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What to do if your pork packing plant is closed

Are you impacted by a pork packing plant closure due to COVID-19 and have pigs scheduled to ship in the near future and wondering what to do? Below is a list of strategies for you to consider.

It is important to note that the strategies outlined below are meant to be temporary for emergency situations. The wellbeing of the pigs should be your number one priority when considering how best to manage pork packing plant closure. Additional pig observation is recommended when implementing any of these options.

Communicate with your buyer

When facing a plant closure challenge, contact your buyer to learn about how you will be impacted. For some of the pork packers with other plant locations, they are re-routing some of the pigs to other plants. These other plants are expanding harvesting hours to include Saturday and Sunday. There is a chance some of your pigs will be marketed this way. Be sure to ask your buyer the maximum weight of pig your packer will accept. The re-routing of pigs will not be able to accommodate all pigs scheduled to be received by closed plants, so you will still need a contingency plan.

Nutritional strategies to slow growth rate

When considering nutritional strategies, it is important to consult with a swine nutritionist to assure diets are balanced to meet minimum nutritional needs of the pigs. Economics should also always be checked because in some situations it may be more economical to market a heavier pig than alter the diet. Consider the duration (days vs. weeks) and intensity (20-50% reduction) necessary to achieve the desired reduction in number and schedule of pigs to market.

Lower energy and increase fiber content of diet

• Remove all fat sources and increase fiber content to at least 20% NDF levels to achieve reduced energy intake. This will cause energy levels of the diet to decrease while fiber increases and pigs will get too full to eat enough feed to meet their energy requirements.

• Some common high fiber swine feed ingredients include DDGS, wheat midds, soy hulls and corn germ meal. Some of these products such as DDGS may not be readily available in your area.

• This strategy can be implemented early in the growth period as well as in later growth periods.

Lower protein and amino acid levels

• Reducing crude protein and essential amino acid levels will reduce growth rate, but the nutrient reduction has to be in the range of 30-40%.

• Beware that loin eye area will decrease and back fat thickness will increase depending on the extent and duration of amino acid restrictions.

Use calcium chloride (CaCl)

• Anhydrous calcium chloride is a salt that can be added to reduce feed intake of pigs.

• This strategy will require significant diet modifications such as balance of electrolytes, calcium, and phosphorus. Therefore, consult with a qualified swine nutritionist before implementing.

• A readily available, constant supply of water is imperative to avoid toxicity when using CaCl. This is a short-term strategy (a couple weeks) for pigs approaching market weight that is not recommended for lighter weight, growing pigs.

Management strategies to slow growth rate

Restrict access to feed

• Tighten openings on self-feeders so that about 15-20% of the feed pan is covered with feed. Be sure to monitor feeders for any that become restricted.

• If facilities allow, consider hand feeding pigs daily instead of ad libitum but be aware of compromised pig welfare using this strategy.

Elevate barn temperature

• We know in hot weather pigs do not eat well which slows gains. Therefore allowing the barn to warm up will reduce feed intake. Every 2°F above the pig’s thermoneutral zone is estimated to reduce feed intake by about 0.1 lb/day. The impact will be much greater when humidity levels are high.

• Only practical way to increase barn temperature is to reduce ventilation rates. This will increase temperature and humidity levels. If ventilation rates are reduced too much, there may be excessive increases in moisture and noxious gases inside the barn which could compromise safety of workers and welfare of pigs.

• Be certain the minimum necessary air exchange is always achieved to maintain animal well-being and human safety. The minimum recommended ventilation rate in summer is approximately 12 times that of the winter minimum ventilation rate, which is also dependent on pig size.

• Consulting with a barn ventilation expert will make this strategy viable and safe.

Other items to consider

Pen space

• The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has developed specific resources to request approval to exceed permit numbers and stocking density for up to 45 days, with extensions possible. (https://www.pca.state.mn.us/covid-19/covid-19-response-agriculture)

Other markets

• The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is working to identify opportunities for livestock owners who need meat processing because of plant closure and lost markets (https://www.mda.state.mn.us/covid-19-agriculture#livestock). If producers need animal processing help they are to contact Jim Ostlie (320-842-6910; Jim.Ostlie@state.mn.us) or Courtney VanderMey (651-201-6135; Courtney.VanderMey@state.mn.us)

Depopulation

As a last resort, some pigs may need to be euthanized.

• Be sure to use methods that comply with the current American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) guidelines for euthanasia in the On-Farm Euthanasia of Swine publication (z.umn.edu/Euthanasia-of-swine).

Carcass disposal

• The Minnesota Board of Animal Health have experts (z.umn.edu/MNBAH-EmergencyCarcassDisposal) to answer carcass disposal questions like:

• How to source carbon sources if you plan to compost

• How to choose a site for composting on your farm and how to form a compost pile correctly

• What you need to know about rendering and what steps you should take to work with a rendering company

NRCS funds

• MN NRCS has assistance available to help farmers with proper handling of animal mortalities. Through NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), producers can apply for assistance to properly render livestock that cannot be processed. Applications are being accepted for this initial period through Friday, May 1.

• NRCS conservationists are available to provide technical and financial assistance to help producers handle livestock carcasses in a safe manner.

• Producers should contact their local USDA Service Center (www.mn.nrcs.usda.gov).

Farmer stress resources

First and foremost farmers need to take care of themselves and their family. The University of Minnesota Extension’s Farm and Rural Stress programs offer resources for those dealing with farming’s challenges and struggles (https://extension.umn.edu/rural-stress). The Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline can also be called anytime at 1-833-600-2670 to speak to someone. Visit the Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline website for more information and resources (https://www.mda.state.mn.us/about/mnfarmerstress).

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