Even the best animal caretakers have room to improve if they look with an eye toward animal well-being. To assist you, the National Pork Board has introduced its new checkoff-funded on-farm Swine Welfare Assurance Program this month.

As Anna Johnson, NPB’s animal welfare director, points out, SWAP is organized to address production in two phases: 1) Gilts, sows, boars and neonatal piglets; 2) nursery and finisher pigs

The program begins by certifying educators through a training-and-testing program. These individuals must meet certain educational standards and have recent practical experience in swine production to even enroll.

The criteria to become a certified SWAP educator are strict. Individuals must:

  • Be a veterinarian, Extension specialist or agricultural educator (defined as someone who works full time in adult education or 50 percent of their time in production training);
  • Have a bachelor of science degree in animal science or equivalent, and;
  • Have two years of recent documentable swine production experience. 
    The next step is for producers to sign up for the program, which Johnson notes, has many advantages.
  • It provides a voluntary, uniform tool to maintain market availability or open up new markets for your product.
  • It can help you evaluate, benchmark and track animal performance and welfare over time. It also works to identify weaknesses in management, nutrition or health programs before they become problems. This often results in cost savings and/or improved productivity.
  • It demonstrates your commitment to your animals’ welfare.

“The producer plays a critical role in the success of a SWAP assessment,” says Michelle Michalak, DVM, Maria Stein Animal Clinic, Maria Stein, Ohio. “You need to have an open mind and be ready to learn.”

Before you sign up for SWAP, you will need to have the following items available and organized:

  • Production records.
  • Written animal-health treatment policies and records.
  • Written euthanasia policies and records.
  • Staff-training policies.
  • Any other standard operating procedures conducted within the operation.

Another task is to have a list of your operation’s biosecurity policies, pig inventory, employees, herd veterinarian and a diagram of facility layouts. Also provide employee names who have obtained Pork Quality Assurance Level III status.

Plan to have all of your employees and family members who work in the swine production areas available during the visit.

Once on site, the educator will review your records, operational procedures, pig facilities and the pigs themselves. Specific to the facility, the educator will evaluate the ventilation, heating and cooling capabilities; pen space; equipment and pen maintenance; water flow and availability; feeder space and the use of a hospital pen.

The pigs are evaluated for lameness, abscesses, wounds, scratches, body condition, behavior and social contact. In addition, producers need to be able to demonstrate that they observe all of their pigs on a daily basis.

Keep in mind, the educator is there to observe everyday operations. Therefore, to get an accurate assessment, it’s better not to change your daily routine.

Try to ask questions while the educator is on site. For instance, you may have questions about euthanasia, handling, moving or vaccination policies. It’s the educator’s job to identify both strengths and weaknesses in regards to animal well-being on your operation. Once the assessment is complete, the educator will hold an exit meeting and help you make any necessary changes.

Even though SWAP is a voluntary assessment – not a mandatory audit – it’s the right thing to do, says Michalak. It’s always useful to gain insight and ideas on what to monitor.

For more information on SWAP, contact Johnson at (515) 223-2600 or e-mail her at anna.johnson@porkboard.org