January 28, 2021

Knox: Breeding herd biosecurity

A recent discussion with someone not familiar with pig production and commercial breeding facilities led to questions after I had mentioned that it was necessary for us to take a shower at the pig facility before we entered.

This confused the person quite a bit since he must have realized that a person was more likely to get smelly after being inside and around the pigs. But, as I explained, the point of the “shower in” was to prevent viruses and bacteria from entering and causing diseases in the pigs.

And, yes, I also explained “showering out” of a pig facility was also important, not only to help eliminate the smell, but also to prevent microbes from inside the facility from being transferred by people to other farm locations or home.

In modern-day pork production systems, biosecurity is an integral process used to control and limit the spread of diseases among pigs, from people to pigs and from pigs to people.

There are few topics more important in the world right now than biosecurity and health. The global COVID-19 pandemic has had tremendous impact on human health and how the workforce functions on a day to day basis.

Many of the changes to our daily lives to minimize the risk and spread of COVID-19, have included testing, quarantine, isolation, distancing, masks and handwashing. It is not surprising that these are also some of the key elements for a swine biosecurity program.

Over many years, the pig industry has battled to prevent entry of certain diseases into herds that would have devastating consequences to food production, business sustainability and employment.

At the present time, the global outbreaks of African swine fever pose such serious risks that prevention from entry into to a country and eradication of infected animals in positive countries are the only viable options.

Other viral diseases such as PED and PRRS can have short- and long-term consequences on the health and production capability for the herd. These diseases can spread quickly and can enter via multiple pathways when breakdowns in biosecurity occur.

After many years of learning and adapting, the industry has identified best production practices for minimizing disease entry into production farms. Critical in this approach has been sharing information, support of research and involvement of veterinarians for managing animal and herd health.

The national and state pork associations and many commercial companies have supported and championed measures for quantifying, assessing and improving the health of the animals.

Most producers know that one of the greatest risks for disease entry into a herd comes when bringing in new pigs from outside genetic suppliers. For this reason, veterinary involvement in assessing the source herd health and quarantine and acclimation of the new animals are critical steps for new animal entry.

People entering a facility also pose a very high risk. For this reason, car and truck traffic outside the facility and how, when and where people enter the facility is regulated.

Most breeding facilities control or restrict vehicle movement patterns on or around the facility. The biggest risk in this scenario comes from the tires and vehicles transporting microbes in the manure, bedding other biological material on to the farm paths.

For personnel, most breeding farms restrict unauthorized persons from entering and require authorized staff to have been away from other pigs for 24 to 48 hours, remove shoes and clothes worn outside the facility, shower inside the facility and wear clean clothes provided and worn only inside that facility. Further, any equipment or supplies must be disinfected or sterilized before entry.

Collectively, these and other procedures have been successful in preventing disease entry into many farms and contribute to improving herd health.

It is clear that an effective herd health program for modern commercial pork operations requires a true team effort as people are the critical element at each step in the biosecurity system.

Rob Knox is a University of Illinois Extension swine specialist.