Producers Hear How Health Schemes Can Benefit Their Business

Pig farmers who attended an interactive forum entitled 'Latest developments in pig health' at the British Pig and Poultry Fair heard about two new pig health schemes and how they can help producers, writes Jackie Linden, editor of ThePigSite.
calendar icon 28 May 2010
clock icon 8 minute read

'Latest developments in pig health' was the theme of a forum for pig producers held at the British Pig and Poultry Fair held earlier this month. They heard about the schemes from the point of view of farmers, veterinarians and the allied industries.

Producer's Perspective

Pig producer and steering group member of Yorkshire and Humberside Health (YHH) explained that the scheme started in April 2009 as a joint project between British Pig Executive (BPEX), Yorkshire Forward and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The aim of the project, he explained, was to improve the network of communication between producers in order to share information on health status to allow producers to make better business decisions, as well as to improve diagnostics for better and more sustainable health planning. A third aim was to focus on enhancing biosecurity for the long-term future of pig production in the region.

The steering group comprises producers, vets and allied trades. YHH covers a wide area of north and north-east England, and it soon became apparent that it included a wide variation in production systems. The first stage was to set up a mapping database to identify where the pigs were kept in the region, which was achieved using a number of different databases.

In the region of Mr Lister's business – C.J. Lister Farms – there were several farms that joined together as a 'cluster' to share information.

The great majority of the producers in the YHH region wanted to focus on swine dysentery, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and enzootic pneumonia.

So far, Mr Lister said that there have been six regional meetings since the autumn of last year, and three pilot clusters have been set up, based in Mappleton, Boroughbridge and Melbourne. In December, a meeting with more than 60 participants was held, included the allied industries and it received strong support from veterinarians.

Mr Lister explained that he became involved in YHH because he believes in the establishment of high-health farming, and he wanted to be part of the pilot for other regions and clusters. He sees the advantages to his business as improved animal welfare, reduced mortality, lower medicine usage, improved robustness of his stock, a lower risk of disease transmission through enhanced biosecurity, better motivation for his staff and the potential to regionalise health status.

He sees potential funding ideas in terms of general biosecurity measures, including windbreaks, perimeter fencing, loading ramps, coordinated vaccination, off-site finishing costs, vehicle disinfection facilities, shower units, visitor changing sheds, cleaning costs and additional feed costs.

Also a member of the sub-group for improving pig herd health within the Pigmeat Supply Chain Task Force, Mr Lister concluded by explaining that he has also been involved in reviewing the British Pig Health Scheme (BPHS), developing an economic model, producing biosecurity protocols, reviewing transport washing facilities, addressing smallholder issues, adopting EU-wide best practice and facilitating the efficient roll-out of regional pig health initiatives.

Veterinarian's Perspective

"Collaboration is vital in this project," said Nigel Woolfenden of Bishopton Veterinary Group who is also a member of the YHH steering group.

He explained that the important questions at the start of the project were:

  1. Where are the pigs?
  2. What diseases did we think we had?
  3. How do we know the health status of the herds?

Collaboration was important to success because enzootic pneumonia and PRRS are wind-borne and can be carried for up to five kilometres, and swine dysentery is spread by faeces and so the risk areas are new stock, shared equipment, contaminated vehicles, boots and rodents.

The role of the vets in the initiative, was firstly to review current information and recommend protocols for diagnosis, as well as to gain the co-operation and agreement of the majority of the region's vets to enlist in the survey. They also needed to validate the new sampling and diagnostic methods, test them in pilot areas and finally, compare the results with veterinary opinion.

Mr Woolfenden said that for the YHH area, the veterinary survey gave a snapshot of diseases status in the region. Before the data could be entered into the system, producers had to sign a permission form. (For those who refused, the only information entered is whether there had been a veterinary visit and if it is in pig production.)

In all, 326 farms have been entered onto the database, and 203 farms had agreed to supply complete information, he said. Of these farms, 88 are finishing only, and 86 carry out breeding and finishing, while six farmers sell 7-kg weaners, and 23 sell 30-kg weaners. The total number of animals covered by YHH was 26,000 sows and 198,000 finishing pig places. Average performance was 24.5 pigs per sow per year, with a range 21.5 to 27.7.

In the disease analysis, 139 farms were found to be positive for enzootic pneumonia, of which 90 were vaccinating and 49 were not. For those that were pneumonia-negative (63 in total), 39 were vaccinating regularly and 24 were not.

For PRRS, 137 farms were positive, 53 of which were vaccinating and 84 were not. For the 63 PRRS-negative farms, 35 were vaccinating and 28 were not.

For swine dysentery, the pattern was different as the great majority of the farms (190) were negative for the disease and only 74 use medication. Of the 12 farms that were positive for dysentery, all were using supplementary medicines.

Mr Woolfenden explained that the veterinary pilot aimed to cover a range of unit sizes and types, and anonymity was assured. For those farms that agreed to sampling, blood samples were taken from finishers at the slaughterhouse for enzootic pneumonia and PRRS, while multiple faecal swabs were taken on farm for swine dysentery, and those that are positive by PCR were submitted for culture. For those farms without finishers, colostrum samples were collected as an indication of sow immunity to these diseases, and the procedure was validated, giving a good correlation for M. hyo and PRRS, he added.

Perspective of the Allied Trades

"The allied trades were involved in the YHH initiative to strengthen the supplier/client relationship, to improve the public's perception of the industry, for a more globally competitive industry and for better biosecurity," said Angela Booth of feed company, ABN, representing the allied trades' support.

These companies felt they could help in terms of communication (with news articles, sponsorship of meetings and publicity) as well as risk reduction by improved washing facilities and biosecurity protocols, planning of delivery routes, and co-ordination of slurry spreading. Offers were made of discounted goods to encourage action, and communications were opened between business and stakeholders.

Ms Booth went on to explain how Masternaut technology employed by ABN can track vehicles constantly, ensuring that the they are regularly cleaned and rested, and allowing re-routing away from high-risk areas – actions that can ensure delivery vehicles do not spread diseases.

Pig health regions – YHH in red and EPH in blue

Eastern Pig Health

Eastern Pig Health (EPH) is a similar pig health scheme to YHH but it was set up more recently, in November 2009. It is funded by the East of England Development Agency and BPEX, explained Howard Revell, and the steering committee is chaired by Philip Richardson. The area covers the counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Local veterinarians are currently reviewing the protocols.

In contrast to YHH, EPH has agreed to focus firstly on improving biosecurity by developing a biosecurity tool, which is essentially an extension of the swine dysentery charter for producers. Producers sign up for full disclosure of the disease status. Syndromic alerts on maps alert producers to disease breakdowns and the system is interactive. Diagnostic testing is funded, and hobby farmers are included, Mr Revell added.

Producers in the region interested in joining EPH are encouraged to find out more about the terms and conditions and to sign up for the membership. Signing the disclosure form allows the vet to disclose the disease status of the farm, which can be done on-line.

Producers have full access to the information on-line, including maps giving awareness of the disease status of neighbouring farms, and other services including decision-making tools, diagnostic testing, disease alerts and advice. This transparent information will help decision-making and improve communication across the whole supply chain, said Mr Revell.

"You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from producers, allied industries, vets and BPEX all working together," he told producers, adding that further information is available at

Further Reading

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

May 2010
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