Editor's note: The following article was featured in the July/August issue of PorkNetwork magazine.

You wouldn’t think the second-most populated swine county in Illinois would be less than 60 miles from Chicago, but it is. DeKalb County produces 230,000 pigs each year, which makes the Bethany Swine Health Services (BSHS) in Sycamore, Illinois ideally situated to provide services for its customers.

Bethany Swine Health Services currently manages five commercial sow herds (2,400-2,800 head per unit) and one commercial gilt breeding/gestation company. The veterinarians manage day-to-day activities, pig flows, employees and herd health. Its veterinary consulting services and full-service boar stud encompass more than 35,000 sows and approximately one million market hogs annually.

While veterinarians pride themselves on developing relationships with clients, the Bethany Clinic vets take service to a whole new level.  They were instrumental in the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) Area Regional Control program for the county, which began in Jan. 2010. They’ve seen how the protocols implemented for that program are becoming customary best-management practices for producers.

“No one regrets participating in the Area Regional Control program,” says Dr. Noel Garbes with BSHS. “Producers really bought into it, especially when they began seeing results.” (See sidebar)

Incorporate Similar Protocols for PEDv
The BSHS veterinarians knew it was just a matter of time before they saw Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) come into the area. The first farm broke last November and the next farm broke on December 26. By January 2014, 22 sites were infected with PEDv (the county has 86 sites with pigs).

 “The ARC really helped producers look at what else they could do on their farms,” says Dr. Mike Schelkopf, owner of BSHS. “We saw more aggressive thinking in terms of biosecurity and herd improvement.”

The PEDv outbreaks allowed the veterinarians to incorporate many of the same processes that had worked well in the PRRS ARC program, including:

  • Communication: The PRRS ARC programs emphasized the importance of communication between producers, veterinarians, health officials, animal health companies and more. The openness and willingness to share experiences is helping the industry learn more about PEDv as well. “The information between people has been very good,” says Jamie Williams, who joined the Bethany team in May 2013 as the breed-to-wean production supervisor. “The more effort we can make to keep it out of the area, the better chance we have to minimize the risk,” he adds.
  • Bio-filtration: To date, none of the DeKalb County farms that have bio-filtration systems have contracted PEDv. It appears to be a strong (though not impenetrable) barrier against diseases.
  • Cleanliness: It’s not often that this author has three showers before noon, but it’s easy to see how shower-in, shower-out facilities help break the disease pathway. In addition, more thorough cleaning of the pens and the use of disinfectants is making a difference. “We’re excited about all the washing and other cleaning protocols,” says Schelkopf. “We know it will help us control mycoplasma, circovirus and other viruses too.” Garbes adds, “As a result of the intensity of the cleaning process, we’re seeing some fantastic pigs on the other side of a PEDv outbreak.”
  • Transportation: Producers are much more careful about foot traffic, trucks and other biosecurity factors. It’s a top-of-mind issue, and they’re even taking different routes to avoid traveling by farms they know are positive. “One of the big changes we’ve seen is the awareness producers have about washing their trucks after they’ve delivered to packing plants,” says Garbes. “PEDv took that awareness to a whole new level – and just being conscious about it makes a significant difference.”
  • Feed mill security: About 80 percent of the producers in the area use their own grain, but the local feed mills have stepped up security, too. Even though no one knows how the virus initially came to the United States or how it is transmitted from farm to farm, feed companies are taking additional precautions to protect their customers’ herds.
  • Disease surveillance:  In 2012, BSHS began using the Matrix Respiratory Program on selected farms. This routine monitoring program allows the veterinarians to serve as “first responders” if a new disease is identified on a farm. “The value in seeing the surveillance information from the farm and being able to show the owner what’s taking place has been huge,” says Garbes. “We’ve found viruses we didn’t even expect, and we wouldn’t have picked them up without the additional monitoring.”  Schelkopf agrees: “Producers respect the science, and it’s valuable to show the difference between the sow farms. I’m impressed with the science.”
  • Vaccine use: The BSHS team is convinced that vaccination is an important component of maintaining healthy herds. They particularly like using single-dose combination vaccines to minimize the number of interactions with the pigs. “The number of times we handle pigs has to be a big part of the puzzle,” says Schelkopf. “When you think about the potential for disease transmission through the trays, the people, the needles, etc., the more processes we can condense together, the better.”

Break the Disease Cycle
One of the primary keys to a successful in-herd or area control program is the ability to break the disease cycle. The veterinarians believe it’s important to look at management practices with fresh eyes and utilize new technology as it becomes available.

“Since all of the managed sow herds are PRRS vaccinated, we have also moved our modified live PRRS vaccine for piglets into the farrowing crate at the time of weaning. This has allowed us to combine three vaccines into one injection: PCV2, Mhyo and PRRS,” says Schelkopf.

Williams feels it’s important to cut down on the number of times employees move from farrowing crate to crate, too. “And the employees really appreciate it. If we spend the time to vaccinate properly, it will eliminate some of the unnecessary handling and stress down the road,” he says. “I get real excited about healthy pigs – the whole picture gets better and we can’t ignore the benefits.”

Partners with Producers
The Area Regional Control program for PRRS really brought home the need for everyone to work together, and for veterinarians to serve as partners with producers. That philosophy is paving the way for controlling PEDv, too. The industry has seen that keeping lines of communication open will help the industry find solutions to this and other diseases that much more quickly. That, and the passionate, never-ending quest to control the variables, will help producers better meet disease challenges in the future.

For more articles and features from the July/August issue of PorkNetwork, click here.