment was “a very positive educational experience, and the educator really found some things we had overlooked,” he reports.
For instance, the educator detected some chips in some breeding-house slats. “Normally, we would think of this as a maintenance chore. But if we relabel this as an animal welfare issue, then it should be moved up the list of priorities, and we should address it sooner,” says Kellogg.
He says it becomes a bigger concern because there will be many weaned sows in that one stall throughout the year.
The second item his veterinarian-educator found was that some barrows in a nursery had castration incisions that were not healing properly. “We were able to find, statistically, how many had the problem in the morning, and then that afternoon we went back to the farrowing room and did some retraining of the people who worked there,” explains Kellogg, who runs a 1,400-sow, farrow-to-finish operation.
He declares: “SWAP is a more intense, in-depth assessment of our operation than any other program we have been involved in.” In the case of the nurseries, the educator actually picked up every pig in every third pen to find the problem incisions, which could easily go unnoticed.
Kellogg likes the written reports and exit interview. “You sit down with the educator and share results. There is no use in doing an assessment and mailing the results if there is no knowledge gained and nothing is implemented.”
For Kellogg, SWAP is a continuation of the professional improvement process he began with the Pork Quality Assurance Program and odor and environmental assessments on his farm.
Johnson stresses that SWAP is not a pass-fail program. Instead, the voluntary program “identifies practices that producers are performing very, very well, and provides a different set of eyes to identify items that may need to be tweaked within the limits of the operation.”
She adds that the Pork Board is also working on a survey of a representative sample of the approximately 186 certified SWAP educators (CSE) to find out the average cost, time and other pertinent details of a SWAP assessment.
Producers interested in learning more about SWAP can call the Pork Board at (800) 456-7675. To help producers learn about SWAP at their own pace, a long-distance learning program was developed as an interactive CD-ROM, which can be ordered from www.porkboard.org.
SWAP CSE's are commonly swine veterinarians, Extension specialists or agricultural educators.
To locate a SWAP CSE in your area, go to this URL: www.porkboard.org/SWAPHome/default2.asp. Scroll to the bottom of the Web page, enter your zip code, select a radius of miles around your farm and hit submit for names, addresses and telephone numbers.
SWAP assessments should be done at least every three years, or as often as farm needs dictate, she says.
Part of the agenda at the next Pork Board Animal Welfare Committee meeting Aug. 24-25 will be to begin discussion on changes in SWAP. Version 2 is tentatively scheduled to roll out in 2005, says Johnson.
Six, one-year animal welfare research projects have recently received pork checkoff funding by the National Pork Board. They include:
Gestation crate design and sow oral disease: effects on longevity, productivity and state of being, Stanley Curtis, University of Illinois;
Floor space requirements for grow-finish pigs in large groups, Harold Gonyou, Prairie Swine Centre, Saskatchewan, Canada;
Effect of stocking density on the welfare and performance of grow-finish pigs, John Deen, DVM, director, University of Minnesota Swine Center;
Influence of animal handling and transportation factors on the welfare of slaughter pigs during transport and incidences of deads and downers, Michael Ellis, University of Illinois;
The impact of routine piglet processing on well-being, Don Lay, USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS); and
Core body temperatures, stress hormone levels and pork quality differences of market weight pigs relative to seasonal environment, on-farm handling intensity, transport stocking density and time in lairage, Eric Berg, University of Missouri.
Three other special projects were funded:
Ammonia levels and the effects on nursery pig welfare, Frank Mitloehner, University of California, Davis;
Effects of trailer design, season and distance moved during loading on the welfare of market weight pigs at the packing plant, Michael Ellis, University of Illinois; and
Transport lairage effects on the well-being of 40-lb. pigs using a multi-disciplinary approach, Susan Eicher, USDA, ARS Unit, based at Purdue University.