Danish experience in PRRS control can benefit NI pork producers

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Several members of the UFU’s Pork and Bacon committee recently visited Denmark to gain first-hand experience of control initiatives to address Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS).

PRRS (or Blue Ear disease) affects both breeding and finishing herds and can have a devastating impact on commercial pig farms, resulting in reduced pig performance and ultimately profit.

PRRS is an extremely difficult disease to control. However, the Danish experience has shown that it is possible to control and eradicate the disease from both individual herds and local regions when there is a combined effort by both producers and vets.

In Denmark, a method known as ‘load, close, and expose’ combined with stringent biosecurity protocols is used to eliminate the virus without incurring the substantial financial losses associated with traditional herd depopulation and repopulation methods. The process involves ‘loading’ the breeding herd with gilts before ‘closing’ the herd to new animals.

At this stage, the herd is uniformly ‘exposed’ to the virus (usually via vaccination). This process is combined with the ‘10 Golden Rules’ of the Management Changes to Reduce Exposure to Bacteria to Eliminate Losses (McREBEL) system in order to reduce the spread of PRRS and secondary bacterial infections amongst farrowing houses and nursery pigs. Whilst the McREBEL system is extremely effective in reducing and controlling various diseases, it can be difficult to implement as some farms are unwilling to take the robust steps necessary for it to be most effective. However, the Danish experience has repeatedly proven that where people are willing to put in the effort, this process is successful in controlling and eradicating the disease both on individual farms and in some small geographic regions.

As part of the tour, the group visited a 2,200 sow farm that had successfully eradicated the disease. Prior to control, the farm had been suffering from PRRS type 1 and was experiencing 14% mortality at farrowing. However, as a result of the intervention, the producer was able to eradicate the disease and saw a 20% increase in kilograms per pen per year and on farm income increased by around €4 per pig.

In coming months, Pig Regen will be conducting PRRS sampling for the NI pig industry, and producers should be encouraged by the experience and success in Denmark that PRRS control and eradication is possible where producers are willing to make the effort and seek appropriate advice and expertise from their veterinarian.