Attempting to protect your piglets from an invisible predator that lurks in unknown corners is truly agony. There’s the intense waiting phase where you feel that every road you drive on could stick the virus to your tires. What if that guy whose pigs are infected walks into the grocery store just before me and down aisle 9 just like me because he too is out of milk at home? Better not get groceries today. It seems to consume your life even before it enters your farm. Then there is working in the farm itself, where every baby pig that looks at you funny just might be the pig that is breaking with the disease. Why does that sow seem to not want to eat as much today? Will the start be just one pig that is sick? How will I ever know that we have it?
And then there’s the definite answer. Those pigs looked a little under the weather yesterday and today they are clinging to life. After being actively involved in two PEDv breaks on two of our sow farms I feel the strong need to make t-shirts boasting, “I survived PED.”
So many strong emotions have erupted to the surface since the day we first saw it on our home farm on December 23. Merry Christmas, right? There was, of course, the feeling of helplessness. These pigs have the classic PEDv scours, the pigs in the next room look beautiful, and there is not one thing that you are going to do to keep them looking that way. You need to ride out this disease, and it is a fast and extremely bumpy ride.
Then there is anger for sure. We are a filtered farm with an extremely tight bio-security protocol. We have air locks for every entry point to the farm so no air comes into the farm from the outside without going through a filter system. Every physical object that comes inside is first subjected to UV light, then down time and then disinfected. Employees are required to wear shoe covers from their car into the building to protect the animals from any disease that might have been in aisle 9 of the grocery store last night. Everyone who enters must take a thorough shower and wear our coveralls and boots that we provide.
So it is easy to see how anger is an overwhelming emotion during this time. How and why the heck did it get in here? Why did it start in those pigs, in that room, all the way down at the end of the hallway farthest from any entryway on the farm?
Then the obvious feeling prevails: grief. When you go to work everyday with the mindset of “I’m going to save pigs today and start their lives out right and I’m going to think of an even better way to do it tomorrow,” it is an extremely hard task to walk in knowing that you have to watch that passion shrivel and die before it starts to look better. You try to keep the morale up in the farm because lets face it, nobody wants to come to work and watch
everything you worked so hard for fall apart with no hope of making it better other than time.
So you trudge through the disease and a couple of days into it there is this strange feeling of relief. Relief that is has finally chosen you to torture for a few weeks. You are sick of worrying about going to the grocery store, or passing a livestock trailer on the road. You want conversations with your husband and family at night to be about how your day was, not on how close this monster is to your farm, and how you are going to jump through seemingly impossible hoops to keep it out.
You want to look at your pigs and know exactly what is going on, not waiting anymore for their impending doom that will come from an invisible source. There is a strong sense of amazement and respect for the virus that I found myself having as well. The incredible speed of transmission and aggressiveness that this little bug has is astounding. The power of Mother Nature and her wrath has brought me to my knees with this one.
You can now start the healing process and that begins with the cleaning. You wash and disinfect and repeat for what seems like 100 times and then you do it once more because it just doesn’t feel like enough. You do NOT want to see this virus’s ugly face in your herd again. Like the labels say, “wash, rinse, repeat if necessary.” Well, it most definitely seems necessary.
The waiting begins. Before you can assess the damage that occurred when this bomb went off, you are sitting anxiously awaiting the birth of a pig that might live past three days. One day, two days, three! This pig survived past three days and he looks like a normal healthy pig! It is FINALLY Christmas! Because lets face it, Christmas was kind of blown out of the water this year when PEDv left its lump of coal in our stockings two days before Santa came to town…
Finally, Bliss. That is the only word that described it for me. I think I took 100 selfies holding that first plump, healthy little five-day-old pig after we had broke. Yet, I find my head spinning. PEDv came and swept like a wildfire, wreaking havoc through my barns for what seemed like an eternity. But the reality is that that first healthy pig was born just 13 days after it all began. Amazing.
Now, every day with these little buggers is a joy and a relief to have them back and healthy. I take pictures of me with a baby piglet every day and send it off to family members. “Look at this one! Ten days old.” “Thirteen days and not even a sneeze from this one!” Of course every pig looks the same to them, but for me it is a true milestone to hold each and every one of them.
Going through PED has given me an even stronger love for my job if that were even possible. These pigs are my responsibility. They depend on me for their care and good health. It gives me a great sense of purpose and fulfillment to have a passion for what I do and the animals that I do it for.