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We Can’t Ignore the Real Costs of PRRS Any Longer

Why is the pork industry living with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS)? Although PRRS incidences look lower so far this year, experts say it’s not something to get excited about yet. 

“This year is a bit unique,” Pipestone’s Cara Haden, DVM, said at the Ohio Pork Congress. “Instead of living with PRRS, many farms have gone ahead and depopulated and repopulated instead of living with and doing a PRRS elimination. The truth is PRRS is not new, and it is not going to go away on its own.”

This devastating virus is making it challenging for the U.S. to claim to be the “absolute best in the world,” Haden says. For example, Denmark producers 36.8 pigs per sow per year, while the U.S. is at 27.35. When up to 40% of U.S. pig farms break with PRRS every year, that has a real impact on numbers, Haden says.

In addition, the U.S. has the worst finishing mortality of any of the major swine producing companies. 

“We need to take that very seriously. Being dead last in the world for finishing mortality is not something that the United States swine industry should be proud of,” Haden adds. “The U.S. has a lot of work to do when it comes to PRRS. We have not made a lot of progress in the last 12 years, things have actually gotten worse from a PRRS standpoint. 

In 2021, Derald Holtkamp at Iowa State University came out with a study estimating that PRRS costs the U.S. pork industry $664 million a year. Pipestone Management Company recently gathered data and estimated that PRRS costs their system about $200 per sow per year. 

“If you're looking at a 5,000-sow farm, that's a million dollars – just at the sow farm level alone,” Haden says. “On grow-finish, if we look at average daily gain, adjusted feed conversion and percent tops, we are looking at $13.64 per head for a PRRS-positive group in the finishing base.”

Pipestone estimates the cost of PRRS is closer to $1 billion a year now.

Economics aside, Haden says there is a very real cost of PRRS when it comes to pigs, people and public perception. 

For example, when you go out to the sow barn to feed and no sows get up, that’s proof that PRRS is affecting the quality of a sow’s life.  “If we're looking at how the pig feels and are trying to tell consumers that we're doing a good job caring for these pigs, PRRS is a really difficult story,” she points out.

In addition, the people who care for the pigs are feeling it, too. 

“Raising pigs is really fun when pigs are healthy – when we go to the barn and take care of issues, check on the environment, treat a couple of pigs and make sure our pigs are doing good,” Haden says. “It is not fun when we have to drag out dead pigs, inject pigs that are sick, and reshuffle our sort pen because it's full again.”

And the next generation is watching, she says. “I talk to a lot of young farmers who say, ‘If this is what it's like, I frankly don't know that I'm interested in doing this for the rest of my career.’”

The public’s perception of PRRS is another impact that can’t be discounted.

“The public doesn't look at us and go, ‘Oh, these poor farmers, what a tough disease. That's a bummer for them.’ No, the public looks at it and goes, ‘What are pig farmers doing wrong? Is this a terrible environment?’” Haden says. “We have to take this really seriously as an industry – 20% of pigs should not die from PRRS.”

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