EMMETSBURG - According to Dave Stender, an Iowa State University swine specialist based out of the Clay County Extension office, owner/operators of their own swine herds have the best chance to keep swine diseases at bay, especially the virulent porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.
"Owner operators," Stender said, "have skin in the game.
"They do their own hauling and they really care."
He said integrated pork companies are at higher risk of catching diseases in their operations.
"If you have 10 employees," Stender said, "and only nine are serious about biosecurity, it does you no good."
PED virus is not easy to keep out of an operation.
"All it takes is a bit of contaminated bedding to fall off the chute," Stender said, "then step on it and take it inside, and it's over."
It's over, that is, if the virus gets into the farrowing units, where PED is virtually 100 percent lethal to pigs not yet weaned.
Older pigs can tolerate the virus as it goes through their system, although it will set them behind their feed schedule.
"The guys who have upped their security," Stender said, "have also reduced their exposure to PRRS.
"The number of PRRS cases is way down this winter."
PRRS is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, which generally results in mild to severe lesions in lungs and pneumonia typically develops.
As of March 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated PED has killed 5 million pigs nationwide since its U.S. outbreak 11 months ago, 1.2 million in January alone.
This constitutes an estimated 3 percent of the anticipated 2014 pork supply. Pork futures are climbing as a result.
North Iowa pork producer Pat Joyce, of Emmetsburg, has managed to duck the ravages of PED in several farrowing units.
Joyce said his company's farrowing units have been PED-free through the worst infections created by the extreme cold temperatures this winter.
"We take ownership," Joyce said, "of every step of biosecurity."
He said the company's protocols for herd health safety have been in place since 2008 and are under constant review.
"This is a highly hog-dense area," Joyce said, "so PRRS is always a threat.
"What weighs on my mind is controlling disease. The same controls for PED controls PRRS."
Kerber's security measures include;
Filtering incoming air into hog buildings.
Exact tracking of people and animal movements.
Drivers stay in the truck or the trailer, never stepping onto the farm
Kerber mixes its own feed and uses no animal byproducts for farrowing hogs.
In 2008, Kerber built a truck wash for its vehicles on the west side of Emmetsburg. On one side vehicles are washed and on the other they are "baked" to kill any bacteria or virus that survives the wash.
"Health management is a complicated topic," Joyce said. "But the question in precautionary measures is, where do you stop?
"We know all viruses can't be avoided. You have to identify the critical factors and execute well, but you can't lead people to be paralyzed. They still have jobs to do."
Kerber contracts with Pipestone Veterinary Clinic, in Pipestone, Minn., as a third-party monthly monitoring of its biosecurity and building maintenance needs.
This creates awareness, Joyce said, showing how the company is executing its measures, where more training or resources are needed.
"It's a continuous improvement process," Joyce said.
He complimented the managers and employees saying, "their focus and execution makes (being PED-free so far) possible."