Overall health of pigs improving every year, says sow management clinic

VMC manages 39,000 sows in Iowa and Missouri.

In a stressful year for pig farmers, one trend in the right direction is herd health, says swine veterinarian Keith Aljets (right), VMC Management, Williamsburg, Iowa. VMC veterinarians Aljets, Nicolas Rippel, and Brian Bishop manage 39,000 sows in eastern Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri for independent producers. “Overall, on a year-to-year basis, the health of our farms improves,” says Aljets. “We are consistently using fewer antibiotics on pigs.” 

There are still issues, especially in the winter when PED and PRRS flare-up, he says. Influenza A is prevalent this fall on farms, “but as a whole, we continue to see improvement in the health of pigs on a yearly basis.” 

The swine industry has done a tremendous job in improving the welfare standards on sow farms, says Aljets. He has been managing large farms since 1998. “It’s amazing how much time we have spent on training people to do the right thing,” he says.  

The biggest change in 2020, he says, is heightened biosecurity regarding pigs and also people in the wake of COVID-19. Measures were already in use on farms, but now movements are even more strict.  VMC has been incorporating the use of cameras to monitor high biosecurity risk areas on farms.  This footage is used to ensure best practices are being followed and also to train new staff members. 

Staged loadouts are an important change, says Aljets. There are defined places where people can move. The farm staff bring animals to the red line of the staging area, and a staged middleman, so to speak, moves them up the chute to the back of the semi. If you are the person in the chute, moving pigs to the trailer/semi, you can’t go back in the sow farm. The door threshold of the farm is the red line.  

“Trailers are one of the biggest biosecurity problems we have in the business,” explains Aljets. “We are always trying to put more layers of insurance between the back of the trailer and the pig farm.”

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