Truck wash a hedge against spreading hog disease

Farm Forum

For Mitch Truebenbach, building a truck wash in Hecla is a cheap insurance policy. The pork industry lost 10 percent of the swineherd in this last year due to a disease called porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv). Having the capability to wash down the company’s trucks and heat the trucks to disable to virus does a lot to protect the animals.

Located next to the grain elevator on the town’s main street, the building is 88 feet by 145 feet. An area on the east end houses one bay that will be used exclusively for washing the Agriswine hog trailers. An adjacent addition will have living quarters for the drivers to change clothes, eat and sleep before getting back on the road. The swine industry seeks to control the flow of disease by requiring changes of clothes and wearing disposable shoe coverings.

“How do we justify the cost?” Truebenbach repeated the question. “If having the truck wash keeps the PEDv from spreading, I consider it good insurance policy.” To limit the exposure, only Agriswine hog trailers will be able to use the washout – no other hog trailers can use it.

Agriswine Alliance markets 500,000 to 600,000 pigs each year. The industry has tracked the spread of the disease and estimates that an amount of infected feces as small as a pencil eraser can infect a sow and in turn spread through the herd.

According to Todd Tedrow at the South Dakota Animal Industry Board, since May of 2013 there have been 55 cases of PEDv in South Dakota, with 36 premises having affected swine and 19 cases involving virus-positive environmental samples such as equipment, office floors, and other similar items or places. Truebenbach wants to make sure the animals under his care don’t show up in those statistics.

As consumers demand more bacon, fewer hog numbers will likely push the price of pork up as there are less numbers going to market. Truebenbach said that the industry is watching the spread of the disease closely. While numbers have settled down for now, a few cases have been reported in southern states, and there are reports of the disease breaking in Mexico and China. “If the disease breaks among our hogs, then we’re in big trouble,” he said. The industry is concerned about the winter months when the animals are closely confined.

Cleaning up

The Agriswine trucks transporting animals from facility to facility will be pre-washed and cleaned of the wood chips used as bedding. At the truck wash, high pressure washers will be directed at the surface of the livestock trailer to rinse any materials. Once that is done, the temperature will be raised to 120 degrees for a period of time to kill off any remaining virus. Then the crew will apply disinfectant as a final safety measure. Agriswine has two trailers that they use to haul gilts, the females who will produce baby pigs. It takes about 6 hours to thoroughly clean a truck.

Farmers also can bring their grain trucks, hopper-bottom trucks and livestock trailers in to be washed. The rest of the facility will be used for products for the company’s business. The company’s feed business includes all livestock species in bulk, bags or totes.

Industry sources say the disease infects the cells lining the small intestine of a pig. Older hogs mostly get sick and lose weight after being infected. For many newborn piglets, it can be a death sentence within five days of contracting the virus, causing severe diarrhea and dehydration. PEDv cannot be transmitted to humans, nor contaminate the human food supply.

The baby pigs are trucked into the Agriswine Alliance system from Canadian suppliers every 28 days. The truck driver from that company stays in the cab while the crew from Agriswine directs the young animals down the chute and into the pig barns. As a wean–to-finish operation, the pigs will move to a finishing barn for approximately four months and then go to the meat packer.

The company is a family business with Truebenbach’s wife Carolyn, their daughters Demi, Amanda and Blair and their son, Cole, involved. The whole family knew adding the truck washing facility would involve more work. “They all know that if the disease breaks, it can be pretty devastating to our operation,” Truebenbach said.

Feed concerns

Because of the concern that the disease may be spread through feed sources, Truebenbach takes an all-natural approach to minimize risk and exposure. Through Dakota Plains Feed and Grain, an elevator owned by the family, he purchases corn from area farmers plus corn oil and DDGs. The corn is ground through the roller mill and mixed with other ingredients.

The satellite hog barns have a fully automated feeding system. There are 10,000 to 12,000 pigs a week that are placed with customers through the company’s system. Right now, the company ships out 150 to 200 tons of feed a day in their system. For example, the barn west of Frederick has 2,400 pigs and they get 25 tons of feed twice a week.

Another company owned by Truebenbach, called Agricare Nutrition, employs 13 people in Sioux Falls. The company provides a pre-mix feed to mills throughout South Dakota as well as southern Minnesota and Iowa.

Truebenbach held an open house on Saturday for the Hecla community to see the facility. He also met with farmers to talk with them about raising a high-energy corn that he’ll use in his feed rations. He knows that people are curious about the facility, and he welcomes questions. Because of the limited access to the facilities due to essential biosecurity measures, he says he wants people to know what is going on in the operation.

Once the virus started spreading last year, Mitch started thinking about putting up the truck wash, and he decided he couldn’t afford to not go ahead with the plans. The construction started in October and still has some finishing touches and equipment that will be installed. There are a number of truck washes going up around the state, especially in areas where hogs are raised.

Truebenbach said the city of Hecla and the state of South Dakota were good to work with in planning the project. “We want to be good stewards, and we don’t want to pollute. We’ll have to take water samples, and the state will inspect twice a year,” Truebenbach said in regard to regulations.

Record keeping is a big component of the operations with two people dedicated to tracking information. When the animals head off to the packing plant, paperwork goes in the truck that traces every bit of information about the pigs including what feed they’ve consumed and the vaccinations and medications they’ve received.

“I think we’ll really see the need for this in the future,” Truebenbach said. “Now we’re not required, but down the road we probably will. People want to know where their food comes from. Tracking it in this way is good for the consumers and good for me to provide to my financial lenders. The more we share, the better the system will be.”