How to Practice Biosecurity when Showing Pigs

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Biosecurity. If you are in the swine industry, this word should resonate with you. And, specifically with showing pigs, biosecurity becomes an even more sensitive topic as summer shows are heating up and young exhibitors are traveling across the country to national shows and jackpots in their own states and surrounding states. 

With animal disease being top-of-mind for hog producers, keeping show pigs healthy between shows and minimizing the risks of spreading disease from a show to your home barn or the neighbor’s commercial hog farm should be a priority. An educational panel that focused on show pig biosecurity recently addressed the exhibitors and their families at The Recovery Show, the last week of May in Des Moines, Iowa. The panel included Megan Hindman DVM, Iowa State University, who has several show pig and commercial swine clients; Ben Schmaling, pork producer and consultant at Standard Nutrition Services from Prescott, Iowa; Kade Hummel, who works for Lindner Show Feeds from Olsburg, Kansas; and Ed Tice, former hog buyer for a major packer, who now does livestock marketing and consulting work from his home farm near Ames, Iowa. Jodi Sterle, YQCA Chairperson, Iowa State University, moderated the panel. 

The spread of animal disease can happen so quickly during or after any show, so exhibitors need to take caution with their own footwear and clothing, as well as their equipment and the pigs that they take to the show. Shoes and boots are a primary spreader of disease that sometimes get forgotten. The panelists all suggested having “dirty” shoes that are only worn at the show, and a separate set of shoes or boots that are saved for your own home barn. You might also want to change out of your shoes before departing to the hotel as to keep the likelihood of spreading unknown germs into your vehicle. 

Tice said his family puts their dirty shoes in a tote when leaving the show. Others spray shoes with a disinfectant like Tek-Trol or Lysol before wearing them again at the show. Dr. Hindman wears disposable booties anytime she visits clients or attends a show, and encourages that practice anytime visiting another’s barn, especially if they don’t have a disinfectant wash option.  

When you get home from one show with a set of pigs, the panel offered several suggestions for keeping any pigs at home safe and healthy. Ideally, you’d want to quarantine them to another area, but most show barns don’t have the space to allow that. Instead, wash them with a disinfectant shampoo after unloading them and before putting them back in their pens. If possible, try to avoid any nose-to-nose contact with other pigs that have not been out. Make sure you power wash or clean and disinfect your trailer, feed cart, fans, whips, buckets, feed pans and any other show supplies you had at the show before bringing them back into the barn or loading them back into your clean trailer for the next show. Letting them dry in the sun was also advised, as natural Vitamin D is often the best disinfectant. 

“Set out your supplies in sunlight when get home. Let the sunlight kill any virus you can’t see,” Schmaling said. 

Don’t be Pig Zero 

One of the biggest points the panel drove home to the attendees was to stay home from a show if you have a pig that shows signs of illness. Not only do you have the potential to spread sickness to others, but as Hummel pointed out, your pig probably won’t perform to its optimum either. 

“It is really hard to set out when your pig is sick, but you have to take the best interest of your pig and your animal husbandry skills in mind, but also everyone else at the show. When you take your off animal out, you’re exposing everyone else and will likely be bottom of the class,” he said. 

Tice agrees and advises that a veterinarian-client relationship is of upmost importance, both when you have a healthy barn and when something is sick.  

“Before you go, make sure your barn is healthy. Call the vet if you have concerns. Don’t haul a sick animal. Don’t be patient zero. Sometimes you have to set it out. It’s unfortunate. Have a protocol in place. Don’t haul anything that is showing signs of sickness,” Tice said. 

Dr. Hindman suggests that that you keep your show pigs vaccinated on a regular basis, although disease can still occur. Common diseases she recommends vaccinating for include Lepto, Flu, Circo, Mico, PRRS and Parvo. Talk to your local veterinarian to discover what is circulating in your specific area and be sure to vaccinate for anything he or she recommends. 

“Have conversations with veterinarians and breeders. The best form of medicine I can practice is prevention,” she said. 

Signs of a sick pig include going off feed, heavy breathing, diarrhea and a temperature above 102-degrees. Tice recommends taking videos of your pigs when they are healthy so when something appears sick you can show your veterinarian or the breeder to compare the two videos. A video library is one of his favorite tools when using the vet who doesn’t see his pigs every day. 

Not if, but When 

Animal welfare and keeping show pigs healthy is a priority for the families, but it is also imperative with African Swine Fever (ASF) looming. The panelists agreed it isn’t “if” ASF gets into the United States, but when ASF, a highly contagious viral disease, gets here. 

“When it hits the U.S., ASF will be a bearcat. Everything will be shut down. Everything. It should make your biosecurity a priority,” Dr. Hindman said. “In the veterinary community, the scary reality is when it is coming. The vaccines are very controlled. They will go to the commercial swine industry where the food supply comes from. That is why it is important that we pay attention to biosecurity.” 

And when ASF does hit, the show pig world will not exist according to Schmaling, who is president of the Iowa Purebred Swine Council. He said several exercises have been played out over the past few years preparing for the worst-case scenarios. 

“Don’t take it lightly. When it comes to US, we are not showing pigs for a very long time. It will be the end [of showing pigs] for a short period of time, probably two to three years,” Schmaling said. 

Biosecurity. It isn’t a buzzword to throw around in a speech or plaster on your barn. It is something every show pig exhibitor and their family needs to practice, as they #PreptoWin.  

“We are a visual sector of the swine industry. We are the voice of the industry. How we present ourselves here (at shows) is very important. That is why we must educate ourselves before we educate others,” Hummel said. 

Make wise decisions when hauling your show pigs this summer. Don’t take a sick pig out of your barn. Use disinfectants and disinfecting shampoos. Vaccinate. Wash your hands and your shoes. Practice biosecurity for you, your fellow exhibitors and the industry. 

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