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The U.S. Pork Industry's Herd Health Practices

Continual improvement in the health status of swine herds allows optimal expression of lean genetic potential, maximizes productivity and profitability, produces safe food and promotes a positive image for the industry. U.S. access to global markets depends on the health status of the nation's swine herds. Maintenance of swine health and animal disease monitoring and surveillance are critical to the continued growth and profitability of the U.S. pork industry.

Herd Health Programs

U.S. pork producers pay strict attention to the health of their herds. They take many precautions and employ a variety of management practices to protect their herd's health status. One of the methods used to ensure the health of their herds is to add only high health status breeding stock. Purebred seedstock producers realize the potential impact they can have on the herds they supply, thus they maintain very strict biosecurity protocols and adhere to demanding herd health management practices.

Individual herd health programs are developed in close consultation with herd veterinarians. U.S. producers have access to swine practitioners that specialize in developing these types of programs. Many continuing education opportunities are available to these practitioners to quickly transfer swine health research results to producers. Considerable private and public resources are devoted to swine health research based on the needs of the industry. Practitioners are the key link in getting this information to producers and using it to continue to improve herd health practices.

A herd health program contains many components. These include:

  • Herd preventative vaccination program
  • Facility management and pig movement schedules
  • Production records
  • Biosecurity procedures
  • Parasite control and monitoring program
  • Slaughter check examinations
  • Serologic screening
  • Postmortem examinations
  • Educational updates
  • Animal health product usage recommendations
  • Nutritional program evaluation

Once a herd health program is established, routine visits at regular intervals are scheduled to continue to monitor the program and make adjustments as necessary. At these visits, the veterinarian will review the production records, observe the animals, perform post-mortem examinations, collect samples for diagnostic laboratory submission, if needed, and provide a written report of the herd visit findings.

Management Practices

Several management practices are used to maintain a high level of health. A common practice is all-in-all-out production. With all-in, all-out management, pigs are kept and moved in groups through farrowing, nursery and grow-finish, separated into rooms or barns according to age. After each group is moved to the next production phase, the entire room or barn is washed and disinfected before a new group of pigs moves in. Health is improved with all-in, all-out production because there is less exposure to organisms that may be carried by pigs of other ages.

Another more recent practice is multiple-site production. The two variations of this system are where the nursery and finishing herds are located on the same site but separate from the breeding herd (two-site) and where the breeding, nursery and finishing herds are each located on separate sites (three-site). This segregation by age improves the health status of each segregated group and allows some diseases to be totally eliminated. It also provides another barrier to minimize disease transmission by maintaining separate employees for each site.

Many pork producers have completely depopulated the pigs on their farm and then repopulated after appropriate cleaning and disinfecting. This allows producers to purchase a new herd with leaner, more efficient animals and improved health.

Biosecurity

Pork producers take precautions to prevent the introduction of diseases to their herds. Comprehensive biosecurity programs are developed to keep disease agents out of the herd. Many factors are included in such programs:

  • Location of herds away from other farms, abattoirs, roadways, etc.
  • Restricted access for birds, wildlife and pets
  • Fences around the farm perimeter
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of trucks before entry to farm
  • Aggressive rodent and fly control policies
  • Limiting visitors
  • Ensuring farm personnel have no contact with other swine
  • Requiring people to shower before entering the farm
  • Evaluating the health status of potential sources of breeding animals before purchases
  • Isolating and acclimatizing new breeding stock before introduction to the herd

Health Monitoring

An important component of a herd health program is monitoring of the current health status. Ongoing health monitoring includes periodic serologic surveillance and inspections of slaughtered pigs. Systematic monitoring of health facilitates early diagnosis of disease and leads to its quick resolution. Regular blood sampling of the breeding herd and grow-finish pigs helps determine if diseases are present and evaluate the progress in their elimination. IN the slaughter check system the herd veterinarian evaluated this slaughtered swine for lesions of pneumonia, pleuritis, ileitis, rhinitis and dermatitis. This objective information is then used by the veterinarian and the producer to make any needed adjustments in the herd health program.

PRRS

One of the most important diseases affecting the pork industry and one which most, if not all, herd health programs address with high priority is Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS). PRSS virus is endemic in nearly all pork producing areas of the word. Veterinarians and producers worldwide are developing and implementing innovative methods to deal with this disease in herd health plans. Research is also being performed on a worldwide basis to provide the pork industry with the needed tools and knowledge to combat this disease. Purebred seedstock producers are among the most vigilant in the prevention of the spread of PRRS virus.

Production Records

Pork producers maintain records to monitor herd health and productivity. These records allow early detection of any problems that affect performance. Records enable producers to compare their operations with other similar type operations to see where they need to make improvements. Veterinarians review these records on the herd visits and detect emerging concerns. In addition, records can be used historically to determine when a problem may have developed.

Pork Quality Assurance Program

In 1989 the National Pork Producers Council introduced a producer education program called the Pork Quality Assurance™ program. The Pork Quality Assurance™ program (PQA) helps producers adopt improved management practices and herd health programs. The program is based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles.

There are three levels in the PQA program. Level I of the Pork Quality Assurance program provides basic information on herd health management practices and avoidance of chemical residues and physical defects. Level II is a "self-review" of Level I information. Level III is the final verification stage that takes a producer step-by-step through the design of a herd health program by focusing on Ten Good Production Practices for Quality Assured Pork Production. To complete Level III, a producer needs to review the Level III booklet with a qualified verifier, most often their veterinarian. In addition, producers are required to recertify every two years. This recertification offers the opportunity to continue to update producers ion new technology and governmental regulations. There is widespread participation in this program by U.S. pork producers. PQA Level III verification is being required of pork producers by some packing plants to address the need for knowledge of the safety of incoming swine.

Summary

Significant Progress has been made in the industry in the prevention of potential animal health problems by implementation of biosecurity procedures and herd health management programs. Technologies such as all-in, all-out production and multiple-site production are becoming increasingly adopted by the industry.

The U.S. pork industry works closely with State and Federal animal health officials to identify health issues of concern to international customers. These health questions are then addressed in a timely, effective manner. In addition, the U.S. pork industry identifies health research needs and invests in the appropriate research.

Dr. Beth Lautner, Vice President, Science and Technology
Dr. Dave Pyburn, Director, Veterinary Science
National Pork Producers Council