For pork producers across the country, 2014 was supposed to be a year of promise and the opportunity to use a black pen that has been sitting on the desk untouched for some time. But for Stateler Family Farms, early 2014 has been full of daunting challenges.
In early January, the finishing operation received a shipment of piglets that began to show signs of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) in the nursery just days after their arrival.
“PEDv was always on our minds, even before it hit our farm,” said Anthony Stateler, who works with his father, Duane at their McComb facility in Hancock County. “We’ve always taken the precautions of washing up as we go in and having boots at the entrance of every barn. Bio-security is something we take seriously.”
One of the quickest avenues for PEDv to travel from one farm to another is by way of haulers, as infected pigs are unknowingly moved to various parts of the country.
“Because of that, we have been bleaching our livestock chutes every time a pig truck backs up to the barn just trying to keep the transition clean,” Stateler said. “You do everything that you need to do, but the saying with PEDv goes, ‘It’s not a matter of if you get it, it is a matter of when.’”
Since the outbreak, the operation has added additional protocols, including wiping door handles with anti-microbial wipes, bleaching boots going in and out and showering in and out of every barn. The cold weather has made those added duties extremely difficult.
Aside from the physical strain that PEDv has put on the Stateler family, a mental toll has been noticed as well.
“It’s a strain on everybody right now,” Stateler said. “Some people want to say that we don’t take care of our animals, but I don’t think there is anything that we would not be willing to do to see healthy pigs. To walk into a barn and see sides of pigs that are sunken in because of dehydration, scours all over and pigs that need help to get up is just so discouraging.”
The plan of attack for a PEDv outbreak was already in place at Stateler Family Farms before the virus found its way to the farm and, luckily, the outcome was a very low 3% of the nursery pigs being affected. Stateler says they may not have gotten everything perfectly right when it came to combating the outbreak, but they learned several new tactics if another round of the virus rears its ugly head.
“One of the reasons for that low mortality rate is that as soon as we noticed signs of PEDv, we added a Blue 2 electrolyte to the water,” Stateler said. “Having that ready and available is probably one of the best things that we could’ve done.”
PEDv is a disease that only affects pigs and poses no risk to other animals or humans. It does not pose a risk to food safety and pork remains completely safe to eat, so Stateler farms has continued to market their pigs, but at a lower weight than usual.
“I would say that we have lost a good 10 to 15 pounds per pig, but things are looking up,” Stateler said. “We are starting to see some positive things like every feeder having a pig at it and we haven’t seen that for over a week in our finisher.”
As hog operations around the country scramble to keep ahead of PEDv, the swine industry is working collaboratively to learn more about the devastating virus. According to Pork Checkoff senior vice president of science and technology Paul Sundberg, the initial research was designed to determine diagnostics and how the virus moved from place to place.
“We receive updates on the progress of the research every two weeks,” Sundberg said. “What we’ve learned into the summer and through fall gives us another research direction and that direction is to better understand how the virus acts on sow farms and, more specifically, how the sows react to exposure to help us better manage the virus once it gets on the farm.”
The next research priority is to understand how people should act as they move from farm to farm, within farms or between farms, to be sure that the virus is not spreading.
“Let’s take downtime for an example,” Sundberg said. “How many days do you need to be away from pigs in order to feel safe that, once you’ve showered and changed clothes, you’re confident that you are not tracking PEDv in the barns with you? We really don’t know an objective answer to that.”
Those are the kinds of research findings that can be used by vets, service personnel and others to develop a standardized protocol for visiting farms to make sure PEDv is not being introduced into a herd. This has been a challenge because PEDv has now been identified in more than 20 states and has an amazing ability to move.
“Sometimes that virus acts like a TGE virus moving from farm to farm, which is what one would expect,” Sundberg said. “But then there are other instances where a farm has been infected in the middle of a county or state and nothing else in that county or state gets infected, so we don’t yet understand all the things that are going on from that standpoint.”
Since PED virus is new to the United States, data collection is critically important. Sundberg said that has been another challenge with this disease.
“The reporting of positive farms is not possible through the way we gather information right now so we don’t know where the positive farms are or how many there are,” Sundberg said. “The statistics we get are simply an accounting of the number of positive lab submissions that come into the veterinary diagnostic labs, so they may be multiple samples from a farm over a long period of time.”
With continued work moving forward, researchers are hoping to get a handle on the this devastating virus and its terrible toll on pigs, and the humans who care for them.
For more information about PEDv and updates on outbreaks and research, log on to Pork.org.