Research Alliance for Farrowing, the Weak Link in Alternative Swine Systems
The SARE-supported Research Alliance for Farrowing is addressing information and communication deficiencies around young pigs in alternative production systems. Intensive case studies are providing farmers and veterinarians a better understanding of the health threats in different kinds of alternative production systems. Two field days and five workshops have taken place, with more of both scheduled for 2006. A Herd Health Guide for Alternative Swine Systems will consolidate current knowledge of best health practices for alternative systems and through case studies will provide examples of effective vet-producer relationships and successful health management strategies in alternative swine production systems.
The project plan called for an initial 16-month period of data collection followed by an evaluation and outreach phase. Data collection focused on a limited number of case study farms on which farrowing records, environmental conditions, and carcass information was to be collected. Outreach was planned for the entire project, but was to increment in the second phase of the project around production of a farrowing “toolbox” for producers and veterinarians working in alternative swine systems.
An important objective of the project is improvement of the working relations between alternative swine producers and veterinarians. Pre-project and post-project surveys of producers and vets were scheduled to track changes in attitude and awareness. Events for veterinarians were planned in order to help build a supportive community among those service providers. Both veterinarians and farmers were nominated to the project Steering Committee and to the group of responders for drafts of the herd health toolbox.
Appendix A shows results of the farmer and veterinarian pre-project surveys. Twenty-three of 130 producer surveys were returned, and 66 of 224 veterinarian surveys were returned. Producers were identified for the survey through several marketing organizations and the Practical Farmers of Iowa member database. Veterinarians were selected from the member listings of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians if they had a history with a sustainable producer or were known to be a swine vet practicing in the vicinity of a known sustainable producer. Survey outcomes will be compared with results of the post-project questionnaire.
Both producers and veterinarians were asked what are the chief causes of lethality for young pigs. Producers ranked a series of causes of death before weaning and another series of causes after weaning. Based on combined first, second, and third-ranked causes, the most prevalent reasons for death before weaning were crushing (overall score of 126%), milking/feeding problems (39%), and vaccination problems (17%). According to producers, after-weaning causes of death are Salmonella (overall score of 49%), illeitis (30%), and scours (28%). Veterinarians, asked to rank causes of health for young pigs in alternative systems, ranked crushing highest (1.10), followed by scours (1.34), and “other” of their own specification (1.75). These responses indicate to us that farmers and veterinarians were more or less in agreement on the health challenges for young pigs in alternative production systems.
Producers and veterinarians were also in general agreement about information providers. Both believed that the two chief information sources for producers in alternative systems are producer organizations and local veterinarians. While producers believed that the effectiveness of vets would be best enhanced by better technical/diagnostic support, vets themselves gave greater weight to simply raising farmers’ awareness of the present capabilities of veterinarians to service sustainable production systems.
Despite these many areas of agreement, responding veterinarians exhibited their skepticism about alternative farrowing systems in general. They ranked the viability of such systems 3.26 on a scale of 1 (very viable) to 4.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The above-cited skeptical response from veterinarians illustrates one part of the stand-off between vets and sustainable producers, at least at the initiation of the project. Veterinarians believe they have the answers for alternative systems, but their attitude toward such systems might be characterized as doubtful. For their part producers, while they do report using the services of veterinarians, frequently say they do so as a last resort and do not have a good relationship with a veterinarian. The two negative points of view reinforce each other.
This project has begun a process of breaking down those barriers. Within the veterinarian community, a network of knowledgeable and interested individuals is being developed. (See Vets’ Circle discussion photo.) The Iowa Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians are kept current on project events. A core group of Iowa State University and private practice vets has taken up the challenge of developing a Herd Health Guide “toolbox” for sustainable swine systems, and veterinarians and producers have reviewed drafts of the document. The loss of independent pork producers has resulted in a corresponding loss of practicing swine veterinarians, with out-migration to corporate veterinary and small animal practice. Efforts to help sustainable and independent operations potentially benefit independent veterinary firms as well.
On the producer side, two field days and five workshops have taken place through this project, with more of both scheduled for 2006. A July 2005 Herd Health and Production Strategies workshop summarized much of the information that will appear in the Herd Health Guide. Audio and slides from that workshop are accessible at http://www.pfi.iastate.edu/Media/HerdHealth/Herd_Health_Workshop.htm. Through the project, producers are seeing positive examples of farmer-veterinarian relationships. One key to success in alternative swine systems is shifting out of crisis intervention mode to a more proactive approach, and this requires that vets and farmers develop a long-term relationship that will permit vets to understand the farming system and to suggest structural changes.
Data from the monitoring phase of the SARE farrowing project are showing the weak spots in the systems of participating farmers. Unfortunately analysis if these data has been set back by the departure of the staff person charged with collection and analysis. A replacement has been hired, and we are continuing to evaluate and summarize those on-farm data.
This project is overseen by a Steering Committee consisting of individual producers and representatives from Eden Natural Pork, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians; the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association; the University of Minnesota Swine Center; the Organic Valley Co-op; the National Pork Board; The Iowa Pork Industry Center; the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; and Niman Ranch Pork Co. This broadly-based group is itself a reflection of the wide range of organizations and skills that this project has helped bring together. As frequently occurs with successful projects, collaborators seek additional funding to extend the research, and this project is no exception. A number of the collaborators have received funding from a USDA National Research Initiative (NRI) grant awarded to the Iowa Pork Industry Center to extend the SARE project’s herd health monitoring to a much larger group of alternative swine production systems.
In 2005, the SARE-funded RAF project was completing its monitoring phase and moving into the outreach phase of the project. The project Steering Committee was asked by staff to set direction for this portion of the project. Given the status of the SARE project and the development of the NRI project, the project Steering Committee recommended that this SARE project support the herd health component of this new NRI project by: 1) utilizing up to $15,000 in veterinarian farm visit support remaining unspent in the SARE project in order to reimburse local veterinarians for diagnostic farm visits carried out under the NRI project; 2) encourage information sharing among farmers and veterinarians participating in the NRI and SARE projects by utilizing up to $6,400 in unspent staff travel and contracted services funds to support up to five local meetings for NRI and SARE producers to learn from each other and receive follow-up information about project findings and outcomes.
The NRI project, in turn, is making funds available to help in development of the Herd Health Guide for Alternative Swine Systems. A private veterinarian, Kurt Van Hulzen, DVM, is working with SARE and NRI project staff to consolidate information from the eight drafts/documents generated by project participants and to add case study examples illustrating key points. Publication of the Herd Health Guide is scheduled for spring 2007. A no-cost extension of several months will be sought from NC-SARE to accommodate this production schedule and the local producer meetings.
Extension Swine Specialist, Northwest Iowa Area
Iowa State University Extension
209 Centennial Dr., Ste. A
Cherokee, IA 51012-2203
Office Phone: 7122256196
Suidae Health and Production
2200 Hwy 18 East
Algona, IA 50511-0598
Office Phone: 5153410110
Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Microbiology
Iowa State University, emeritus
2134 Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
Office Phone: 5152947630
Director, ISU Outlying Research Farms
Iowa State University
B1 Curtiss Hall, Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
Office Phone: 5152944621