Swine & U column: Pig show season & health By Diane DeWitte, UMN Extension Swine Educator

My recent work has focused on disease preparedness and pig farm biosecurity, and it always comes to mind when I’m attending livestock shows. Of primary importance is that exhibitors return to their animals at home without bringing along a disease. For this reason, the messages of meticulous biosecurity and careful monitoring of animals’ health are integral parts of exhibitor education.

Winter’s finally finished, field work is in full swing, and the livestock exhibition season has begun. Like most Minnesota agriculturalists, I enjoy the summer’s county fairs and their animals, and, of course, the ultimate competition exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair’s youth and open-class swine shows. It’s terrific to see so many folks who’ve worked hard to bring the best pigs in the Midwest to compete in classes with optimum quality peers.

My recent work has focused on disease preparedness and pig farm biosecurity, and it always comes to mind when I’m attending livestock shows. Of primary importance is that exhibitors return to their animals at home without bringing along a disease. For this reason, the messages of meticulous biosecurity and careful monitoring of animals’ health are integral parts of exhibitor education.


A core element of Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) education* is biosecurity on the pig premises. Folks who raise pigs want to keep diseases out of their farms, and, if a disease does break out in their herd, to keep it from spreading throughout all the pigs there. To practice ultimate biosecurity, producers, caretakers and exhibitors of pigs are challenged to establish the habit of following specific protocol as they move about the farm.

  • Limit visitors and vehicle traffic to only those who have a reason to be there; Never allow unsupervised visitors
    • Ask all non-farm workers and visitors to sign the farm visitor log.
    • Require downtime away from pigs or pig facilities, including harvest plants, livestock markets, and exhibitions.
    • Create a barrier to disease entry including showering in/out, washing hands, changing to dedicated farm clothing, coveralls and footwear, and/or wearing disposable coveralls and footwear.
    • Avoid taking food into animal areas.
  • Isolate new or returning animals to the farm
    • Temporarily isolate all incoming pigs separate from the animals already on the farm.
      • The ultimate isolation situation would be a quarantine facility that is separate or remote from the existing herd.
    • Recommended isolation times range from 14-30 days to ensure that the new or returning pigs can be watched for signs of disease.
    • When conducting daily chores, take care of the isolated pigs last; use the isolation period as a time to observe and test for diseases and to vaccinate and acclimate new animals.
  • Clean, disinfect and dry facilities and equipment
    • Thorough cleaning requires removal of all bedding and manure, washing with hot water (preferred) and an appropriate detergent formulated for livestock use
    • Facilities should be cleaned and disinfected between populations of pigs.
    • All equipment that touches pigs should be cleaned and disinfected after use. This includes sorting boards, floor mats, and any show equipment that has been used.
    • Disinfectants should be used only after cleaning and applied according to label instructions
    • Facilities and equipment should be allowed to dry after cleaning and disinfection. Drying can occur either by direct sunlight, passage of time, or use of an additional heat source.
  • Control movement of wildlife, rodents, pet, and other pests
    • Keep the family dogs and cats away from the pigs; it’s easy for a free-running pet to bring disease organisms into the barn. Do not rely on cats for rodent control.
    • Exclude wildlife from the barn area. Raccoons, opossums, skunks and groundhogs are all attracted to spilled feed, manure and mortalities.
    • Control rodents with a systematic and regularly serviced bait program.
    • Use fencing, bird netting or other materials to keep birds and other pests out of the barn.
  • Dispose of mortalities in a timely and complete manner
    • Compost mortalities if possible.
    • Use a rendering service if composting isn’t available. Remember that rendering trucks can transmit disease, so establish a way to keep the truck off the farm premises.

Biosecurity is as important on a 4-H swine member’s half-acre as it is on a 2500-sow pig farm. Disease control and awareness materials have been provided for Minnesota 4-H pig exhibitors in the past, and it’s always a good practice to review them.

Biosecurity for Exhibition Swine: https://z.umn.edu/BiosecurityExhibitionSwine

Basic Biosecurity for Tagging 4-H Swine: https://z.umn.edu/BiosecurityTaggingSwine

Minnesota swine exhibitors can find specific 4-H pig enrollment, participation and deadline information on the UMN 4-H website here: https://extension.umn.edu/projects-and-more/4-h-swine-project

UMN Extension Educators annually provide 4-H exhibitors with details of how to keep their animals healthy, and how to prevent and reduce the spread of diseases to their 4-H projects. An important practice repeatedly highlighted is washing hands with soap and water. The minimum recommendation is scrubbing hands thoroughly for 20 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”.


Pig health is critical, and when a medical condition requires treatment, it’s important that a veterinarian be part of the equation. In PQA+ education, the concept is referred to as having a VCPR—a veterinarian, client, patient relationship. Within a VCPR, the client is the swine exhibitor, and the patient is the pig. Even a small seasonal “herd” of show pigs benefits from the medical expertise of a veterinarian to help with medical decisions.

Any kind of medical treatment of the pig requires record-keeping. Medical records need to include seven key pieces of information:

  1. Date of treatment
  2. ID of animal treated
  3. Medication administered
  4. Amount of medication used
  5. Route of administration
  6. Who treated the pig
  7. Withdrawal time of the medication (prior to harvest). Withdrawal time is the amount of time that has been determined that the medication is out of the pig’s system and the meat is safe for human consumption.

These records must be kept for 12 months following treatment of the pig. If medication is used in the pig’s water, or it is given medicated feed, the record of that treatment is also required to be kept for 12 months.

All of these medication practices are in place to ensure that pigs will be kept at optimum health and if they are given medication, their meat will be safe to eat, without worry of drug residue in the carcass.


Minnesota’s 4-H swine enrollment date is May 15, and all pigs who will be exhibited this summer, not only in 4-H but in FFA and open shows, are identified with permanent notches in their ears. Ear notches are the industry identification standard; each notch represents a particular number, and by adding up the notches in the left ear and right ear, the pig’s specific ID number can be determined. My colleague Sarah Schieck Boelke has produced a terrific video to refresh exhibitors’ ear notch-reading skills, and it can be found on YouTube here: https://z.umn.edu/ReadingPigsEarNotches.


This summer’s local and regional pig shows, and the Minnesota State Fair are terrific places to view livestock competitions and visit with old friends. Exhibitors should watch for any changing health issues in their pigs, including coughing, diarrhea, fever or blisters. If a pig shows any of these signs, contact a veterinarian immediately.

Producers visiting the fairs must be diligent about changing clothes and footwear before returning to the pigs at home. Any site where unrelated animals congregate is a place for potential disease pickup. Thorough handwashing during and after a visit to the fair can destroy disease organisms and reduce the chance of taking a disease back home. Don’t be surprised if you hear “Happy Birthday” being sung at the sink!

* 2021. PQA+ Education Handbook Version 5, National Pork Board, Des Moines, IA

Diane DeWitte, University of Minnesota Extension Educator –Swine. Diane can be reached at stouf002@umn.edu