Lessons from a survey to assess FAD preparedness among pig owners in one Michigan county

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ncrease awareness and preparedness of pork producers for a foreign animal disease outbreak.

The MSU Extension pork team is in the final stages of a project designed to increase awareness and preparedness of pork producers for a foreign animal disease (FAD) outbreak. This project was funded by the Michigan Pork Producers Association and focuses on farmers and 4-H youth who own pigs housed in Branch County. 

Branch County was selected due to its substantial and diverse pork producer population that includes large and small farms and a large contingent of show pig enthusiasts. The survey and outreach were designed to help develop an emergency contact list of pig owners that could be used in the event of a FAD outbreak in the U.S., and to increase awareness on how to prepare for such an event. Through the survey and follow-up processes, MSU Extension pork team staff also hope to learn more about how farmers currently view the threat of a FAD outbreak to their operations. The project was launched last August, and surveys are still being collected while educational outreach continues for farmers interested in learning more.  

The team has collected sufficient data to draw some preliminary conclusions and wanted to share those with MPPA members at this time: 

Survey of pig owners  

The survey was developed and administered using Qualtrics™ and consists of seven main questions, including: county and township their farm is located in, if they currently have pigs on their farm, how to best describe their operation, estimate of how many pigs they raise per year, if they work with a vet, and if they would be willing to discuss their operation with a survey team member.  

The survey, which requires 3-5 minutes to complete, was initially sent electronically to Branch County residents registered with Pork Checkoff’s PQA certification program. Four weeks later, it was resent electronically to the same list. Hard copy versions of the survey were sent by regular mail in October to Branch County residents who are registered members of MPPA; the mailing included an addressed and stamped return envelope. Other efforts to expand participation included promotional stories (that contained QR Codes and links directly to the survey) in the local newspapers, Facebook blasts to local 4-H youth who show pigs, advertisements in The Budget (a weekly publication designed to reach the local Amish community), Farmer’s Day presentations, and multiple descriptions of the survey with our contact information broadcast on local radio. 

Responses to the survey 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the survey delivery format was converted from individual/in-person farm visits to exclusive use of surveys delivered electronically or by regular mail. This loss of face-to-face contact, along with survey/ZOOM/remote learning fatigue reported frequently, probably contributed to a low response rate (less than 50%) to the survey thus far. As of late June, 28 surveys have been completed and returned; 12 responded from surveys distributed electronically by MSU Extension and 16 responded to the same survey delivered by regular mail from the MPPA office to MPPA members.  

Some farmers may have been more comfortable responding to the paper survey, which afforded the opportunity to write in comments to the questions. It is also possible that MPPA members surveyed are more comfortable responding to questions coming from the commodity organization to which they belong rather than the University.  

When contacted by phone, several members of the community reported that their current concerns were directed more at other issues that were of immediate concern rather than a potential FAD outbreak somewhere in the U.S. Some stated that their investment in pigs is too small to justify significant attention at this time; they have extra pen space and would simply hold pigs on their farms if affected by a quarantine. 

High response rate among large producers  

All (10/10) Branch County pork producers raising 500 or more pigs annually responded to either the initial electronic or first hard copy survey. Large producers would have more to lose if a FAD outbreak shut down pig movement for more than a few days. Smaller operations, especially those raising pigs on pasture, could more easily absorb disruptions associated with an extended stop movement order than large operations, and this is likely an important factor in their low response rate.  

Most respondents are interested in additional information about FADs  

Survey participants were asked if they would be interested in being contacted by MSU Extension to learn more about preparing for a FAD. Over 60% (18/28) responded that they would like to be contacted. Some participants who preferred not to be contacted further regarding FAD preparations were individuals from large operations who had participated in SPS planning exercises offered by MSU Extension in early 2019. 

Some pigs are located on premises that lack a PIN  

While all large farms responding to the survey have Premise ID Numbers (PINs), some small farms and youth exhibitors do not. Having a PIN that can be used to trace animals and diagnostic samples to specific farm locations is an essential requirement for resume movement permits in the event of a FAD outbreak in the U.S.  

Over half of responding farmers work with a veterinarian  

In the Branch County survey about half (16/28) of respondents stated that they work with a veterinarian. This included all larger operations (10/10 raising >500 pigs), but only a small percentage of small farms (six raising <25 pigs with two having zero pigs currently). Current SPS guidelines recommend that all farms have an Enhanced Biosecurity Plan that is reviewed and approved by a veterinarian; and that this should be a requirement for resumption of pig movement onto or off from farms during an outbreak in the U.S.  

Outreach by MSU Extension

 Branch County pig owners who responded in the survey that they would be interested in learning more about preparing for African Swine Fever or other FADs that can infect pigs are currently being contacted by their preferred method (phone or email). During these contacts, participants are offered assistance for obtaining a PIN and identifying a veterinarian who can help prepare their Enhanced Biosecurity Plan. They are also asked if they could use assistance establishing a proper perimeter buffer area and lines of separation, and if they would like to post disease monitoring signs (provided by Pork Checkoff) describing clinical signs associated with African Swine Fever and other FADs. 

Recommendations for anyone who raises pigs anywhere in the U.S.  

There are a few easy steps that everyone who owns pigs in the U.S. can take to help minimize the impacts of a FAD outbreak in their county, regardless of how many animals they are responsible for or where they live and farm:  

  1. First and foremost, understand that even though your investment in animals may be small (so the economic risks associated with a FAD outbreak may be small for you), the potential impact of a FAD centered in your area or at your farm could be devastating to other farmers in your area, to our industry, and to your local economy. 
  1. Learn more about Secure Pork Supply planning – FAD prevention and preparing your farm for a possible outbreak. The current U.S. Pork Industry Guide to the Secure Pork Supply Plan can be found at SPS-Booklet-2018.pdf (securepork.org). 
  1. Consider registering for the recently developed pig tracking tool, AgView, reviewed at AgView: Pork industry’s path to protection (farmprogress.com). Visit Home | AgView or to learn more.