Pig Survivability

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The Pork Checkoff animal science research committee is focused on the issue of pig survivability. National Pork Board director of animal science Chris Hostetler is our guest in this edition of Pork Pod. Hostetler emphasizes the importance of the welfare, health, and productivity of the pigs.


Don Wick


Chris Hostetler, Director of Animal Science, National Pork Board




Don Wick: 00:00 From the Pork Checkoff in Des Moines, Iowa, it’s Pork Pod. Pork Pod, a look at the hot topics in today’s pork industry. The Pork Checkoff is working for you through various forms of research, promotion, and consumer information projects. I’m Don Wick speaking on behalf of the Pork Checkoff and today our guest is Chris Hostetler, director of Animal Science for the National Pork Board, and Chris, we’ve talked about this subject of pig survivability in the past. The Pork Checkoff is working with the academic community on this particular issue as well. Bring us up to speed if you would.

Chris Hostetler: 00:32 Yeah, absolutely. So the Animal Science Committee in and the Welfare Committee at the National Pork Board decided to work in this area of improving survivability. And one of the ways that we know that we can do that is by improving welfare, health and productivity of the pigs and this in turn, will lead to improved survivability. And so a year ago or so that these committees came together and started talking about how we might go about doing that. One of the things that they decided was that not just research, but also an outreach component and a training component for graduate students and undergraduates, veterinary students that will be working in this field would be very key in changing the way we raise pigs for pork production. And so, they put out a request for proposals out. We had five proposals returned to us, to take a consortium type of approach to addressing this issue. And the consortium that the committees decided to fund was led by Jason Ross at Iowa State University. But it also involves a 16 researchers from Kansas State, Purdue University. And over the next five years they will focus solely on this research area.

Don Wick: 01:56 Why is this such an important topic?

Chris Hostetler: 01:59 Well, the Animal Science Committee, each year, works with the data capture company to calculates some benchmark figures for the industry. And if you look at that information in our industry productivity analysis, you will see that across all areas of pork production, all phases of production, about 35 percent of the pigs that are opportunity pigs don’t ever get to market and a loss due to attrition along the way. And so they took this as a very serious flaw in business model, how we raise pigs and, and, a very serious drain on productivity and want to take it on as one of their areas that they can really make some change.

Don Wick: 02:48 Can significant changes be made in a five year period like this?

Chris Hostetler: 02:53 Yeah. I think the research and training efforts as well as the outreach effort that’s associated this area that is in the proposal that’s been put forth, I think they will make very serious changes in the way we go about raising pigs. You know, we already know a lot of the reasons why pigs are lost, one reason or another and you know, in and of itself, each phase of production, a little bit of attrition along the way is, is a sort of expected and part of the business model, but when you add them up across the life expectancy, that six month period of time that pig reaches market, then it becomes a much larger issue. And I would say to that it’s really trending in the wrong direction, right? So, as our productivity improves one of the areas that keeps increasing rather than decreasing is mortality across these phases of production. And so we really need to switch that trend and look to decrease that rather than to have this continual gradual increase in mortality.

Don Wick: 04:06 So how do you involve the next generation of future industry leaders on this topic?

Chris Hostetler: 04:13 Yeah. So, you know, those graduate students, undergraduate help, the veterinary students, those are the folks that are going to be the decision makers 15 and 20 years from now in our pork production companies. And so really getting them exposure, not just to collecting data and running a research trial, but exposure to what goes on at the day to day operation of a swine production facility and getting better understanding of them on what needs to be done to make these changes. I think that’s going to be key in how pigs are raised down the road.

Don Wick: 05:02 Kind of interesting when you step back and think about it, small changes in a lot of different areas could add up to really some big things for pig survivability.

Chris Hostetler: 05:13 Yeah, absolutely. You know, I firmly believe that it’s just an accumulation of small things that we do a day to day in the life of a pig that, that can affect it one way or the other. You know, genetics, nutrition, health, biosecurity, all of those things done collectively will really help to improve the survivability of pigs. And, and I, I think that’s one of the keys is that, you know, it’s every day you’ve got to do the little things that really change that outcome.

Don Wick: 05:49 So what does success look like for a project like this?

Chris Hostetler: 05:52 Yeah, their intention is to improve survivability by one percent over annually, during the life of the project and do research that will improve that. So I think they’ve got a really good shot at the way, at their approach and in a really good shot at making progress in that area. I’d like to mention that the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research has partnered with the National Pork Board in supporting this work. So the Animal Science Committee and the Welfare Committee combined, we put together a million dollars to support this. And then we reached out to them and said, you know, this is a big issue in terms of food security for the US and sustainable production. And they agreed with us and they, they matched our $1,000,000. So it’s just a great opportunity to leverage those, a producer dollars and essentially double the amount of investment in this work. You know, it’s something that producers take very, very seriously and it’s a great opportunity for us for a lot of different reasons. And, and having Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research come alongside us and support us is extremely important.

Don Wick: 07:09 Chris Hostetler from the National Pork Board. Thanks to you for listening to this edition of Pork Pod. For more information on this topic or the Pork Checkoff itself, visit pork.org.