Science Page: Effects of gestation pens versus stalls and wet versus dry feed on air contaminants in swine production (Part 1)

This is our Friday rubric: every week a new Science Page from the Bob Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Project. The previous editions of the science page are available on our website.

This week, we are sharing part of a scientific paper from faculty in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, regarding the effect of gestation pens versus group housing and dry versus wet feed on air contaminants. This week we are sharing the first half of the results, join us next week to read the second part.


  • Pollutant levels increased as ventilation rates decreased during the cold months.
  • Pen housing lead to higher levels of NH3, respirable dust, and endotoxin when compared to stalls.


Evolving production practices in the swine industry may alter the working environment. This research project characterized the influence of stall versus pen gestation housing on air contaminant concentrations.


Eight-hour time-weighted ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, respirable dust, respirable endotoxin, and carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature were measured
regularly at stationary locations throughout a year in a facility with parallel gestation stall and open pen housing. Hazard indices were calculated using ammonia,
hydrogen sulfide, and endotoxin concentrations and relevant occupational exposure limits.

air contaminant group housing versus stall


Due to reductions in ventilation rates as outdoor temperatures decreased, season affected pollutant levels more than other factors. Concentrations were greater during the
winter than summer (Figure 1). Ammonia, dust, and endotoxin were 25%, 43%, and 67% higher, respectively, on average, in the room with gestation pens than in the room with stalls. While individual contaminant concentrations were generally below regulatory limits, hazard index calculations suggest that the effects of combined exposures on respiratory health may pose a risk to farm workers. Additionally, elevated levels of respirable endotoxin and hydrogen sulfide were detected during power washing.


Ventilation changes in response to seasonal requirements influenced air contaminant concentrations more than production practices, especially housing type.

You can also read the full article on the journal’s website.

Production Losses From an Endemic Animal Disease: PRRS in Selected Midwest US Sow Farms

In this publication in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, Drs. Valdes-Donoso from UC Davis and Andres Perez from the Center of Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) at the University of Minnesota, measured the impact of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) on the production of weaned pigs.

To do so, they monitored 16 different sow farms, all parts of a single production system in the Midwest for 48 weeks and recorded a total of 8 indicators:

  • number of weaned pigs
  • number of stillbirths per litter
  • number of live births per litter
  • number of pre-weaned dead
  • number of sows farrowing
  • number of sows repeating service
  • number of sows aborting
  • number of sows dead

For each farm and each indicator, the 12 weeks before the outbreak served as a baseline for the farm performances and the data was recorded until 35 weeks post outbreaks. All of the outbreaks occurred during the second half of 2014. The inventory of the farms varied between 2,714 and 6,009 breeding females.

The following figure represented the weekly average for the 8 recorded parameters from 12 weeks pre-outbreak to 35-weeks post-outbreak.

Perez PRRS sow farm losses Midwest

Based on these results, it was estimated that a PRRS outbreak caused a 7.4% decrease in weaned pigs per sow year, i.e., 1.92 fewer weaned pigs per breeding unit. In an average sized farm of this firm, the slight reduction in farrowing yielded a decline of 249 fewer farrows per year. The chances that a sow repeats service increased by 37%, while aborted fetuses increased by 26% in a year with a PRRS outbreak.

The primary estimate (using 12 weeks as pre-outbreak period) is that PRRS reduced weaned pig production per farm by 7.4% on an annual basis, leading to a decrease in output value per sow year of $86.6, or $367,521 per farm year for an average sized farm. If instead we assume the outbreak began in t −1 (i.e., using 11 weeks as pre-outbreak period), the estimated reduction in weaned pig production was 7.6%, or $88.8 less per sow year and an average revenue loss of $376,773 among the farms studied.

Results showed that weaned pig production declined in week − 1, although statistically insignificant, as did several performance indicators. The data suggest that the average PRRS outbreak in this set of farms began at least one week before it was announced.”

The rise in abortions was the strongest signal of PRRSV activity in our data. Increased surveillance, particularly to rising abortions, may allow farms to identify PRRS more quickly.

The length of PRRS outbreaks, as well as their effects over time, is highly variable. The results of this study demonstrate that PRRS has a negative effect on weaned pig production for a longer time than previously estimated. Indeed, the estimated means of weaned pig production remained below the baseline throughout the 35 weeks that we are able to observe following the outbreak.

For more details, read the open-access publication on the Frontiers in Veterinary Science website.


Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) is an endemic disease causing important economic losses to the US swine industry. The complex epidemiology of the disease, along with the diverse clinical outputs observed in different types of infected farms, have hampered efforts to quantify PRRS’ impact on production over time. We measured the impact of PRRS on the production of weaned pigs using a log-linear fixed effects model to evaluate longitudinal data collected from 16 sow farms belonging to a specific firm. We measured seven additional indicators of farm performance to gain insight into disease dynamics. We used pre-outbreak longitudinal data to establish a baseline that was then used to estimate the decrease in production. A significant rise of abortions in the week before the outbreak was reported was the strongest signal of PRRSV activity. In addition, production declined slightly one week before the outbreak and then fell markedly until weeks 5 and 6 post-outbreak. Recovery was not monotonic, cycling gently around a rising trend. At the end of the study period (35 weeks post-outbreak), neither the production of weaned pigs nor any of the performance indicators had fully recovered to baseline levels. This result suggests PRSS outbreaks may last longer than has been found in most other studies. We assessed PRRS’ effect on farm efficiency as measured by changes in sow production of weaned pigs per year. We translated production losses into revenue losses assuming an average market price of $45.2/weaned pig. We estimate that the average PRSS outbreak reduced production by approximately 7.4%, relative to annual output in the absence of an outbreak. PRRS reduced production by 1.92 weaned pigs per sow when adjusted to an annual basis. This decrease is substantially larger than the 1.44 decrease of weaned pigs per sow/year reported elsewhere.

Science Page: Docking the tail or not: Effect on tail damage, skin lesions and growth performance

Pig tail
Credit: Jon Olav Eikenes

This is our Friday rubric: every week a new Science Page from the Bob Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Project. The previous editions of the science page are available on our website.

This week,  we are sharing a report by Dr. Yuzhi Li regarding the effects of tail docking in pigs.

Key points:

  • Many swine producers have been looking for an alternative to tail docking since it is a painful procedure for pigs.
  • A study examining welfare and performance of pigs with docked and undocked tails was performed
  • Performance was unaffected by tail docking, and it reduced incidence of tail damage

A study was conducted to evaluate the effect of tail docking on welfare and performance of growing-finishing pigs. Pigs, including 120 pigs that were tail-docked at birth and 120 pigs that remained with intact tails were used. Pigs were housed in 8 pens of 30 pigs in a
confinement barn for 16 weeks, with 4 pens each housing pigs of both sexes with docked or intact tails.

Results indicate that tail docking did not affect daily gain, feed intake, gain to feed ratio. During the study period, 5% of docked pigs were removed from their home pen due to tail damage, compared to 21% of intact pigs were removed for reasons associated with tail biting or tail damage. Consequently, 97% of docked pigs and 90% of intact pigs were sold for full value.

This study suggests that tail docking did not affect growth performance of pigs or eliminate occurrence of tail biting, but it reduced the incidence of
tail damage in pigs housed in a confinement system.

For more details, take a look at the full results table.

Science Page: Comparison of individual oral fluids, pooled oral fluids and Swiffer™ environmental samples of drinkers for the detection of influenza A virus and PRRS virus by PCR

This is our Friday rubric: every week a new Science Page from the Bob Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Project. The previous editions of the science page are available on our website.

This week,  we are sharing a study done by Taylor Homann, a DVM student at the University of Minnesota in collaboration with the Swine Vet Center and Boehringer Ingelheim, regarding the comparison of several sample types to detect PRRS and flu by PCR.

Key points:

  • Pooling oral fluid samples seems to be a good strategy to determine the status of a farm (positive/negative) for influenza A virus (IAV) and PRRSV.
  • Sampling water cups using environmental Swiffer™ samples appears to be a sensitive approach to detect IAV at the pen level.
  • However, sample size has been limited to one farm.


The objective of this project was to compare the sensitivity of pooled pen oral fluids (OF) and environmental samples (Swiffer™ kits on water cups) using individual pen oral fluids as the standard.


Fifteen paired environmental and individual pen OF were collected at days 3, 7, 10, 17, 24 and 31 post placement in two different nursery farms. Environmental samples (ES) were taken using Swiffer™ cloths to sample the bottom of water cups (both pans and bowls), focusing around nipples. After individual samples were collected, pen OF were pooled by 3.


There was an overall sensitivity of 71% (IAV) and 14% (PRRS) for the ES samples compared to individual OF. Pooled oral fluids samples had an overall sensitivity of 50%(IAV)and 80%(PRRSV)relative to individual pen OF.

Homann PRRS flu Oral fluid water cup sample comparison

In summary, ES appears to be a good strategy when sampling for IAV and not a reliable option when trying to diagnose PRRSV.

Understanding Tail-Biting in Pigs through Social Network Analysis

Today, we are sharing a publication on pig welfare by our colleagues in the Outreach and Extension center at the University of Minnesota, Drs. Li, Zhang, Johnston and Martin. More specifically, the researchers focused their study on the effect of social network on tail-biting in pigs. The full-text of the article is available in open-access on the website of the journal Animals.

We know that pigs are social animals and that they naturally form social structures to maintain a cohesive group. However, we have little understanding of how those group dynamics affect deleterious behavior like tail-biting.  To answer the question of the association between social structure and incidence of tail-biting in pigs, the researchers created 18 groups of 8 pigs.

  • 6  groups were Littermates: all the 8 pigs were born from and nursed by the same sow.
  • 6 groups were Half-group of littermates: 4 pigs were born from the same sow whereas the 4 others came from the litter of another sow.
  • 6 groups were Non-littermates: all 8 pigs were born from a different sow.

Each group was housed in a nursery pen after weaning where the pigs stayed for the duration of the study until they reached 10 weeks of age. Researchers analyzed growth performances, tail injuries, and behavior.

Growth performances did not differ among groups in this study. However, littermates showed a higher incidence of tail-biting with 15% of the pigs showing chewing or puncture wounds with visible blood but no infection.

tailbiting and social networkBehavior was analyzed by videotaping the pigs 2 weeks after they were placed into their pens, 1 week later when each group was moved together to a new pen and 1 week after the move. The video recordings were viewed by a trained researcher to determine association interactions among pigs. Pigs were considered associated with each other if they were lying together frequently and with more than 50% or more of their bodies in contact with each other. For each pig (white circle in the figure above), researchers measured the direct association between each individual pig and its penmates (1) as well as the peripheral association among the penmates (2).

At the individual pig level, littermates had lower direct association than non-littermates and half-group of littermates, suggesting that littermates might be less socially connected directly among themselves. However, the indirect association among penmates did not vary.

Another interesting observation, although statistically insignificant, is that littermates appeared to spend less time in the lying posture than other groups.

Overall, littermates had a lower strength of social connections, more absent ties, and fewer weak ties, compared to non-littermates and half-group of littermates. Less social connection with pen-mates might predispose pigs in littermate pens to development of tail-biting. Regardless of litter origin, most pigs appeared connected by weak social ties and few pigs formed strong social ties with their pen mates.


The objective of this study was to investigate the association between social structure and incidence of tail-biting in pigs. Pigs (n = 144, initial weight = 7.2 ± 1.57 kg, 4 weeks of age) were grouped based on their litter origin: littermates, non-littermates, and half-group of littermates. Six pens (8 pigs/pen) of each litter origin were studied for 6 weeks. Incidence of tail injury and growth performance were monitored. Behavior of pigs was video recorded for 6 h at 6 and 8 weeks of age. Video recordings were scanned at 10 min intervals to register pigs that were lying together (1) or not (0) in binary matrices. Half weight association index was used for social network construction. Social network analysis was performed using the UCINET software. Littermates had lower network density (0.119 vs. 0.174; p < 0.05), more absent social ties (20 vs. 12; p < 0.05), and fewer weak social ties (6 vs. 14, p < 0.05) than non-littermates, indicating that littermates might be less socially connected. Fifteen percent of littermates were identified as victimized pigs by tail-biting, and no victimized pigs were observed in other treatment groups. These results suggest that littermates might be less socially connected among themselves which may predispose them to development of tail-biting.

Longitudinal study of Senecavirus shedding and viremia in sows and piglets

How long do sows and piglets shed Senecavirus A after a clinical outbreak? How long is the viremia? Those are the questions answered in this case study of a Senecavirus A outbreak in one US farm.

Objective and Methods

Senecavirus A is a challenge for producers and veterinarians because of its clinical similarity to Food and Mouth Disease (FMD). In this study, 34 sows and 30 individual piglets from 15 different litters were sampled at day 1 post-outbreak and later at 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 9 weeks post-outbreak (PO). Serum, and tonsil, rectal, and vesicular swabs were collected for all of the pigs included in the study. The objective of the study was to explore the viremia and shedding patterns in those infected animals. All samples were submitted to the University of Minnesota, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to be tested by PCR.

longitudinal study of senecavirus figures Tousignant 2017.gif
Percentage of serum (a), tonsil swabs (b), and rectal swabs (c) positive for Senecavirus A. Clinical outbreak happened in sow farm 1 (S1) and piglets from sow farm 2 (S2) were mixed with piglets from S1 at weaning.



Vesicular lesions were seen in sows only for 2 weeks and had the highest amount of virus. In sows, the detection of Senecavirus A in tonsil and rectal swabs was greater than 90% at 0 week PO and remained as high as 50% through 5 weeks PO. Generally, viremia was detected up to 1 week PO in sows but it is important to note that viremia was not detected in 11 out of 34 (32%) of the sows at any point during the study. Viremia was detected in 18 out of 30 (60%) and 19 out of 30 (63%) in the suckling piglets from site 1. Similar to sows, viremia was not detected in 9 out of 30 (30%) of the site 1 piglets enrolled in the study.

The detection of Senecavirus A in sows tonsil swabs peaked 1 week PO (94% positive) whereas it peaked at day 1 PO for piglets (83% positive). The detection of virus shedding decreased over time in sows and piglets, and a single sow and piglet tested positive at 9 weeks PO.

The peak of Senecavirus A detection from rectal swabs in sows (91%) occurred at day 1 PO and continued to steadily decrease and was not detected at 9 weeks PO. In site 1 piglets, the detection of SVA peaked at 1 week PO (90% positive). 64% of the rectal swabs were positive at 4 weeks PO in site 1 piglets. At 6 weeks PO, the detection of Senecavirus A was same for both site 1 and 2 piglets (11%); however, a single piglet from site 1 was still shedding SVA at 9 weeks PO.


The study assessed the shedding pattern of SVA in sows and piglets during an outbreak on a farm in the US and investigated the spread of SVA between pigs during the post weaning period. Vesicular lesions were seen in sows only for 2 weeks and had the highest amount of virus. In sows, the detection of SVA in tonsil and rectal swabs was greater than 90% at 0 week PO and remained as high as 50% through 5 weeks PO, these sample types should be collected and submitted, in addition to vesicular lesion swabs and fluid (if present), as part of FAD investigations for the detection of SVA.


Click on the banner below to access the full article.

longitudinal study of senecavirus Tousignant 2017


Background: The study highlights the shedding pattern of Senecavirus A (SVA) during an outbreak of vesicular disease in a sow farm from the South-central Minnesota, USA. In this study, 34 individual, mixed parity sows with clinical signs of vesicular lesions and 30 individual piglets from 15 individual litters from sows with vesicular lesions were conveniently selected for individual, longitudinal sampling. Serum, tonsil, rectal, and vesicular swabs were collected on day 1 post outbreak, and then again at 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 9 weeks post outbreak. Samples were tested at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for SVA via Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR)
Results: In sows, vesicular lesions had the highest concentration of SVA, but had the shortest duration of detection lasting only 2 weeks. Viremia was detected for 1 week post outbreak, and quickly declined thereafter. SVA was detected at approximately the same frequency for both tonsil and rectal swabs with the highest percentage of SVA positive samples detected in the first 6 weeks post outbreak. In suckling piglets, viremia quickly declined 1 week post outbreak and was prevalent in low levels during the first week after weaning (4 weeks post outbreak) and was also detected in piglets that were co-mingled from a SVA negative sow farm. Similar to sows, SVA detection on rectal and tonsil swabs in piglets lasted approximately 6 weeks post outbreak.
Conclusion: The study illustrates the variation of SVA shedding patterns in different sample types over a 9 week period in sows and piglets, and suggests the potential for viral spread between piglets at weaning.

Science Page: Introducing Secure Pork Supply

This is our Friday rubric: every week a new Science Page from the Bob Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Project. The previous editions of the science page are available on our website.

This week, we are talking about Secure Pork Supply (SPS).

The goal of SPS is to develop procedures that pork producers, processors, and Federal and State agencies all agree are feasible to allow for the safe movement of animals from farms in an FAD Control Area to harvest channels or other production sites as long as they have no evidence of disease.

Secure Pork Supply

 Key points

  • In the event of a foreign animal disease (FAD) outbreak in the U.S., maintaining business continuity for the pork industry is critical for food security and animal health and well-being.
  • The goal of the Secure Pork Supply (SPS) Plan is to provide a workable business continuity plan.
  • Having the SPS Plan in place prior to a FAD outbreak will enhance coordination and communication between all parties and speed up a successful FAD response.

Click here to see the full report