The delayed fall harvest this year is adding pressure to nutrient management work that is also an important task every fall. This pressure can add risk to both people and pigs during nutrient application. This isn’t news to anyone who has been stuck watching the manure pits filling while the grain bins were not.

Safety practices for pit pumping have been outlined from multiple sources, and two are listed here as references: www.extension.umn.edu/Swine/components/pdfs/PorkCast-PitPumpingGuidelines.pdf, nationalhogfarmer.com/facilities-equipment/manure-handling/0909-agitating-manure-pits/.

Unfortunately, we have a few instances every year in which small or large groups of pigs are killed by pit gases in confinement buildings during the agitation and pumping of manure storage pits.

From a diagnostic laboratory standpoint, we help veterinarians as they prepare materials for insurance claims against losses that result from ventilation failures or pit gas exposure by performing diagnostic tests on samples submitted from affected pigs.

Most swine practitioners have a good understanding of the appropriate steps for collecting information, submitting samples and filing the reports for this process. However, the precise requirements can be somewhat variable depending on the insurance company and policy specifications. Some general guidelines for handling claims after a loss are listed below based on discussions with representatives from livestock insurance carriers.

Producer Responsibility
Producers are responsible for contacting the insurance company (or companies) promptly after a loss, certainly before pigs are removed or samples are taken. Insurers report rare instances where they aren’t notified until long after the loss, which really complicates the entire process. In situations involving third parties, such as custom manure haulers, additional liability insurance carriers might also become involved. These carriers also need to be contacted promptly as they may have different information needs for processing claims, especially if they are not tied as closely to livestock operations.

The policy holder also has the primary responsibility for complying with all the requirements of the policy. It’s always important to start by contacting the insurance company to find out what information they need for processing a loss claim. Depending on the timing and location of the loss, a representative from the insurer may or may not be able to visit the site immediately.

Therefore, some of the initial documentation may need to be completed by the veterinarian in the place of an insurance agent or adjuster. These details need to be worked out directly with the insurance representatives, since most policies require that the pigs cannot be removed until the insurer has released the site, with due consideration for local and state ordinances.

Veterinarian Responsibility
The veterinarian’s role is to determine the cause of death. While the cause of death may appear very straightforward, a thorough diagnostic evaluation is required to rule out other potential health problems in the pigs. Some insurance policies have specific requirements for the number or proportion of pigs that must be examined to sufficiently document the cause of death (e.g. 20% of mortalities).

This, again, is why it is important for the producer and veterinarian to be in contact with the insurer before beginning the diagnostic evaluation. Insurers report that one of the more common mistakes made by producers is waiting to report the loss until after the veterinarian has left the site. Often this results in having to call the veterinarian to return to the site for additional work.

Deciding on the precise number of pigs to examine and sample is a mix of insurance policy requirements and professional veterinary judgment. The veterinarian must be able to document adequately the cause of the losses.

Therefore, the number of pigs to examine can vary based on the mortality pattern observed, number of rooms or groups affected, prior disease and performance history, nature of lesions encountered and other factors. These factors also determine how many samples are needed for evaluation at a diagnostic laboratory. The number of pigs to examine and sample are typically agreed upon through discussions between the veterinarian and the insurer, and may be more or less than the number stated in the policy.

Fewer Losses
According to insurance company representatives, losses due to ventilation failures or pit gases during manure handling are becoming rarer. This is an encouraging trend. However, when losses do occur, you can avoid compounding the problem by working closely with your insurance carrier and veterinarian to ensure the insurance claim process is handled correctly.

Jerry Torrison, DVM
University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
torri001@umn.edu