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How to Dispose of Pigs If ASF Hits

It won't be pretty.

If African swine fever (ASF) hits your farm, it’s a given that your pigs will have to be destroyed whether you have just a few hogs or thousands. Exactly how that will be carried out is being discussed as part of a four-day exercise that Iowa and 13 other states are participating in with the USDA.

They’re roleplaying scenarios of an ASF outbreak in the U.S. and what the response would be to trace, contain, and eradicate the disease as quickly as possible.

One thing is for sure. There is no single solution for pig depopulation and carcass disposal in the wake of an ASF outbreak.

Sherrie Webb is the director of animal welfare for the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. She says every farm is different. Solutions and resources will depend on many factors.

“It’s not always based on size,” she says. “It could be based on geographic location, the phase of production that is on that site, the number of animals, the type of animals that you have, the human resources, the barn design. All of those things factor into what is the best option for your site.”

What is Allowed

The American Veterinary Medical Association published their guidelines for depopulation earlier this year. All current methods of euthanasia are acceptable. Webb says there are other options that the AVMA will allow under constrained circumstances:

-Sodium nitrite, which is an oral toxicant being tested for feral swine control.

-Ventilation shutdown plus. The “plus” is the addition of a gas such as carbon dioxide, and/or turning up the heat.

-Gunshots

-Concussive force on the brain

-Electrocution

State officials would work with the producer and the USDA to determine the best plan of action for that specific farm.

Handling carcass disposal while considering the environmental impact is the next step. Ideally, the deadstock would be disposed of on-site, but that’s not always a possibility. Some farms are suitable for burial, some for composting, others are not. Webb says it depends on the environmental factors in that geographic location.

The USDA has recently put out a new carcass disposal management dashboard resource for producers. It lists many types of disposal methods, their pros and cons, and includes a worksheet that farmers can use to help determine what might work the best for them.

A Farmer’s Perspective of Depop and Disposal

Josh Crouch is the environmental manager of Cactus Family Farms in Osceola, Iowa, with 3,500-4,000 sows on-site. He is taking part in the roleplaying exercise from the perspective of a pork producer. Crouch says it’s going to come down to following environmental rules and regulations on top of what’s ethically right.

“We’ve brainstormed if x-amount of pigs die, how can we get rid of that, on top of can we get rid of the manure, how do we get rid of the manure, how do you kill the virus once it’s in the manure, can you even move the manure? I don’t think anybody has any full answers,” says Crouch.

Deceased pigs at Cactus Family Farms are composted in bays. To do the job, the compost needs to heat up to a certain temperature. The ASF virus is a hearty one but at high enough temperatures it can be inactivated.  A big question is, will a compost pile get hot enough for long enough to kill the ASF virus? And if there are mass quantities of composted pigs, how do you keep the infected material contained?

These are just some of the questions being worked through during this exercise.

Mike King is the director of science communications with the National Pork Board. He says everyone participating in the drill is engaged and wanting to learn from one another.

“Obviously there are many and will be many unknowns during an actual foreign animal disease event, but it’s about being as prepared as you can be,” says King. “A drill can only take you so far but what we’ve learned over the last 13-14 months since the China break with ASF is hopefully you wake up every morning and you’re just a little more prepared than you were the day before. So, it’s literally a continuous process of learning, improving, and a big part of that is finding out what you don’t know.”

King says to farmers, don’t get frustrated.

“Should an event ever occur, we’re going to be okay. We’ll be as prepared as we can be.”

He encourages pork producers to be signed up with the Secure Pork Supply plan and ready to go at the farm level.

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