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Keeping Up with ottenwalter Showpigs
PEDv and its Impact on us
Here at Ottenwalter Show Pigs, as we heard all of the stories this winter about show pig farms breaking with PEDv, we decided from the start that we weren't going to deal with this virus. We invested in half a dozen foaming mats, a fifty-gallon barrel of Synergize, hundreds of pairs of disposable coveralls, and thousands of plastic boots. We cut down farm traffic to a bare minimum, hung bio security signs all over the premises, and made our customers park a hundred yards away from the nearest barn. At our February 22nd Pig Sale, we watered down our driveway with Synergize and made every single person sanitize their shoes and hands, and then put on plastic boots just for good measure. We stayed away from livestock shows and the sale yard. We made sure none of the feed we were buying contained porcine blood plasma, and we avoided buying semen from boar studs affected by PED. In our mind, we did everything we possibly could to avoid contracting the virus. Yet somehow, some way, it made its way onto our premises. How it did, we truly have no idea. As I write this, our farm is nearly two weeks into our break with PEDv and it has been an exhausting and somewhat depressing month to say the least.
I was working late one evening doing some computer work, and before heading home I thought I would run through the farrowing rooms and check on sows due to farrow. Upon entering our newest farrowing barn, I was immediately stricken by an unusually foul smell. As I looked in at each of the nine litters in that room, all of the pigs were sopping wet with scours and some were vomiting. Most of the scours within the room were watery and whitish-clear in color, although some were an off-yellow. I knew right then and there that we had failed in our effort to keep PEDv off of our farm. The next morning, I did all of the other chores on the farm in different clothes and shoes than I had on the night before, before entering the infected barn. Myself and my boss, Mark, entered the barn with coveralls, plastic boots, plastic gloves, and masks on. Although we weren't certain which other areas of the farm had been exposed, we weren't taking any chances of spreading it further. We took some rectal swab samples to send to the lab at Iowa State and tried to dry off the pigs the best we could. Then we got on the phone and put a plan together with our consulting veterinarians.
For those reading this who have been fortunate enough to avoid the virus, I would strongly recommend investing in some Re-Sorb and Blue lite electrolytes, just to have on hand in case of a break. We broke with PED on a Friday, so it was very difficult to get the supplies we needed until UPS could bring them to us the following Monday. That day we bought up all of the Re-Sorb we could find within a 60 mile radius of our farm. I would also recommend keeping a couple of bottles of gentamycin on your shelves, as we went through several bottles in a matter of days after the break. Four-Star Veterinary Service was very helpful to us, as not only did they have the products we needed, but also they were very knowledgeable and familiar with what we needed to do and how we needed to use those products. We went ahead and weaned seven of the nine litters in that particular farrowing room, ranging in age from nine to fifteen days old. We left the two three-day old litters on the sows, but took away their supplemental milk and replaced with Re-Sorb. We could not believe how much Re-Sorb the pigs drank! Seventy baby pigs drank gallons and gallons for several days, as we tried to introduce them to feed. It seemed like it took forever for their scours to subside -- in fact, some of these original pigs to break with PED were still scouring twelve days after their break. Another challenge we faced was keeping the scouring pigs warm. Since they were so wet from scours, they would all just pile up on top of each other. We set our nursery temperature to 90 degrees and placed mats over the grate flooring with heat lamps on them. The pigs still piled on the mats shivering, and we found ourselves constantly flipping the mats over to expose the dry side for the poor pigs. Finally, we found the pelleted shavings product that we use called Dry Den to be extremely helpful in keeping the pigs dry. We just sprinkled it on the mats and it helped to dry things out and keep the pigs warm.
Through strict farm bio security, we were able to keep the virus out of one of our other farrowing barns that had an even younger set of pigs in it for six days. Once that barn broke, we started the whole process over again, this time weaning five to twelve day old pigs and we left two litters of one and two-day old pigs on the sows. Between both farrowing barns, we've managed to keep our death loss at 13 total pigs out of about 120 head. Our consulting veterinarian believes that we may have contracted the "weaker" strain of PEDv since our death loss has been so minimal.
On the morning of Day 3 into our break, we decided to go ahead and infect the entire farm. The method we used worked extremely well. While we were weaning the infected baby pigs, we held them over a bucket and gently pressed their abdomens. This left us with quite a bit of watery fecal material, which we added water to and then filtered to get all of the solid matter out. We then put that liquid into spray bottles and sprayed every sow's nose with it on the entire farm. To infect our pens of growing pigs, we took the rubber mats out of our farrowing crates and sprayed them with this solution, and then threw the mats into their pens. One observation we found very interesting was it seemed like it took two full days between the time of exposure and the onset of symptoms for our sows, whereas it took one day or even less for the growing pigs to show symptoms. For those who are wondering, the symptoms are not easy to miss. As we walked through the barns during those few days, essentially every animal on the farm was either scouring, vomiting, or both -- sows and little pigs alike. We paid special attention to our sows who were closest to farrowing, and made sure we saw symptoms. There were several we had to re-expose to make sure they had contracted the virus. By this point, nearly all of our growing pigs were scouring badly, and many of the pens throughout the barns looked pretty worse for wear. We purchased two additional water medicators and got them set up throughout the barns. We ran one 2 lb. package of blue lite per gallon of stock solution through the medicators, and in addition we added 128cc/gallon of gentamycin. The pigs went through this rather quickly and it seemed to help quite a bit. As the days went by, we continued to work our tails off making sure all the animals on the farm were taken care of, being most attentive to the young pigs on the sows and in the nurseries. After a week or more, most of the scouring subsided, and as I write this two weeks later there remains only a handful of pigs on the farm that still have some scouring.
Our next task at hand was to make a couple very important decisions: 1) How and when do we start letting our customers and peers within the industry know about our break, and 2) What do we do about the twelve show pigs the Ottenwalter grand kids had on feed for the NJSA Western Regional coming up in three weeks? For us, decision number one was far easier to make than the latter. We have always believed in being "up front" with people in this business, and in regards to PED we believe that trait has become more important than ever. We began spreading the word and also developed an announcement that we posted to both our website and our Facebook page. Both of our consulting veterinarians believed it would be safe to go ahead with our April 6th Show Pig Sale as scheduled, providing we communicate well with our customers and also offer to house any of their purchases until a negative PED test could be provided, should they so desire. To our delight, many of our customers have been pleased to learn the animals they will be purchasing are now going to come with the added benefit of immunity for the upcoming show season. However, we still had a very tough call to make: Do we attend the Western Regional with the Ottenwalter grand kids' projects? At this point, their twelve show pigs had been off site at our isolation show facility three miles away, where the kids had been feeding and working with them. To our knowledge none of those hogs exhibited any symptoms of PED, and they were easily the best set of show gilts and barrows we had ever put together for that event. Furthermore, it was Makayla's first year showing (she is five years old) and both her and Lexi had put months of hard work and effort into their projects. After consulting some our closest friends within the industry and after much debate among our entire crew at Ottenwalter Show Pigs, we decided it best to stay home. Should any of our show string have any exposure to the virus, we did not want to be responsible for sharing it with others. More importantly, whether they had exposure to the virus or not, the last thing we wanted to be was a poor example to others who may not have fully understood our situation. After our decision, my boss Mark told me hauling those beautiful show gilts out to our isolation gilt pool was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do. I agreed completely.
In closing, it has no doubt been an interesting year in the show pig business that so far, has come with more than its fair share of disappointments. But on a more optimistic note, I am here to tell you that PED is not the end of the world. Through diligence and hard work we've kept our losses to a bare minimum, and if someone were to come visit the farm today without knowing our situation, there would be no visual indication that anything ever went wrong. There's no question there remains much to be learned about this virus and how it's going to affect the way we raise hogs. However, I believe the biggest obstacle we face in the show pig industry, especially here in California, is the level of responsibility we take as both breeders and as exhibitors at events. For me, it has been very interesting to note the actions of others within the industry and quite honestly I have been very disappointed in those of some. Breeders- let's step up and be positive examples for our youth buying and exhibiting show pigs. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of PEDv and if you are not sure about your own status, have your animals tested. Hogs that are positive and in the shedding phase of the virus should not go to shows or be sold to unknowing buyers until they are confirmed negative. I realize there are many families out there who have a lot invested into their kids' show animals. I can assure you the breeders of those show animals have even more invested and far more to lose. Please don't misunderstand my message -- I'm all for showing pigs, as that's the business we're in and why we do what we do. However, knowingly "sharing" PED with others would not only be morally wrong, but it benefits nobody in the long run. If we can all do our best to act responsibly and to inform everyone - breeders and youth exhibitors alike, our chances of keeping this virus under control will be much greater. Then we can get back to showing hogs.