Prairie hog farmers may soon be able to certify their animals free of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), a disease which can cause big losses in swine herds.
A two-year pilot project beginning this spring contains a protocol for testing swine herds and certifying them as PRRS free.
The industry program, if successful, could eventually provide a North American standard for certifying disease-free herds, said Harvey Wagner, manager of producer services for SaskPork.
Asked if pigs that are guaranteed PRRS free will fetch a price premium, Wagner replied, “The answer is, probably yes.”
Pigs without PRRS going into a feeder barn cost less to raise than PRRS-positive animals because they require less veterinary care. A premium for a certified PRRS-free animal may run between $1 and $10, he said.
“If you have animals that are free of PRRS, they’re the ones that are going to get purchased first and will probably trade at premium.”
At present, veterinarians can examine herds for PRRS and declare them disease free if tests confirm it. But there is no generally accepted protocol for doing that.
So the industry assembled an expert committee to develop key elements for testing herds according to a recognized standard, Wagner said.
The standard is described as 95/5, meaning there’s a 95 per cent probability that blood testing and analysis will detect PRRS in a herd where five per cent of the animals or fewer are infected.
Under the program, animals will be blood tested weekly for the PRRS virus or its antibodies. Herds must continue to meet the high standard to remain in it.
“If there’s a positive sample, you’re off the program. That’s it,” said Wagner. “It’s one strike and you’re out until you clean up your herd.”
Producers are expected to maintain high levels of biosecurity but the program does not contain actual standards for that, he said.
PRRS is a viral disease which causes respiratory tract illness in young pigs and reproductive failure in breeding stock. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency classes it as an “annually notifiable” disease but not a reportable one.
An analysis by the George Morris Centre last year estimated PRRS costs the Canadian swine industry at least $130 million a year in lowered production and death losses.
PRRS has become general throughout Canada over the last 20 years, although losses are higher in Eastern Canada than in the West, where the strain is different.
Wagner said Western Canada is a good place to test the protocol because swine herds are not as concentrated.
“We have the luxury of distance and we have the luxury of space between herds.”
SaskPork, Alberta Pork and the Manitoba Pork Council administer the program in their respective provinces. The $375,000 pilot is funded by the Canadian Swine Health Board.
Notices about the program will go out to western Canadian producers in the next few weeks. A maximum 100 herds may enrol in it. Some financial assistance will be available to help producers cover their costs.
Wagner said organizers are looking for a mix of different herd types, including boar studs, genetic suppliers and commercial herds raising feeder pigs.
He said producer groups in the United States, where PRRS is widespread, are aware of the program and have expressed interest in it.
Wagner said a PRRS-free certification program would help prevent trade disruptions, not just between Canada and the U.S., but also between local jurisdictions. Provinces and states may be reluctant to allow pigs from a PRRSinfected zone to travel through their territories.
Producers interested in applying for the pilot project should contact the Manitoba Pork Council at (204) 237- 7447. [email protected]
“Ifthere’sapositive sample,you’reoff theprogram.”