With the size and complexity of today’s swineherds, there’s not much room for guessing about what will or will not work to control disease and/or improve production efficiency, according to swine veterinarian Paul Yeske, DVM, MS.

That’s why research has become such an important aspect of pork production these days, says Yeske, a partner in Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minn. “Research is the cornerstone of making predictable improvement in herds and practices,” says Yeske. “Long term, if questions can be answered with research there will be more reliability in the decision to use these findings in a number of herds.”

Yeske made these observations in a presentation at this year’s American Association of Swine Veterinarians Annual Meeting in Kansas City.

“Practitioners have great ideas and questions every day on how to improve swine health and production for clients,” Yeske says. “However, some of these great ideas never get acted on. In some cases they become ‘fact’ without ever being tested.”

He acknowledges that research has to begin with a guess or hunch (hypothesis) before it can be followed by a series of defined procedures that will determine if the hypothesis is correct or not.

“Many times there is equal value in finding out that the original hunch was wrong before investing capital and effort into a project that will not be successful,” he says. “Research allows one to test the question before making a large scale investment.”

Veterinarians often don’t get to the research part because of the costs in time and money to fund adequate research trials, Yeske says.

Where can you obtain funding? “This is always the hard question,” answers Yeske. Usually, however, if the project answers a relevant question for the pork industry and will bring new and novel information to the forefront, you should be able to find a funding source, he adds.

“Funds can be obtained from a number of different places or can come from a combination of sources,” says Yeske. “Many of the groups that are funding projects today really like the collaborative approach. This way each party feels like they are getting more ‘bang’ for the buck.”

Potential sources
Yeske highlights the following potential sources that might be tapped by swine veterinarians for funding of proposed research trials:

New product trials. For licensing of biologics or pharmaceutical products. These are often a good source of money and education, according to Yeske. “Companies need to do field trials for new products prior to licensing. Practitioners can provide the herds for these trials and learn how to do well‑controlled quality work. “

These trials will be set up and monitored by the company. They will do the summary of the data and the statistical analysis, but it is a very good learning opportunity. This type of research allows you to learn the mechanics of running a quality trial, understand their logic and design, and see how to effectively achieve the objectives. The best part is that you get the experience and are paid for doing the work at the same time.”

Yeske says that by working with your company technical service veterinarians or other technical service representatives, you can let them know that you are interested in doing these types of trials and have herds that could be used. Once you have a rep-utation for conducting quality trials and being able to provide good data, there will be more opportunities to do company-sponsored trials.”

Minnesota swine veterinarian Paul Yeske says that research is the cornerstone of making predictable improvement in herds and practices.

Pharmaceutical and biological companies are also very interested in doing projects that demonstrate how their products can be used in the field once they are licensed, according to Yeske. “This offers them the ability to have real field experiences documented and to demonstrate the value of the company’s product.”

Yeske says that usually, for these types of projects to be funded, a prerequisite is that the information will need to be  shared with others in the industry.

When becoming involved in these research projects, developing a good economic model to go along with the trial is always a good way to help obtain funding.

“Once the project is complete, you will be able to demonstrate how to use the product and what kind of rate of return users will be able to expect.”

Yeske explains that these research trials are usually funded on applications for new products in the field, but they can also be for research trials on using existing products in a new way.

“In these types of trials, the companies will often have their own technical team that will review and help with the design and statistical interpretation of the information gained in the study. This is a good opportunity to work with these companies and to learn how to set up and run good trials. Having a good working relationship with the company technical service representative or veterinarian will help you in pursuing these types of opportunities.”

National Pork Board. This can be another good source for funding research projects, says Yeske. The National Pork Board (NPB) provides more money for applied‑type projects in the field rather than basic science questions, he says. They are generally looking for projects that are relevant to the producers in the field.

Yeske suggests checking the NPB website for information on the projects that they are funding to determine if your idea fits in the scope of what they are looking for. “They also put out calls for research proposals,” says Yeske. “These projects are evaluated by scientific reviewers with final decisions from pork producers.”

One drawback to working with NPB is the fact that its funding comes from Checkoff dollars. Because of this, the grants are only one year in duration and there is no guarantee for further research funding after the year. Yeske says that the NPB is very helpful in putting together proposals in the proper format.

Local state pork boards. Another source of funding, they will generally follow the same format as the NPB for review and funding but will be more sensitive to projects that apply specifically to their individual regions.

Farm equipment suppliers. In some cases, certain farm equipment companies have been  willing to participate in research trials. For example, Farmweld has sponsored many different on‑farm trials, Yeske says.

Nutrition companies. They usually have their own research facilities but sometimes can be another source of funding, especially if they have new products coming to market. Veterinarians can  also act as a third party verification for findings previously generated in their own company trials, according to Yeske.

“To get considered for participation in these projects, you need to have a good working relationship with the technical staff in the company and show how your work will help them improve market share,” says Yeske.

USDA and ARS. These federal government agencies are possible sources of research funding, but the projects are usually more of the bench science type, so funding sometimes may be more difficult to obtain by a veterinarian.

Yeske concludes that there may be more money available than you might think, so if you believe you have a good idea for a research trial, it can pay to pursue possible funding sources to help pay you for doing the research.

“This can be a good practice builder for veterinarians in two ways: 1) you get paid to do the work, and 2) you are the first to answer the question, so you can leverage the information into more work for other clients based on what you have been able to learn. It also gives you more credibility as a true problem solver and increases your demand to answer the hard questions that only research trials can answer.

“Learning how to design and run good field research can be a valuable asset. There is an investment in the process but it can pay big dividends in the future. As you get more experience, there will be more projects than time available.”

Research begins with a good idea

A research project initially begins with a good idea, says Minnesota swine veterinarian Paul Yeske. “Once you have a good idea, it must be tested,” he says.

He suggests that prior to pursuing funding for research, you should simplify the idea down to an answerable question. Make sure the question you are attempting to answer has a measurable outcome, so that you can design the research project(s) with the end results in mind.

Defining the question is the hardest part, says Yeske, and you may need to acquire additional skills in trial design and statistics to help you do this.

These skills may be obtained through additional education in graduate school or other educational programs that allow practicing veterinarians to do graduate level work while remaining in practice. Another possibility to help obtain the needed skills and knowledge would be to work cooperatively with a researcher at a university who could help with the trial design and final protocol, according to Yeske.

“As the question you want answered is narrowed, it will become the objective of the trial,” Yeske says.

“Then you need to review the literature to see if there is any related research that will help define some of the objectives. This is a good place to start and see if there is work that can be expanded on to help you answer your objectives in the trail. This also will help identify the people that are actively working in the topic area.

“You should personally contact these individuals to see what they are working on and have yet to publish. These fellow researchers are also a good sounding board for your objectives and can give more information or help in detailing the final protocol.”

Yeske says that after you clearly define the objectives, it is time to write a detailed protocol, which will outline the materials and methods of how you will be able to accomplish your objectives.

“Sample-size calculations and assumptions used to make them are very important for scientific reviewers to be able to evaluate your process and the likelihood of achieving the objectives. Included in these materials and methods, is how you plan to describe the outcome from the data using statistics, says Yeske.

“The final protocol will need to include a budget of costs that will be involved with the project as well as a time line for completing the study.”

Yeske cautions not to try to do too much with a single trial. “If there are several questions, it is okay to do a series of related trials. As the research progresses, you should try to stay focused on the question you are trying to answer and not redesign the trial in the process. “If you find something interesting during the trial, design a follow-up project to look at that.”