I’ll never forget the day my son was born. As someone who’s witnessed thousands of births at the pig farm, the actual birth – while fascinating – was not the moment that captivated me. It was instead the arrival of the anesthesiologist and his preparation that followed. Maybe it was because it was my first experience or maybe it was because it was so different than the farm, but I was completely enamored with his ‘epidural kit.’ Everything he needed for his procedure was wrapped, sterilized and prepped for one patient and one procedure. It was then that I began to understand the modern medical approach to avoid cross contamination at every turn and the stark contrast to life on the farm.
Fast forward a few years to the battle we’ve waged on PEDv at HH and as I processed baby pigs (Yes! we have live, viable baby pigs) this week I couldn’t help but wish I had a ‘processing kit’ for each litter. Processing pigs is usually the task saved for the solitude of late nights without interruption. This time however, processing a few litters required an assistant and a whole lot more. We used multiple clippers, ear notchers and syringes to clean between each litter. The latex gloves and towels on my leg were used in an effort to make sure each litter had a chance to continue forward without contamination from others. We must’ve did something right because those pigs are still doing fine but I continue to ask myself…will it always be this way? Do we need a ‘hospital’ at the farm?
We’ve made a lot of progress at HH in the time since the first post about our situation. We followed several practices that have worked for others and this is a bit of a rundown of what we learned:
1) As soon as you’re certain you have PEDv – test or no test – wean every pig possible regardless of age. Looking back, everything we weaned within the first 48 hours is doing extremely well. Those that we let linger on the sow either didn’t survive or don’t look salvageable. Some weren’t weaned because they were awful young and others weren’t weaned because frankly we ran out of room. Either way, be prepared to wean!
2) During the ‘worst’ phase of PEDv in the farrowing barns, we were not successful in saving any pigs – regardless of approach or additional products used.
3) It’s worth the effort to take extra good care of those you do wean. BlueLite 2BW is the product we’ve relied on the most for use in our medicators for all sizes of pigs. Using medicated water to make a gruel with pelleted feed helped jump start the very young pigs. Hydration is key!
4) We have always used On Guard powder in the crate to aid in drying pigs at birth, drying navel cords to prevent entrance of bad bacteria and an overall desire to keep the crate more dry than wet. The use of powder became even more important when weaning pigs that were scouring. I truly believe our extensive use of powder in the nursery helped our pigs withstand early weaning.
5) The winter weather we’ve experienced lately did not make the ‘feedback’ process fun considering all of our sows are outside, however, our sows handled the exposure very well with no hiccups or setbacks. There are a variety of ways to expose sows and I think facilities will dictate the method that works best for you.
6) Cleaning has become a priority – not an afterthought. We invested in a new hot water/steam cleaner for more thorough pressure washing and a better approach to disinfecting. Synergize has been the disinfectant of choice. Fortunately, all of our farrowing and nursery facilities are separate, individual buildings (multiple) and hopefully we’ve been able to ‘slow down the cycle’ so to speak by emptying buildings, cleaning, disinfecting and letting them sit empty with high heat.
7) When we started to farrow in a clean barn without the overwhelming load of PEDv in the environment, progress was noted and we started to save pigs. Survivability could be attributed to newly established immunity on sows that were exposed very early and I don’t think you can underestimate the effect of a clean barn.
8) We use Digest More in ALL of our sow feed and my limited knowledge of Amaferm gave reason to try Vitacharge paste orally at birth. All of our healthy, live babies have had multiple doses of Vitacharge and it seems very likely that it is contributing to our success rate.
9) The pigs in our nurseries and show barns are doing extremely well. As stated originally, the effect on that size of pigs has been minimal and honestly, I’ve dealt with much worse in both stages of growth.
10)Many years ago, birds received the most blame for the spread of TGE and were the logical reason this farm had an outbreak during that time. Many continue to ask how PEDv ended up at HH and while I cannot be 100% certain, I believe our source was most likely bird related – the only regular farm visitor that we could not control. PEDv was in our area for a lengthy period of time prior to our exposure and the bird population at our farm on a daily basis is staggering. The first clinical signs of the virus were noticed in our sows outside, the same sows that share feed with a guilty bunch of feathered foes.
As the dialogue continues with fellow breeders, customers and friends, there are still a lot of questions that do not have answers. One question I’ve been asked multiple times, however, needs to be addressed here. Several customers who purchased pigs from us in the fall or bred females in December have reached out to ask if their purchases are carriers of PEDv. The answer is NO, we did not have the virus when any of those pigs were on the farm. While they are not carriers, I would suggest they are just as vulnerable to the virus as any other pig out there that has not been exposed.
In closing, today’s world of social media and instantaneous communication has created an unrivaled panic and fear among those in the Showpig industry. The panic is not warranted and the fear should be saved for any number of medical mysteries that plague human life. In the heat of the battle, PEDv is a nasty virus that can be highly detrimental to a farrowing barn full of young litters. However, now having experienced it and lived to tell the story, it is not the end of the world. If anything, it is just another stark reminder that there are no guarantees in the business of raising livestock.