Disease management remains a baffling issue for pork producers and top of mind for the Manitoba Pork Council.
“It’s been a disappointing year,” said MPC board chair George Matheson, citing 79 confirmed cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) this year. “What we’re doing just doesn’t seem to be working.”
Disease prevention was front and centre at a Manitoba Pork Council producer meeting in Portage la Prairie October 30.
Last year saw only 17 cases of the devastating virus, leading one news article to proclaim “The war on PED is almost over.” This was sadly not the case, Matheson said.
“Does that mean it’s going to go to fully across the province? We hope not,” said Andrew Dickson, MPC general manager. “We’re hoping we can pull this thing back into southeast Manitoba, and then even there try to contain it to a limited number of farms.”
Producer and MPC director Rick Prejet told the group about his experience with PED on one of his barn sites near Notre Dame de Lourdes. This was the western-most known case of PED in Manitoba this year.
“We don’t know what happened,” Prejet said. “That’s the bad news.”
Prejet said after the site manager realized something was wrong in the barn, they got testing done immediately. They also didn’t wait for results to tell their neighbours they were under suspicion for PED. They disinfected their yards immediately, and also sprayed a dust suppressant on the roads for a quarter-mile in front of each yard site.
Livestock trailers can pick up contaminated dust and spread the disease, making this an important part of the biosecurity protocol to protect the entire industry and his own uninfected barns.
“We thought it was $35,000 well spent because it costs a hell of a lot more if it had spread,” Prejet said, though he said he didn’t know if the treatment actually prevented the spread of PED. The disease did not spread to his other barn sites.
The site has since tested negative for PED and pigs are back in the barn.
Dickson said there’s been a lot of speculation over what caused PED outbreaks this year — from manure agitation and dust carrying the virus, to tired, overwrought staff.
“Don’t know. Lots of finger pointing and generalizations,” he said.
Prejet said he plans to sit down with Manitoba’s chief veterinary officer and Janelle Hamblin, MPC’s manager of swine health programs, to get to the bottom of how PED got into his barn.
Dickson said Manitoba Pork hopes to conduct a study over winter on how long the virus remains viable in manure.
Hamblin added that she keeps hearing stories of biosecurity breaches, which she said producers know they need to tighten up.
Prejet said despite the CVO prescribing routes for trucks hauling pigs in his area, truckers didn’t always stick to these routes.
“Don’t assume what’s going to happen. You’ve got to stay on top of it,” he said.
Preparing for ASF
Discussion also centred around how Manitoba Pork and government-run risk management programs would financially support producers in the case of an African swine fever outbreak.
“On Day 1 (of an ASF outbreak), you could potentially face the problem that your pigs are worth nothing,” Dickson said. “What is your barn worth at that moment in time?” He said in this case, AgriStability would probably be insufficient and access to capital from banks would also be limited.
Dickson shared a drafted plan that would see MPC act as a buyer of pigs with the financial backing of the provincial and federal governments. MPC would pay 50 per cent of the invested value of the animals.
Producers would then be paid to hold the animals until arrangements can be made to move or euthanize them.
This would allow inventory to be managed so, if markets reopen earlier than expected, a stock of animals could be ready within a short time.
They would also consider giving the animals to processing plants for free just to keep processors running.
“If they close down and can’t ramp up again, how are we going to ramp back up into production on farms?” said Dickson.
He said one trucking company told him that at any given time, they had 30,000 animals on the road.
“What happens in the first hour? Where do those trucks go?” Dickson said.
He told the group that the current proposal is to send baby pigs back to the farm of origin, and to send pigs for slaughter on to the processing plants, which would be obligated to take them.
If they want other arrangements, Dickson told the group, they need to figure that out now.
“We’ve got no time on Day 1 to be fiddling around with a lot of these details.”