Moving pigs from point A to point B is an increasing part of your daily routine. Fact is, the U.S. pork industry moves pigs all over the place, sometimes more than once during their growth cycle. Making sure that you don’t move unwanted hitchhikers, such as viruses, bacteria and more, along with those pigs must be a priority.

Certainly, washing and disinfecting trailers, and the resulting downtime, take a slice out of your productivity. But cutting corners can be costly in the long run. If you think of the associated time and expense as insurance against a disease outbreak, it’s easier to justify budgeting for transport biosecurity. Of course, each producer must determine his own cost/benefit for this vital practice based on potential loss. 

Everyone involved in pork production, including producers, veterinarians and transporters must maintain a biosecurity mindset as it relates to moving pigs. Here are some recommendations to help emphasize that mindset and tighten up your transport biosecurity system.

Start by evaluating your current vehicle protocols involving all animal transport trailers, feed delivery and other trucks entering the premises. After evaluating traffic flow for each vehicle, establish a biosecurity perimeter or a clean/dirty line. Draw up maps if necessary, and diagram where workers and certain vehicles can go and where they must stop. Provide drivers with clear instructions on where they are allowed within the site. Establish traffic patterns for other traffic such as mail-delivery vehicles and service providers, and designate routes that your drivers will take when hauling pigs. Personnel should use foot dips and protective clothing prior to entering the premises.

Next, determine your current compliance level and where improvement is needed. Work closely with the trucking company, schedulers, drivers and load crews. Specify the cleanliness expectations for trailers entering your operation. To ensure the best return on your biosecurity investment, focus on the highest risk areas. For example, in breed-to-wean, breed-to-finish, continuous-flow or sow units it pays to spend more time and devote more to your trailer-washing budget than in an all-in/all-out system.

Establish biosecurity protocols for equipment and facilities used in the animal loading and transport process. “For chutes and load-out areas we like to have them covered and bird-proofed,” says Bob Thompson, a veterinarian with PIC. “We establish a clean/dirty line and have one-way gates so that an animal cannot re-enter the farm once it has passed beyond a specified point.”

Once on the road, PIC’s drivers are encouraged to avoid certain traffic routes and rest stops where other pig traffic might increase the disease-exposure risk — even if it means extra miles.  

Before incoming animals arrive, review operating procedures and cleanliness expectations with those delivering pigs to your operation. Be sure your staff and drivers have a clear understanding of loading and unloading protocols, and post them so they are clearly visible prior to entering protected areas. Make them bilingual if necessary. Then monitor the process as you go.

Trailer Washing: The Foundation

Effective trailer washing is a crucial step to improving a transport biosecurity program. “The basics are to ensure trailer cleanliness but also to make trailers easy to clean,” Thompson says. “Disinfecting and thorough drying have been the biggest advantages for us, and they are areas that we emphasize.”

Reduce areas in trailers where manure and debris can build up. Sliding doors on trailers reduce debris build-up in roller tracks found with overhead doors, and they make cleaning easier and faster, according to Thompson. With some minor alterations, you can make equipment easier to clean. For example, close off ends of tubular structures and drill small holes on the ramps between steps or ridges to allow drainage. 

There are several points to consider in selecting truck washes. Avoid truck washes that require backing into the stall and pulling out into the same area where dirty trailers are parked. Ideally, trucks should be able to pull all the way through after being washed, exiting on the clean side. Look for facilities that are kept neat and clean, and that wash and disinfect the bay between trailers. Heated bays are necessary in the winter for adequate cleaning and drying.

Organic material such as straw collected after a trailer is cleaned should be disposed of in an area away from the washing facility, with a barrier between it and the clean area.

During the washing process, pay close attention to corners, ramps, door hinges, ceiling braces and around light fixtures. Don’t neglect washing and disinfecting boots and coveralls as well as any equipment such as sorting boards that came in contact with animals, manure or debris. (For more truck and trailer washing information, click here.)

Disinfectants play a vital role, as well. “Two disinfectants, Synergize and Virkon, have repeatedly shown to be superior in sanitizing trailers,” according to Scott Dee, DVM, University of Minnesota. “Foam helps the disinfectant solution adhere to surfaces and can increase efficacy.” 

Freezing temperatures can reduce the disinfectants’ effectiveness, he warns. “However, you can preserve the activity in cold weather by using windshield washer solution or 10 percent propylene glycol-water solution as your diluents to help maintain disinfectant activity.”

Try Baking a Trailer

To tighten biosecurity and ensure compliance, many farms operate their own washing facilities. Perry Harms, a veterinarian with Smithfield Foods, Roanoke Rapids, N.C., shares some of the company’s trailer-cleaning protocols.

After thoroughly washing with a foaming cleaner and de-greaser, the trailers are parked on a slope to encourage complete draining. “Draining is an important part of the trailer-cleaning process,” Harms says. “Drying is another key component.”

Dee’s research shows the benefit in trailer drying. “We have learned that virus is not preserved in dry trailers,” he says. After thorough washing and disinfection, “if you get that trailer dry, through heating or forced-air movement, it is very effective at killing virus,” he adds.

The entire Smithfield trailer-washing process takes place at a dedicated facility, which includes a specialized structure for a step that includes “baking” the trailer. “Trailer baking results in a decreased risk of transmitting porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus during the transportation process,” Harms says.

This involves exposing empty trailers that have been cleaned, disinfected and thoroughly drained, to high heat levels — 142° F for 10 minutes.  Circulating fans help disperse the heat during the baking process.

Trailer baking is gaining attention as more producers work to improve biosecurity and reduce PRRS transmission. Plus, the practice has additional benefits: “Using a baker reduces our downtime between hog loads,” Harms says.

Crew Compliance is Crucial

To help ensure success, emphasize the importance of transport biosecurity to the wash crew. Be diligent in your orientation and training programs. Make sure the wash crew knows exactly what is required for an acceptable job, and don’t be afraid to reject an unsatisfactory trailer. “But also, don’t be afraid to tell them they have done a good job when they have,” says Ron White, senior veterinarian, Pfizer Animal Health.

Be especially watchful for lapses such as inadequate washing, disinfection and drying; breaches of clean/dirty areas; contaminated equipment; or encroachment of unauthorized personnel into clean areas. “Do spot inspections and vary your inspection times,” White says.

Farm staff must determine if an arriving trailer is clean enough to allow its use. Dedicate one individual to monitor and enforce biosecurity protocols; it can increase compliance.

If you use dedicated transport vehicles to move animals within your system, everyone involved must be informed and understand his responsibility. “If you have an internal truck that goes to a maintenance shop that also works on other commercial vehicles, you will need to follow standard operating procedures before returning that vehicle to internal duty,” White says.

For more ways to improve your transport biosecurity plan, check out the National Pork Board’s publication Biosecurity Guide for Pork Producers.

With so much at stake, it’s worth your time and attention to improve your transport biosecurity. With these steps and close attention and commitment, you can “just say no” to unwanted hitchhikers.

Focus on the Basics

Trailer washing and sanitation provide the foundation to improve your transport biosecurity plan. You can start by ensuring that dirty trailers are kept outside of your biosecurity perimeter.

Remove all organic debris from the vehicle such as manure, mud, snow, ice and straw, as it can contain high contamination levels.

Start on the top decks and work down. Using brushes, shovels or scrapers, remove all built-up mud, bedding and debris. Ensure that sidewalls, gates and other elevated areas are free of debris before turning your attention to the trailer floors. Also make sure that material is removed from the ramps and gates by thoroughly scraping and brushing.

On the outside of the trailer, remove organic material from the wheels, wheel wells, mud flaps and tires where deposits can build up.

Next, spray a foaming cleaner/degreaser inside and outside of the trailer, covering the ceiling, sides and floors. Starting at the bottom and working up can help prevent streaking caused by the detergent running through dirty surfaces below. 

Make sure all equipment in the storage compartments is removed and thoroughly cleaned. Then wash out the compartment itself. Allow the cleaner to remain in contact with surfaces according to the manufacturer’s recommendations before rinsing from the top down with clean water. The wash crew should wear personal-protective devices such as respirators and eye protection.

Apply disinfectant at the manufacturer’s recommended rate starting at the top and moving down, paying close attention to covering all surfaces. Disinfect all storage compartments and the contents. Leave the disinfectant solution in contact with surfaces according to manufacturer’s recommendations.

Don’t neglect the cab interior. Remove and clean all floor mats and any equipment that’s been in contact with animals or debris. Also, thoroughly clean foot pedals and all interior surfaces with disinfecting solution.

Remember, if you start the transport process with a clean trailer, it will be easier to clean next time.