Hog farmers brace for deadly pork virus

Keeping diseases away from the farm and out of the barn has never been more important than it is right now, says a producer from the Alix area.

Keeping diseases away from the farm and out of the barn has never been more important than it is right now, says a producer from the Alix area.

Hog farmers and suppliers from across Central Alberta met in Red Deer on Thursday for an update on the movement of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), a virus that has now hit one-fifth of the hog farms in the United States and was most recently discovered on farms in Manitoba and Montana.

Martin Waldner, hog barn manager for the Hartland Hutterite Colony north of Alix, said after the meeting that he doesn’t know how farmers can afford the mental, physical or financial costs of having such a deadly virus enter their barns.

The first case in North America was discovered on an Iowa farm in May of last year. As of Thursday morning, the virus had entered 3,528 farms in the U.S., 21 in Ontario, one in Prince Edward Island and one in Manitoba.

Waldner said the impact would be disastrous if the virus were to make it past the defences he and industry partners have put up across the province.

He estimates that his farm would lose 450 piglets a week for a period of five weeks in the time it would take for him to contain the outbreak. It would take many more months for his operation to recover from the loss.

The Hartland barn is especially vulnerable because it is still new and has not yet been paid off, said Waldner. Along with that, he has barely enough help to do the regular chores, never mind the extra work and expense involved in making sure that potential contaminants are kept off the farm and out of the barn.

The Canadian Food inspection Agency has connected the Ontario infections with an Ontario feed supplier, Grand Valley Fortifiers. The company purchased infected protein products from suppliers in the United States, said Red Deer veterinarian Egan Brockhoff, who presented the update on Thursday, hosted by Alberta Pork.

The company voluntarily recalled all products as soon as test results were known, said Brockhoff.

He warned hog producers to avoid animal protein products as a part of their biosecurity protocol and outlined other procedures necessary to prevent contaminants from entering their barns.

“Without question, the biosecurity standard that we have in Alberta is higher than any place in the world. That doesn’t mean we don’t have leaks and holes. Biosecurity is a ongoing, daily thing. We do a great job in this province, but there’s no such thing as perfect and we should all be striving to do everything we can to protect our herds.”

While PED does not affect humans, it is highly infectious in pigs, said Brockhoff. A quantity of virus equal in size to the tip of his little finger would be enough to wipe out every pig in Canada, he said.

The virus is transferred by animals ingesting infected products, such as feed that has been contaminated by minute amounts of animal manure. Mother pigs pass it on to their unborn piglets. Newborn piglets die of starvation and dehydration after the disease strips away the nutrient gathering villi inside their intestines.


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