Are you ready to demonstrate that “you care” as part of the industry’s “We Care” program? For anyone who’s completed the Pork Quality Assurance Plus educational certification, the next level is the PQA Plus Site Assessment. 

This on-farm assessment is an educational tool to objectively review the well-being of your pigs. The assessment is independent of housing type and operation size, and it will cover the 12 principles related to Good Production Practices. It will concentrate on three areas: records, animals and facilities.

The first step is to locate a PQA Plus Advisor; you can find a list for your area at www.pork.org or call the Pork Checkoff Service Center at (800) 456-PORK. The adviser can either conduct the assessment or provide the appropriate training so that you can conduct a self-assessment.

Plan to commit at least one to three hours to an on-site assessment; it will depend on the size and type of your farm and how prepared you are. There is no fee for the PQA Plus program but many veterinarians, consultants and Extension personnel do charge for this service, so a charge ranging from nothing to $400 may be required, depending on your adviser.

Sites are defined by your National Premises Identification Number; if you have not already registered your farm you will need to do so, which is done at the state level. Do this before contacting your PQA Plus Advisor.

Plan the sequence of your assessment so that the flow through your facilities will not compromise biosecurity. Also, make sure that all of the people involved in animal care on your farm are available.  Lastly, gather and organize your records for the assessment review.

Five of the 12 Good Practices are evaluated through your records. You need documentation that demonstrates a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship, 12 months of medication-treatment records and documentation of animal-caretaker training. Documentation of training can be as simple as a calendar notation that you showed employees the proper procedures or as advanced as a receipt for attending a workshop. 

You need an emergency support plan that, at minimum, is a written action plan providing names and phone numbers for use in emergencies. The adviser also will want to see 12 months of daily animal observation records. These should include dates, the caretaker’s name or initials and building identification.  

A completed, written animal euthanasia plan is a must. If you have not already done this, review the booklet “On-Farm Euthanasia of Swine” from the National Pork Board. The booklet’s back cover is designed as a form to outline a plan and can be detached to use for your records.

A document that you will not have in hand is a record of a PQA Plus Site Assessment within the past three years; but of course, that’s what you’re establishing.

A walk-through of your farm will complete the rest of the assessment. The adviser will determine how many animals to assess using a statistical process based on pig size, housing type and farm inventory. Having that basic information ready, along with a diagram of the farm’s layout, will help greatly.

The adviser will evaluate the sample pigs’ body condition on a standard 1-to-5 score as a primary evaluation of well-being. If more than 3 percent of growing pigs or 1 percent of the breeding herd have body condition scores of 1 (emaciated), the adviser will work with you to develop an action plan to improve body condition. Lameness, production performance, behavior and skin lesions also are indicators of pig well-being that the advisor will observe.

He or she will determine whether the pigs have adequate body space. The PQA Plus program defines this as a pig being able to easily lie down fully onto its side (full lateral recumbency), without having to lie on another pig, and easily stand up. Additionally, a pig housed in a stall must be able to lie down fully on its side without its head having to rest on a raised feeder and its rear quarters coming in contact with the back of the stall; 90 percent or more of the animals should meet this requirement.

The adviser will determine if your facilities are in good repair and appropriate for the production stage. The condition of flooring, fencing and equipment will be assessed, along with feeder space and water availability for the animals.

The adviser will look at how pigs are handled and moved on your farm, with the Transport Quality Assurance Program providing the standards. The adviser also will look at the type of equipment used, its availability and condition. 

Air temperature and quality can impact pigs’ well-being and an initial assessment will be based on the pigs’ thermoregulatory behavior. Do they huddle together for warmth? Do they have high respiration rates? Likewise, air quality will be initially assessed based on the pigs’ physical signs — watery eyes or difficulty breathing. If there is a question about either temperature or air quality the adviser will follow up with thermometer and/or ammonia readings. (Time-weighted ammonia measures should not exceed 25 ppm.)

Finally, the adviser will assess willful acts of abuse. These are any acts outside of normally accepted production practices that intentionally cause pain and suffering to the pigs, including hitting or purposefully failing to provide feed and water. Any acts of abuse are unacceptable.

I hope that you see the PQA Plus Site Assessment as an opportunity for you to provide documentation that you are doing the right things on your farm. Your pigs’ well-being is important to you and your customers; this program allows you to demonstrate that commitment. Join the other pork producers who have already completed a PQA Plus Site Assessment by scheduling an appointment soon.