For Jarrod and Shari Bakker of Dike, Iowa, understanding “pig germs” is an important part of their operation’s success. Not only do the Bakkers run a 2,400 head contract wean-to-finish barn and have a herd of 50 showpig sows, but they also have three young children.
Shari says helping the kids understand biosecurity and how germs are spread is critical to their operation’s success. Their wean-to-finish barns are located six miles from where their showpigs are located. From day one, the kids have learned that they always wear different clothing to and from the finishing site, shower immediately after returning from the finishing site and make sure they always wear different shoes/boots.
“Our kids are still young, so we teach them biosecurity in terms of ‘germs.’ We talk about how important it is to limit new germs from being introduced to our pig herds. The kids get to pick out separate chore shoes to keep at the grow to finish building, as well as at our showpig operation, which gives them some ownership in biosecurity practices,” she says.
They’ve also taught their children about the dangers of driving from farm to farm and how easy it is to transfer diseases on truck tires and car mats.
“They have fun reminding each other about washing hands, changing clothes and shoes and taking showers in between farms right away,” she says. “When we attend livestock shows, the kids practice putting their show boots into bags and keeping them in the trailer, rather than wearing them into the truck or right back into the house or home barns. We teach them about keeping our show pigs separate from the gestational sows until we are sure they have come back healthy.”
At the end of the day, maintaining good health in their sow herd translates into healthy baby pigs that can then be sold to customers across the country, as well as to market. Getting those baby pigs off to a healthy start gives them a huge advantage in terms of growth and longevity for show stock, as well as breeding stock in the herd, Shari says.
“On our farm, biosecurity isn't limited to preventing diseases from entering our farm, but also to minimizing the exposure our hogs have to outside influences. This not only improves things like growth and lung function, but it also translates into healthy skin and hair, strong feet and legs and the ability to perform in the show ring and on the grow floor,” she adds.
African swine fever on the mind
Right now, there’s no denying African swine fever (ASF) is a threat they are keeping an eye on, Jarrod says.
“We know that if ASF were to come to the U.S., a lot of things in our lives would change very quickly,” he adds.
ASF has reminded them how important it is to remain involved in industry groups, to attend educational meetings and to keep up on local, national and worldwide news.
“Being informed and involved in the livestock industry is the best and most practical way to ensure you have the most reliable information and can implement new practices in the most efficient way possible,” she says. “It has also really strengthened the relationship we have with the vet community, as we continue to keep up on information and keep our vet involved in livestock show participation and travel with our livestock.”
As the threat of ASF continues to grow, the U.S. swine industry has begun shortening time periods for vet inspections, discussing stricter health regulations and "tightening the belt" in terms of disease prevention so to speak, Shari says.
“Knowing the practical implications of the emergency plans groups like National Pork Board and Iowa Pork Producers have developed in response to ASF helps us plan how we would handle an outbreak of any type, not only in Iowa but across the nation,” she says.
But for now, Jarrod says they have to keep doing business as usual and can’t live in fear.
“Biosecurity isn’t a one-size-fits-all mentality,” he says. “You’ve got to do what works for you and your farm all while keeping the health and safety of the pigs as your number one priority.”
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