COVID-19 lesson for hog farms: Tighten up basic biosecurity

The COVID-19 outbreak reinforces what veterinarians and pork producers already know — biosecurity protocols control disease.

“I think COVID-19 has given everyone a good refresher on basic biosecurity practices,” said Brad Schmitt, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service. “We need to keep this momentum going in the fight against African swine fever and other viruses like PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) and PED (porcine epidemic diarrhea).”

As a reminder, Schmitt offers suggestions to help producers tighten up biosecurity in their hog units, from people and vehicle traffic to room biosecurity.

Premise-level biosecurity

Biosecurity at the premise level requires all vehicles entering the farm to be washed and cleaned. This includes cleaning the interior of the vehicles. Wipes containing citric acid are recommended for cleaning steering wheels, radios, leather and vinyl seats, and other high-touch areas. A phenol-based spray product works well for disinfecting other interior areas of vehicles including cloth seats.

“A great habit is to use the aerosol spray to hit your boots when entering and exiting vehicles,” said Ryan Pusey, animal protein account manager, Neogen. “Hand sanitizer also should be used when entering and exiting vehicles. A foaming hand sanitizer will last longer and provide better coverage than a gel sanitizer.”

All people including personnel entering the facility must, at a minimum, cross a clean-dirty line indicating the boundary of the hog facility. Anything outside of the line is “dirty” and could contain potential pathogens.

The simplest indication of a clean-dirty line is an entry with a physical barrier such as a bench. People leave their personal items and shoes on one side and rotate to the other side where they put on clean boots.

When entering and exiting any facility, boots should be treated with the aerosol spray and a foaming hand sanitizer used.

Many facilities require a shower when crossing over the clean-dirty line to enter the barn. All personal belongings are kept on the outside of the shower by the entry. Once through the shower, clothing and boots are available for the clean side where the hogs are housed.

“Once we master premise-level biosecurity, then we hone in on room-level biosecurity,” Schmitt said. “The goal here is to reduce the spread of enteric pathogens that cause piglet scours.”

Boot baths

Boot baths prevent tracking in pathogens from one room to another. The bath must be kept clean and filled with disinfectant.

“Keep in mind that manure should be washed from boots before using the boot bath because you can’t effectively disinfect surfaces when organic matter is present,” Schmitt said.

An iodine-based product is available for boot baths that remains viable with up to 50% organic matter. Some glutaraldehyde products are effective for boot baths as well, according to Pusey.

Crate and pen cleaning

“The key to cleaning pens is to initially use a cleaner to break down organic matter on the surface,” Pusey said. “Any organic matter must be removed first to get a proper disinfection.”

After using a cleaner and power washing thoroughly under crates and feeders, apply a good quat/glut disinfectant (a mixture of quaternary ammonium and glutaraldehyde), offering a wide spectrum of biocidal activity. Use at label rate and contact times.

In between groups of pigs, biofilms harboring disease and bacteria can grow inside water lines. A hydroperoxide product with peracetic acid will descale and clean the pipes. A chlorine dioxide water treatment system will consistently keep the water lines clean.

“Descaling is important year-round but especially important in hot, humid weather when coccidiosis ramps up,” he added.

After cleaning and disinfecting, allow the room, crates and pens to fully dry before restocking. This allows the desiccation of any remaining bacteria.

Sow washing

“If you are going to the trouble of cleaning and disinfecting farrowing crates, there’s no sense in introducing pigs to dirty sows,” Schmitt said. “Mouth-to-skin contact happens immediately after birth, and washing sows reduces the transfer of E. coli and other enteric pathogens to newborn pigs.”

Iodine-based products are gentle on skin and decrease pathogen transfer to pigs, reducing the incidence of scouring.

Control rodents, insects

Rodent and insect control is critical. “Rodents and insects that inhabit manure pits can act as mechanical vectors to re-infect sows and pigs,” Schmitt said. “Studies have shown that PED and PRRS can both survive in manure slurry for an extended period of time. This is troublesome because rodents may travel back and forth from the manure pit to feeders.”

Rodent control starts with rodenticides used in a rotation of different active ingredients throughout the year. Pusey recommends using two rodenticides with different active ingredients that are anticoagulants and one rodenticide with an active ingredient that is a non-anticoagulant. This rotation will prevent the rodent population from building a resistance to the products.

“For seasonal use, strategize with your veterinarian because some products are better for mice versus rats and vice versa,” Schmitt added.

Cockroach and insect control are also important because they act as mechanical vectors of disease too. They bring disease onto a farm and spread it around.

And last, biosecurity strategies vary greatly between farms depending on the production stage, location and risk tolerance. For help developing a biosecurity program, contact your Four Star Veterinary Service veterinarian.



Prepare for pork-processing cutbacks caused by COVID-19

Fallout from coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) continues to affect the pork industry’s workforce, especially in pork processing. Some plants temporarily closed, and others reduced processing in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus among workers. This created a massive backlog of market hogs.

While most pork-processing plants are open, many are working with a limited workforce. Producers should be prepared for continued slow-downs in processing as plants work through the COVID-19 issues, said Jim Kober, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service veterinarian.

Short-term options

Just-in-time pork production has limited the ability of producers to hold market hogs on farms to handle issues like COVID-19. “As a result, there aren’t real good short-term options,” Kober admitted.

One option is changing grow-finish diets to lower growth rate and reduce costs. Fiber can be added to bulk up the feed and energy levels lowered to slow weight gain. He suggests working with a nutritionist when making diet changes.

“But pigs still seem to be able to get around anything we do and keep gaining weight,” Kober added.

Another option is raising the temperature in the finishing building a few degrees to encourage less feed intake.

Space per pig can be reduced, especially if growth rate and efficiency are not of primary concern. But overcrowding can lead to animal-welfare issues, especially with hogs close to market weight, Kober said.

The best place to overstock is with weaned pigs. They can be double stocked in pens for 6 to 7 weeks, he added.

If animals are sick, Kober encourages producers to treat an illness. “This is an animal-welfare issue,” he explained. “If pigs are sick, don’t back off treatment.”


Euthanizing pigs is used by some producers as a last option. Kober suggests euthanizing weaned pigs and holding market hogs as long as possible until the animals get too big for market channels.

The National Pork Board provides information about the preferred methods of euthanasia on their website. Visit the Farm Emergency Planning Resources.

States have different rules regarding the disposal of euthanized animals. Producers should check with their state pork-producer group or conservation board regarding these rules. Kober also suggests keeping good records of the pigs euthanized and their disposal.

Long-term options

“We have producers backing off on breeding numbers,” Kober said. “Four months from now this will help.”

Some producers are aborting sows. Products to help with sow abortions are available from a veterinarian, Kober added.

A wide range of other COVID-19 information related to pork production is available on the Pork Board’s COVID-19 resources for pork producers page.



COVID-19 prompts hog farms, veterinary clinics to limit contact for workers’ health

The disease causing the greatest concern in the pork industry today is not a swine disease but a human one — coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

As this nasty respiratory illness spreads throughout the US, pork producers and veterinarians realize the devastating impact it could have on a hog farm if the workforce becomes sick.

Fortunately, many producers can use the lessons learned from another coronavirus that affected their business. Eight years ago, porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) prompted many hog farms to improve biosecurity and prevent future outbreaks of PED.

“Swine producers already have a pretty good grasp on biosecurity,” reported Brad Schmitt, DVM, veterinarian with Four Star Veterinary Service, Rushville, Indiana. “They’ve been doing this kind of thing for years.

“But we have to stay vigilant because if one [employee] has it, it’s not long before others get it, and there will be a labor shortage,” he added.

Social distancing at work

A number of new procedures are being implemented on many hog farms to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees.

Social distancing is probably the most popular one used to limit contact with other workers. Employees take turns on breaks and remain 6 feet away from each other, according to Brittney Scales, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Mexico, Indiana. One farm added a breakroom to help provide more space for social distancing.

“Employees also are encouraged to stay home if sick,” Scales said. “Some farms have a system that if an employee becomes sick and needs to stay home, they will be paid as usual for up to 3 weeks. After that, the policy will be reviewed.”

Some farms ask employees to check their own temperature before showering into a hog facility. If they have a fever, they are asked to stay home for 2 weeks.

“Clients are doing the best they can to continue to do business as normal as possible and to provide for their employees,” Scales added. “First and foremost, they want to keep everyone healthy.”

Veterinarian-client interactions

Swine veterinary clinics also initiated biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees.

“In the large-animal practice, the first thing we put into place was lock the front door and post a phone number for clients to call and place an order,” noted Daniel Hendrickson, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Clinic in Farmland, Indiana. “We bring orders out to them.

“We’ve slowed down our visits to farms, too,” he continued “We aren’t doing regular, monthly herd checks unless something major is going on. But we are still doing necessary surgery.”

Hendrickson also is involved with a small-animal practice, and they eliminated client visits to the office, too. Technicians dressed in personal protective equipment pick up pets from client vehicles and bring the pets into the office for a check-up. If there are concerns, the veterinarian will go to the car and visit with the owner.

Hendrickson has noticed some clients are concerned about COVID-19 affecting animal supplies. “We are seeing some clients keep a couple weeks ahead of supplies, more because of what may happen if distribution companies become short-staffed,” he added.

Move to telemedicine

COVID-19 is forcing some veterinarians to use telemedicine with clients, Scales said. Clients send photos and video of their animals’ health issues and veterinarians try to determine treatments. It’s one way to prevent the spread of both human and animal disease.

When Scales does go to a farm, she wears a mask and personal protection equipment. But visits are getting fewer.

“We are still doing the health VCPR (veterinarian-client-patient relationship), but the rules are relaxed some to help get through this time,” Scales explained.

“Clients are doing the best they can to continue to do business as normal and to provide for their employees,” she added. “And first and foremost, they want to keep everyone healthy.”

More information

To find more information about strategies to handle COVID-19 in hog operations, visit and click on the COVID-19 Resources for Pork Producers page.

Included on this resource page are many links for answers about labor regulations, stay-at-home orders by state and documents to help plan for a COVID-19 outbreak. It also includes Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for preventing COVID-19.