African Swine Fever (ASF) may be a focus of concern in today’s Alberta pork industry, but it is only the latest in a long line of diseases which have impacted swine farmers, says Dr. Kelsey Gray of Prairie Swine Health Services.
“Bio-security is a massive part of keeping our pork industry safe,” she says. “In a local level, we have had diseases like porcine epidemic diarrhea (PEDV) go through. That (disease) has been a big concern in Manitoba, and we have dealt with some outbreaks in Alberta last year.
“And probably on a more global level, African Swine Fever (ASF) is definitely a big concern right now. So focusing on bio-security at the local farm level, but also expanding that to the national herd as well is really critical to keeping our pork safe.”
Alberta’s swine farmers have been hit hard by several disease epidemics that have swept through in recent decades, and this, on top of depressed prices, has led to a more sophisticated focus on animal herd health, says Gray.
“The swine industry in particular is a very scientific and advanced group,” she says; “so there is always new technology, vaccinology and new pieces of equipment they can bring in to improve production.
“So practical interest is there, but I would say it always works closely, and goes hand-in-hand with, a feeling of larger concern.
“We are always trying to ensure we are doing things correctly to keep diseases like African Swine Fever out of the country.”
As always, Gray says, when it comes to disease, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Thus the implementation of advanced bio-security screening, sanitizing and quarantining measures in today’s swine operations which even extend off the farm.
“I would say most producers either have added or are adding in additional bio-security,” Gray says, “and are consulting with their veterinarians and health teams on how they can improve that.
“A big part of bio-security that is being considered and implemented at feed mills and local producer sites is where they are sourcing feed ingredients from,” she explains.
“We have discovered this is a significant vector for transmitting disease; so we want to be careful on where we import some of those ingredients from.”
And there are significant threats out there in terms of swine health to be worried about, Gray states, both foreign and domestic.
“ASF is definitely something we are all talking about,” she confirms, “and it comes up at every conference and expo show we attend. Everyone’s webpages are posting information about it with constant updates.
“I think every pork producer is worried about it. But producers want to keep out production-limiting diseases like porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome or mycoplasmal pneumoniae, and in general controlling diseases they already might have on their farms.
“So it is not only about keeping foreign diseases out,” Gray explains, “it is also about keeping diseases out of your farm that may be a producer 10 km away might have.”
In some ways, says Gray, the long-term success of the pork industry in Canada in keeping diseases out has made it more vulnerable when these big epidemics sweep through.
“We’ve specifically bred these animals and raised them not to have diseases because they are so production-limiting,” she says.
“We have put in a large effort not have these diseases around our animals, but if they haven’t been around in a long time the population tends to be more susceptible because they are not exposed to it as often.”
Gray adds that likely the trade-off in this respect is one most producers would still consider worth making as current production methods have led to larger animals and more meat per animal.
“Higher health facility animals tend to be more profitable because they grow larger,” she says simply.