Centralia Swine Research Update - A Look Back

by 5m Editor
15 March 2011, at 12:00am

The Canadian swine industry has experienced dramatic changes in the past few decades Bob Friendship, Professor at the Department of Population Medicine in the University of Guelph told the 30th Centralia Swine Research Update.

The swine industry in Canada was dramatically different in 1982. According to the Ontario Pork Marketing Board, located in Etobicoke, there were almost 20,000 producers in the province but there were fewer than 1,000 farmers marketing over 1,000 hogs per year. In 1981, a University of Guelph (U of G) research project was started under the leadership of Mike Wilson to look at the productivity of Ontario pig farms. Roger Hacker and the author were part of the research team. The project was funded by OMAF, using funds from the provincial lottery, and was unofficially known as the ‘Wintario Project’. This was the age just before personal computers and production records were for the most part lacking. The goal of the Wintario project was to randomly select a group of farms and then to record production in order to determine what the average producer was doing. The results weren’t well received because the research revealed that productivity was poorer than expected.

The average herd size of participants (randomly selected from those who shipped more than 1,000 pigs the previous year) of the Wintario study was 115 sows, with the largest farm being a huge 380-sow farm and the smallest at 25 sows. The average number of pigs weaned per sow per year was 16.7 with a range of 12.3 to 19.6. The average days from birth-to-market was 195 days with an amazing range from an average of 154 days on the best farm to an average of 239 days on the worst. Pre-weaning mortality was about 20 per cent on most farms with E.coli diarrhoea being a major problem for newborn piglets. The injectable vaccine given to sows prior to farrowing had just been developed by Guelph researchers (Wilson and Povey, creators of Langford Labs). As part of the Wintario study some of the market hogs were followed through the abattoir and lungs and noses were assessed. Results showed that about 75 per cent of pigs had lung lesions consistent with enzootic pneumonia and 60 per cent showed evidence of atrophic rhinitis. In 1982, the vaccine for enzootic pneumonia was not yet available and the causative agent for atrophic rhinitis was just beginning to be identified. Over 10 per cent of the hogs checked at slaughter in our study had lesions of pleurisy or pleuropneumonia. The ‘big bug’ of the early 1980’s was Haemophilus, the disease we now call Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia or APP. The other major disease problems of pigs in 1982 were: mange and lice, swine dysentery, mulberry heart disease, parvovirus (SMEDI), TGE and a syndrome called ‘mastitis-metritis and agalactia’ (MMA). New diseases besides Haemophilus, that were just emerging as problems on Ontario farms included: coccidiosis, Strep suis meningitis and porcine proliferative enteropathy. There were small outbreaks of swine flu in 1981 and 1982, which was clinically something new although the presence of flu virus in the Ontario pig population had been demonstrated years earlier.

Most pigs in 1982 were housed in renovated structures, generally an old wooden bank barn, often with modern additions. It was common to find pigs housed in the original stable as well as the second floor where originally hay or straw would have been stored. These barns were difficult to properly ventilate and difficult to clean. The idea of all-in/all-out pig movement was new and not widely practiced even at the room level. For example it was not uncommon to not only have all the farrowing crates in one room but at one end of the room would likely hold weaner decks as well. Feed was almost exclusively home-mixed. Artificial insemination was only used by those in the breeding-stock supply business. Almost all commercial farms used close to 100 per cent natural breeding. One common source of replacement boars was the ROP boar test station at New Dundee, where young boars from multiple sources were housed together for months and then sold by auction. Similarly, a common source of pigs for the grower-finisher barns was sales barns. It was a time when 1,000 head modern grower-finisher barn had to source feeder pigs from farrowing operations producing 25 to 50 pigs per week so single source all-in/all-out barns were out of the question. It was no wonder that disease was a huge problem.

In 1982, at the first CSRU, the author was asked to speak about the most important disease of the day, Haemophilus. I don’t think this was because the meeting organizers considered me an expert on the subject but I suspect they thought that, as a new researcher at Guelph, I should be on the programme so that producers could see who I was. It has been a very good tradition of the meeting, to use short presentations by young researchers as a means of introducing them to the industry and giving them both recognition and practice in public speaking. The programme has always had a good mixture of ‘seasoned’ professionals and less experienced speakers, and a good mixture of applied practical talks and a few presentations that describe more basic research ideas often years from making their way to the farm.

The 30 years of CSRU proceedings are a wonderful archive of the research advances that have helped to transform the industry. I will leave it to Dr Josephson to cover some of the key highlights and important moments in the history of the Centralia meeting.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on the diseases mentioned in this article by clicking here.

March 2011