Manure and Pasture Management to Reduce Swine Parasites in Western Washington Organic Pastured Pork Production

Progress report for FW20-362

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $19,899.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Alluvial Farms
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

Managing swine intestinal parasites continues to be an obstacle for pig farmers seeking to certify their pork as Organic. Since Ivermectin was removed from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances in 2016, there is a lack of organically-approved veterinary options for control, as well as a lack of best management practices for control in organic pork production systems for the various regions of the United States (Percy, 2019). Alluvial Farms is aware of current research work being done through a collaboration of the University of Minnesota, Kutztown University and Rodale Institute. This multiyear study, funded by the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture program (USDA NIFA) for 2018-2020, will explore manure and pasture management strategies that would control swine parasites by reducing parasite contamination and transmission in organic pig production (Yuzhi, Hernandez, Carr, 2019).

In the three-year research project proposed here, Alluvial Farms will follow some of the protocols of this larger national study to evaluate parasite pressures on our own farm where we produce certified organic small grains and other crops, and transitioning to Organic pork. We will establish a protocol and a practice for on-farm parasite monitoring, and collect a year’s worth of information about baseline parasite presence on farm. We will then teach ourselves to measure parasite presence in soil and bedding, following protocols from our mentors at Rodale. We will use this technique to determine effectiveness of thermophilic bedding and manure composting for eliminating swine parasites. We will also determine additional interventions we could test for effectiveness at managing swine parasites on organic farms, such as the Rodale experiment test of biofumigation of pastures with brassica crops.

Our project will address all three aspects of sustainable agriculture as defined by SARE: environmental stewardship through parasite management on pastured-based hog systems, economic profitability by aiming to increase weight gains and carcass yields through parasite mitigation strategies and the social component of increased quality of life for family farmers through increased income potential if we could develop a management protocol that would allow us to certify our pork as Organic.  

Project Objectives:
  1. Evaluate parasite prevalence on our transitional organic pig farm in Western Washington, with special focus on the presence of three common parasites: Oesophagostomum spp. “nodular worms,” Ascaris suum “large intestinal roundworm,” and Trichuris suis “swine whipworm.”
  2. Establish thermophilic composting facility on-farm. 
  3. Develop skills to test compost inputs and outputs for parasite presence in order to determine the effectiveness of manure composting on eliminating these swine parasites and their underlying reproductive mechanisms.
  4. Develop skills to test pig pasture soils for parasite presence in order to determine the effectiveness of biofumigation of pastures with brassica plants at reducing swine parasite presence in soils. 
  5. Share results with local, regional, and national producer community.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Nichole Embertson, PhD - Technical Advisor (Educator and Researcher)
  • Ruth Kulshan
  • Matthew McDermott - Producer
  • Katie Pencke - Producer

Research

Materials and methods:

Organic pork farms are prohibited from using anti-helminthic and other deworming medications in meat pigs (Percy, 2019). Deep bedded hoop barns with earthen floors and rotational grazing on pastures, combined with the rooting nature of the pig, all contribute to a high incidence of parasites on organic pig farms (Yuzhi, Hernandez, Carr, 2019).  Without taking some action an Organic approach to pork production using deep bedded barns and seasonal pastures could quickly threaten economic viability of Organic pork production and be a barrier to Organic certification for transitional Organic pork farmers like ourselves. While some studies are currently underway in other areas of the country, there is very little conclusive research already completed and none with a focus in the Pacific Northwest region.

 

Field trials will be conducted at the 45 acre Alluvial Farms in Everson, WA. Our family farm business is a product of our career-long work in agriculture and small farm business management. We are a transitional organic, fourteen sow, farrow-to-finish operation, with a focus on directo to consumer pork marketing and some small wholesale accounts. We harvested 120 animals in 2020. Our goal is to harvest 100-150 pigs per year and to farrow all of those animals on farm. Animal trials will be conducted in a deep bedded, centralized housing facility with ten acres of rotational paddocks adjacent, divided into one acre pastures. Additional 20-acre organic grain field is also used seasonally as pig pasture.

 

Our on-farm study was inspired by a national study currently funded by the USDA NIFA Organic Transitions grant program (NIFA 2018-2020).  We will use the study design developed by the University of Minnesota, Kutztown University and the Rodale institute throughout this project to help guide our methods and questions. Our primary technical advisor Dr. Nichole Embertson, and our collaborator at the Rodale Institute, Rick Carr, will provide assistance with research design, statistical analysis of results and education and outreach. Our local large animal veterinary clininc’s laboratory director, Ruth Smith, will advise on parasite testing and swine parasite identification.

Objective 1: Evaluate parasite presence on transitional Organic pig farm in Western Washington.  

Alluvial Farms will develop on-farm infrastructure and skills to test pig fecal samples on-farm for parasite presence. Fecal samples will be collected quarterly for the three years of the grant period and evaluated for presence of parasites with a focus on the following species: Ascaris suum (large roundworm), Trichuris suis (whipworm), and Oesophagostomum spp. (nodular worms). Fecal samples from numerous individuals of three categories of pigs will be compared: feeders (2-4 months old), Finishing pigs (5 months to market weight), and sows.

Farmer researchers will measure the following: 

  • Percentage of pigs sampled who are infected with each of the three parasites.
  • Average number of eggs per gram of feces.
  • Comparison of the above for feeders, finishers, and sows.

Alluvial Farms will also train ourselves to measure parasite presence in pig pasture soil and in soiled barn bedding or manured shavings from heavy use area footing. We will use these techniques to measure:

  • Average number of eggs per gram of bedded pack barn bedding or heavy use area footing, before introduction into thermophilic composting system.
  • Average number of eggs per gram of soil in outdoor swine pastures, before biofumigation treatment with brassica crops.

Objective 2: Composting swine bed pack manure to completion.

In 2021 Alluvial Farms will construct a 400 cubic yard thermophilic composting facility, and transition from aerated windrow composting to static aerated pile composting within the facility. High temperatures generated during composting are predicted to inactivate or destroy parasite eggs. Samples of bedded pack will be collected and tested for parasite presence before composting and weekly for four weeks during static aerated pile composting. Protocols from Rodale Institute’s compost research program will be followed when undertaking this study, including tracking temperatures in an attempt to show at what temperature the majority of parasite eggs are killed.

Objective 3: Evaluation of biofumigation of pig pastures with brassica crops and subsequent impact on parasite loads 

  • Establish species mix used by Rodale on biofumigation trials and establish one acre paddocks of trial plantings. 
  • Compare mechanical incorporation of crop residues with disc and rototiller vs. animal incorporation of trial crop by pigs.
  • Soil test for parasite egg presence once per week for four weeks after biofumigant incorporation.

Objective 4: Share results with local, regional, and national producer community.

The events of the Covid-19 pandemic underscored the weaknesses of the current industrial pork production systems in the USA. They also increased consumer awareness of industrial pork production practices. This change in perspective led to consumer behavior change. Increasing numbers of consumers are now seeking Organic pasture raised pork produced in their area. We hope that our small body of work can increase our own and other producer’s understanding of best management practices for this style of pork production, while encouraging behavior change in the consumer towards less meat consumption. 

Activities of first research year: 

-Met with three principal investigators of Rodale study. 

-Identified technical guide for our study : Epidemiology, diagnosis and control of helminth parasites of swine, Roepstorff & Nansen, 1998, Food And Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

-Implemented RFID ear tagging system on the farm and after a few months realized that this was not a good fit for our farm or our research needs. Made a transition to an non-electronic ear tag system. 

-Taught ourselves how to do fecal sampling with concentrated McMaster technique. Action steps to improve our process is to do the testing on the farm, and not at the Conservation District office as we first tried. We also need to either repair, or troubleshoot the loaned microscope we are using, as it’s top magnification is not functioning and hinders identification. 

-Started to teach ourselves identification and interpretation of on-farm fecal sampling with the help of our local veterinarian. We have realized what a skill it is to read these slides and hope that it will become easier if we can repair our microscope. We have found it challenging to find a good resource to teach ourselves these identification skills. Our local veterinarian has been a great resource, as well we had a student of veterinary science volunteer with us for a few days to help with our first large scale monitoring. 

-First trial quarterly data collection from some # of animals on 2/22/2021.

-Secured financing for construction of 300 cubic yard on-farm aerated composting facility, contracted with designer, began design and permitting process. 

-Conducted aerated windrow composting trials of heavy use area bedding and barn bedding in the meantime. 

Research results and discussion:

First quarterly on-farm fecal sampling conducted February 22, 2021. 

Samples taken from 25 individuals: nine finishers (150-275 lbs), two breeders, and thirteen growers (35-100 lb.). 

7 out of 25 samples, or 28%, were interpreted by professional veterinarian service, the other 18 samples, or 72% were interpreted by volunteer student veterinarian. 

Parameters measured were presence of three specific kinds of helminths and coccidia. Need to refine ability to report in eggs per gram vs total eggs seen on the slide in order to match national study data, and in order to match data provided by veterinary lab analysis. 

Discussion: 

The national study only took place on farms that were either certified Organic, or following most Organic program rules, but especially that they were not using chemical dewormers on any animals other than breeding stock, and then only outside last third of gestation. On our farm, after going through our first round of managing breeding stock on site and farrowing piglets without the use of chemical dewormers, we were faced with serious veterinary issues that caused us to seek to develop a deworming program for our herd. 

Other takeaways from year one are that principle farmer researchers – ourselves –  need more training in slide interpretation. This is a specialized skill but in order for study to be cost effective we need to develop this skill on farm. 

Results by age group

Finishers: 100% of finishers positive for nodular worm, 4 out of nine finishers positive for coccidia, two out of nine finishers positive for roundworm.

Growers: 8 out of thirteen positive for coccidia, 2 out of 13 positive for roundworm, and five out of thirteen positive for whipworm. 

Breeders: of the two individuals samples, no parasitism detected. 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

75 Farmers
15 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Year 1:

January 2021

Established static webpage on our farm website to provide public information about our study: www.alluvialfarms.com/research

Gave two webinar presentations viewed by 70 participants in total at the Washington State University Cattleman’s Winter School virtual conference: 

Year 2:

  • April 2022, Partnership with Better Ground, regional network of 12 Puget Sound Conservation Districts to host webinar on pastured pork production and research project. Webinar and slides.
  • And/or partnership with Oregon Tilth Education department to host webinar on transitional Organic pastured pork production and research. 

Year 3:

  • Ideally partnership with veterinary science professional and or land grant univerity Publication of simple educational materials on best management practices for pastured pork producers in the Pacific Northwest, to fill the vaccuum that we found when we were starting out. 
  • November 2022, Presentation in person at Washington Tilth Producers annual conference.

Learning Outcomes

70 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

2 Grants received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

After our first of three years undertaking this project, we can now see that our predicted outcomes will result from two additional years of infrastructure and systems creation, alongside research based decision making. Our project will address all three aspects of sustainable agriculture as defined by SARE: environmental stewardship through parasite management on pastured-based hog systems, economic profitability by aiming to increase weight gains and carcass yields through parasite mitigation strategies and the social component of increased quality of life for family farmers through increased income potential if we could develop a management protocol that would allow us to certify our pork as Organic.  

The events of the Covid-19 pandemic underscored the weaknesses of the current industrial pork production systems in the USA. They also increased consumer awareness of industrial pork production practices. This change in perspective led to consumer behavior change. Increasing numbers of consumers are now seeking Organic pasture raised pork produced in their area. We hope that our small body of work can increase our own and other producer’s understanding of best management practices for this style of pork production, while encouraging behavior change in the consumer towards less meat consumption overall. 

Recommendations:

We made some adjustments to our study from our original proposal during our first year of implementation: 

-using RFID tags and conducting monthly weight checks turned out not to be successful on our farm with our current infrastructure. There was a significant number of RFID tags that came out of the pigs ear.  We spent a bunch of time troubleshooting with the manufacturer but were unable to increase retention rate of RFID’s.  So, we switched to analog ear tags for animal identification with allows us to visually (by color) distinguish litters as well as by number.  Measuring weight in the field turned out to be too time consuming.  Without the ability to coral the pigs, we couldn’t efficiently move them through the scale.  We will shift the weight monitoring to the barn area where additional infrastructure allows us to create shoots and gates for efficient movement through a scale.

– using veterinary lab service for all fecal testing was not affordable, once we realized the large volume of sampling that would need to be done to understand variations within age groups by individual and variations between age groups. We pivoted instead to teaching ourselves to do fecal testing and acquiring the necessary equipment to do so. We purchased a centrifuge, test tubes, mcmaster slides, flotation solution and a microscope.  The microscope might need to be upgraded for increased resolution.  We worked with a veterinary student to take samples and provide analysis.

– we increased the scope and timeline for construction of aerated compost facility so focused in year one on pig fecal testing and monitoring and in year two will teach ourselves methodology for monitoring parasite presence in soils and composts. 

-In person workshops will more likely be online presentations due to COVID . 

 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.