Disease has pig farmers on high alert
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Feb 04, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Disease has pig farmers on high alert

Stratford Gazette

Chet Greason cgreason@stratfordgazette.com

A fifth confirmed case of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) in Ontario has the local pork industry on high alert.

The disease, most recently diagnosed in Simcoe County, has no effect on humans yet kills 100 per cent of the piglets it infects. Originating in Europe, the disease has since rocked the American pork industry.

Despite efforts to keep Ontario farms clear of the virus, the growing number of cases has Stratford-area farmers taking advanced steps to ensure their farms remain virus free. Previous confirmed cases were on farms in Middlesex and Chatham-Kent.

"Dollar-wise, in the States, they're looking at a $150,000 loss per 1,000 sow operation," says Perth County Pork Producers Association president and Mitchell-area farmer Randy Campbell.

"But it's not just financial. When you see these animals suffering and you can't do anything about it. That takes a toll."

PED causes extremely watery diarrhea in pigs. While older animals most often recover from it, PED is deadly to piglets.

"They're not able to rehydrate themselves quick enough," says Campbell, adding the virus will "take out the babies within a few weeks before the sows can develop immunity."

Campbell says that, unlike other diseases that proliferate in warm, moist climates, PED appears to thrive in cold weather.

The highly contagious disease can be transported between farms via manure. Right now anyone involved in swine, from farmers to feed truck drivers, are taking measures to curb the spread. Delivery trucks are being washed, disinfected, and dried before traveling from one farm to another; compost and dead stock is being handled more carefully, with bins placed well away from farm buildings; and pig barns are being retrofitted with "Danish Entries," in essence, decontamination areas that ensure outdoor boots and coveralls remain outside. Some farms have even completely closed off their barns to outsiders.

However, there's no guarantee that such steps can fully protect pork producers. The Exeter Times-Advocate recently reported Ontario's chief veterinarian as saying the Middlesex farm where the virus was found "had been following strict bio-security measures to protect his herd." The same article says the virus had been detected on loading docks in Ontario and Quebec while the disease was raging across the United States.

Fear of spreading the disease is so high, in fact, that the Grand Valley Swine Symposium, an industry convention that was to be held in Stratford last Tuesday, was cancelled. Though the convention was not to include live animals and was to be held indoors at the Arden Park, organizer Scott Walker says it was cancelled as a safety precaution.

"It's a serious disease that the US is struggling with. We don't want it to get like that here," he adds.

Walker says the event took nine months to plan, was to include speeches by two world renowned guests, and was to have a follow-up showcase the next day in Komoka.

However, when the first case of Ontario PED was announced, with rumours of a second case flying around, Walker and his colleagues closed the event the day before it was to be held.

"At the end of the day, we're taking all precautions," he says. "We hope to quarantine it. If we can do that, we may host (the conference) in the fall. If we double or quadruple the number of instances, maybe we'll wait a year."

Meanwhile, the provincial government has pledged $2 million to the Ontario pork industry in an effort to offset costs and to enhance current bio-security measures. Funding is available via an existing initiative by the provincial and federal governments called Growing Forward 2. The plan provides training and funding to swine producers, processors, and affiliated organizations and collaborations.

If you're involved in the pork industry and could use financial assistance for improving your operation's bio-security, log onto www.omafra.gov.ca to find out if you're eligible for funding. Applications will be accepted until March 13, 2014.

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