By Matt Reese
With a background as a veterinarian, Dave Shoup has worked extensively on herd health in his family-owned Wayne County farrow-to-finish swine operation.
“We work with multiple contracted facilities and are located in three counties. Relatively speaking for the size of our swine operation, we are spread over considerable area because we like to be able to use manure over as many acres as we can. I work with three of my brothers on the farm and we each have our own niche in the operation and we think that works out pretty well,” Shoup said. “Years ago, I had heard the nightmares of comingling pigs into nurseries from multiple sow locations. The way we do it is kind of complex, and it probably only works in our setup where we’re fairly well isolated away from other hog farmers here in Wayne County. It’s all designed to establish a consistent herd immunity on all sow farms to our endemically established diseases through vaccination and direct exposure. When we’re weaning from the three different sow farms to common nurseries, these replacement gilts and sows have all been exposed to the same diseases and the goal is to have the same immunity level in all sow herds. It is not perfect. We occasionally get a hiccup with swine influenza or something else, but generally we’re pretty happy with how it works.”
As a part of Shoup’s system, gilts are confirmed pregnant and then at 60 to 75 days gestation they are moved to a parity one (P1) facility where the P1 sows will be farrowed.
“Post farrowing and weaning the P1s are passed to the other two sow farms. Instead of sending gilts to these other two sow farms, we send animals that have already had one litter so these farms are not having to deal with the temperament of a gilt. We have good people that are used to working with these young inexperienced females entering the sow herd. These sows have now been around people and have developed a trust for humans. Every week we are flowing gilts to that P1 herd and every week they’re flowing sows out. Generally, if there’s an endemic disease in the operation, we want every sow to have active immunity to that disease to protect herself and provide passive immunity to protect her piglets through the colostrum and milk,” Shoup said. “We rope test gilts for certain diseases to make sure that when we select replacement gilts to bring into the isolation barn that we don’t have certain things like PRRS and PED. We test for swine influenza, but since we already have established strains, that’s mainly just to monitor if perhaps a new strain shows up. By doing it this way, the pigs have developed a lot of immunity by the time they’re 4 months old from being co-mingled in the nurseries and finishers. When they are selected as potential replacement breeding females and come back to the isolation barn, they have more time to stabilize immunity before entering the gilt development unit. Again, nothing is perfect, but it seems to work pretty well for us.”
The Shoups have also worked to minimize the potential for outside introduction of diseases.
“We have been an internal multiplier using PIC genetics to produce our females since the 1990s. We would buy grandparent females once or twice a year and then internally generate gilts to produce our commercial pigs.” Shoup said. “We closed our herd a few years ago and now no longer purchase any gilt replacements. We bring in new genetics by purchasing high indexing single sire boar semen to upgrade our grandparent female population regularly by making selections based on structure and genetic index. We produce our own replacements and limit our introduction of new viral and bacterial agents into the sow herd.”
In addition to these measures, the Shoups, of course, implement extensive biosecurity measures to maintain the health of their animals.
“Biosecurity is of the utmost importance. Right now, the U.S. has foreign animal diseases knocking on our borders. Diseases such as African swine fever and foot and mouth disease would shut down our livestock and meat exports if they were found in this country. And every year PRRS primarily in the winter raises its ugly head along with PED,” Shoup said. “We need all best management practices for biosecurity to be in place to address these concerns.”
Shoup grew up on the farm, but a career in pork production was not always in his plans. After college and vet school at Ohio State University, he started out as a practicing veterinarian, a job that took him to Lancaster County Pennsylvania. He returned to Ohio with his wife, Alona, then worked at Country Road Veterinary Services in Apple Creek where he worked mostly with dairy, swine and horses.
“I decided that general practice was not what I wanted to do long-term so I took a position as a clinical instructor and completed a PhD at the OSU/OARDC Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine in the Food Animal Health Research Program researching diagnostic assays and vaccine development and immune studies of coronaviruses of swine,” he said. “When my graduate studies were completed, I interviewed for a job in academia but also asked my wife if we could try working back on the family farm for six months. She said, ‘OK’ and that was in 1996. Both of our children are now in their thirties living in Colorado and had an opportunity to grow up on a swine and crop farm. They don’t have too many friends out there who know how to vaccinate and tattoo gilts as well as heat check and artificially inseminate swine.”
The hog operation has expanded significantly with Shoup and his brothers each focused on specific duties to run the farrow-to-finish operation, now with about 1,700 acres of crop ground in a corn-soybean-wheat rotation.
“I do mostly preventive health through vaccine programs and natural exposure. I’m in charge of gilt development. I work to stabilize and acclimate the animals by just the way we flow animals on the farm. I am also the financial and tax guy,” Shoup said. “As we bought farms to build finishers, we farmed the ground and used the manure. That’s how we developed. We added a more sows and we doubled our nursery size in 2004 and another farmer built a sow farm for us in 2019. It was an evolutionary process over the years. We produce about a third of the corn that we need for feed and we buy the rest. Most of the feed is prepared at Gerber Feed Service in Dalton. We sell our soybeans and buy soybean meal. We grow just enough wheat to produce some straw and have a place for certain farms where we need to apply manure in the summer.”
The crops work well with manure being applied from the hog operations.
“Hog manure really is gold. We do not buy potash or phosphorus. If you look at fertilizer prices last year, nitrogen has come down, but phosphorus and potash are still high in price. When you can grow a crop without having to buy potash or phosphorus, it gives you a better chance to make it worthwhile financially,” Shoup said. “We inject all of our manure. Back in the late 1990s, we went to a drag line system that was fully injection. It was hard for us to put manure on when the ground wasn’t damp, so the dragline system helped us do it faster with less soil compaction. In the last 5 years, we’ve been using some tanking, especially in the summer or fall when the ground is drier to reach the more remote fields that need additional phosphorus. The commercial applicators are able to put it right where we need it.”
The manure is applied based on grid soil sampling to determine soil phosphorus levels.
“We grid soil test every 3 years with Tyler Grain and Fertilizer. They produce a nice map for us with the potash, phosphorus levels and pH and lime needs. They also collect manure samples at different stages so we know how much we should be applying. Generally, we apply on the low side and try to spread it over a lot more acres to pick up the nitrogen benefit for that growing season and the following year, spreading it over more acres,” Shoup said. “We adjust it based on the next time the soil tests are completed. The biggest problem is catching those remote fields and keeping phosphorus high enough there. We don’t buy phosphorus fertilizers so the bigger problem is getting enough phosphorus to the remote fields that need it.”
The farm has also been working more with vertical tillage and cover crops.
“On our best corn field last year, we used cover crops after beans and then vertical tillage through it in the spring,” Shoup said. “We’re not very much no-till yet but vertical tillage is reduced tillage, with very low compaction and high-speed. It doesn’t disturb a lot of the residue and it gave us our best corn last year of any of our fields. I think we’re going to look at doing more of that especially following beans.”
Shoup spent many years serving Ohio’s pork industry in various capacities in the Ohio Pork Council, including president. In his different roles, Shoup has participated in food bank donations, media interviews, and lobbying trips. He has hosted tours on the farm to highlight the good work of Ohio’s pork industry and he has served on various committees and task forces at the state and national levels. He is the recipient of the Pork Industry Excellence Award that will be presented at the 2024 Ohio Pork Congress in Lima.
“I got involved in the Ohio Pork Council at Dick Isler’s coaxing back in 2010 and served on the board for about 12 years until 2022. I think it’s good for all of us to give back to the industry that supports us on the state and national levels,” he said. “I feel good about the leadership that we have at the state and national levels. I think we have some pretty talented people working on our behalf. The checkoff and SIP monies are well invested back into the swine industry. There is no way that somebody like me in Wayne County could take on all these groups that are out there trying to destroy our industry and take away our right to farm. We need a collective voice — that’s what’s going to give us the best chance to survive and build this industry for the future.”