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Swine disease rocks pork producers

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, now known as PRRS, is pitting pork producers against each other in Indiana. One lawsuit has already been filed, and the Indiana state veterinarian has been criticized for not adequately protecting Indiana hogs from pigs infected with the disease.

PRRS affects hogs in two forms — as a reproductive disease and as a respiratory illness. While the virus can affect hogs of all ages, it’s much more costly in sow units where it can cause abortions in sows and high death losses among nursing pigs. Therefore, the issue is largely between pork producers with sow farrowing units and hog finishers.

Key Points

PRRS raises controversy between sow operations and finishers.

One lawsuit has already been filed in the dispute.

A North Carolina firm intentionally infected gilts raised in Indiana.


Seedstock operations are also impacted both by production losses in sow units by and loss of a market for their boars, boar semen and gilts since they can carry the PRRS infection.

One key to keeping sow herds free of PRRS is for producers to isolate their herds from other hogs that might carry the PRRS virus. Sandra Amass, Purdue University veterinary professor, advises pork producers to keep a minimum of two miles of separation between their hogs and neighboring hogs, or their manure.

Lawsuit filed

But sow and seedstock producers are complaining that finishers are building units close to their sow units and bringing in PRRS-infected pigs, putting their sow and seedstock operations at risk.

And Indiana pork producer Alan Wilhoite, Lebanon, contends one North Carolina-based hog producer, TDM Farms Inc., is intentionally infecting gilts with the PRRS virus in its Indiana growing facilities, then allowing the gilts to develop immunity in Indiana, putting Indiana hogs at risk, before they are shipped to the company’s farrowing operations in North Carolina.

Wilhoite, who owns and manages a family-owned 1,800-sow farrow-to-finish operation, charges in a lawsuit that the action of TDM Farms Inc. of intentionally infecting gilts with PRRS and housing them in a grower unit near his sow operation led to abortions in 2009 in his sow unit.

“We had 200 sows abort, some just days before they were to farrow,” he says. “In addition, we had death losses as high as 30% in our pig nursery, and additional losses from slow gain and death in growing and finishing pigs in the months following the outbreak.”

He says that after about a year things have settled down, but losses were very significant. He is asking for damages from TDM Farms Inc., the owner of the pigs, and Dale Johnson, who owns the nearby farm where the pigs are housed. Wilhoite contends that a lab analysis of the strain of PRRS infecting his herd matches with the strain of PRRS virus TDM was using at the time to intentionally infect gilts to grow immunity in them.

Company response

TDM does not dispute the fact that it is intentionally infecting young gilts to give them immunity. “Pig producers have two choices when dealing with PRRS,” says TDM. “Either isolate them far from others in the hopes of maintaining a PRRS-free operation, or expose young hogs to the disease to allow them to develop immunity.”

TDM Farms Inc. says it infected the gilts on the Johnson farm with PRRS, but disputes Wilhoite’s contention that he can prove that the virus from that farm was responsible for his losses.

“PRRS has been present on the Johnson Farm since the 1990s,” says TDM. “Other farms in the area also had a history of PRRS. Wilhoite chose to purchase a farm adjacent to the Johnson farm in 2006,” points out the company.

“My complaint with TDM,” says Wilhoite, “is that they didn’t tell us of their intentions to infect gilts on their farm near my sow unit. If they had, we could have tried to reason with them beforehand, or at least tried to take additional steps to prevent our herd from getting the virus.”

TDM does not dispute Wilhoite’s contention that it didn’t alert him of its plans to infect pigs on the Johnson farm. However, TDM says it has no legal obligation to give such an alert.

Queck writes from Indianapolis.

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Sows at risk: Sows that become infected with PRRS during pregnancy rarely are able to produce litters like these.

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Suffered losses: Alan Wilhoite’s herd suffered abortions and pig death when PRRS hit his farrow-to-finish swine operation.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.