Livestock exhibitors have a role in keeping people and pigs healthy

Using simple biosecurity and good hygiene practices will help prevent pigs and people from getting sick and spreading disease.

County fair season is quickly approaching. Youth exhibitors play a key role in keeping themselves, their pigs and their community safe while educating the public about agriculture.
County fair season is quickly approaching. Youth exhibitors play a key role in keeping themselves, their pigs and their community safe while educating the public about agriculture.

In Michigan, the county fair season is quickly approaching and youth are preparing their livestock projects for exhibition. In the United States, more than 1 million pigs are raised for either exhibition or shown at different venues. The youth exhibitor has a key role in the pork industry because often, the only exposure to agriculture that people get is the county fair. This being the case, it is important that we have quality, well-kept, healthy livestock on display and watch for any signs of illness in our pigs during exhibition.

Keeping pigs healthy and protecting them from disease outbreaks, which will also help to prevent the spread of disease into and through the commercial swine industry, should be a focus of all exhibitors. By using proper production practices you can protect the health of your animals, safeguard the health of other exhibitor’s animals and protect the commercial industry from the transfer of disease. Managing the health of your swine herd or project can be a tough job, but by using biosecurity practices for your farm, you can be proactive in maintaining the health of your animals.

Biosecurity is a combination of different production practices and methods that can be used on your farm to protect a pig population against the introduction and spread of disease. This means that you will be using different measures to keep your animals as healthy as possible and preventing disease causing organisms from entering your herd and then spreading throughout the area. This can be done by only introducing healthy animals into your herd, utilizing an isolation period before allowing contact between animals and properly cleaning and disinfecting your equipment, supplies, trailers and housing.

To minimize the exposure of pigs to disease causing organisms, Michigan State University Extension strongly encourages that everyone with show and exhibition pigs learn and understand how diseases are spread. Direct and indirect contact are two methods in which disease moves from one area or animal to another. Direct contact includes nose-to-nose contact with other animals. Indirect movement of disease is the transfer of disease causing organisms on people, clothing or things (fomites). Some viruses can also be spread through the air, when water droplets from sneezing or coughing are expelled. 

Although nose-to-nose contact (direct contact) with other pigs at swine shows cannot be prevented, it is important to make sure that your pigs are healthy and free from disease when they are exposed to other animals. If your animal has a fever, severe cough or appears to be under the weather, you will want to consider leaving this animal at the farm. Your other pigs that appear healthy may also be shedding disease and not attending the upcoming show should be taken into consideration. While you are at an exhibition or county fair, it is important to observe your animal. If your animal spikes a fever, becomes depressed or begins coughing or sneezing frequently, you may want to talk to the show leadership or county fair swine superintendent. Isolating those animals that are expressing clinical signs of illness can minimize the spread of a disease through the barn.  If you are returning home from such an event, the best practice is to isolate these pigs from other animals on the farm by providing a space that limits contact, especially nose-to-nose contact between the animals. This helps protect the animals on the farm from anything pigs returning from a show were exposed to. Making sure you have the proper vaccination and deworming programs in place will also help keep your animals healthy.

You can transfer disease back home on your person or clothing (indirect contact) when visiting other swine or exhibitions. Change your clothing and wash your hands before any contact with your animals that were left at home. Manure is also a vector of disease. Boots or footwear should also be changed after being in an area with other livestock. The foot mats in your vehicle can harbor disease if they are exposed to manure and bedding from the show. Changing into clean footwear before entering your vehicle to will help reduce the chance of spreading disease back to your farm or other areas.

Equipment used at or for swine shows is also at risk of contributing to disease transfer. Items, such as feed pans, waterers, shovels and show equipment should be cleaned and disinfected when you return home. All organic matter and manure should be removed from the items when washed. A simple disinfectant is a 6 percent bleach solution, which when mixed with water in a 1-part bleach, 32-parts water ratio will kill most viruses.

Trailers used to haul livestock to and from shows and markets should also be cleaned and disinfected. Cleaned trailers should be allowed to completely dry before hauling any other animals to help reduce the chance of infection. Exposure to sunlight will also kill some viruses, however thoroughly cleaning, disinfecting and allowing for dry time is the preferred biosecurity practice.

Anytime you are around animals, it is important to practice good hygiene. After contact with animals, you should wash your hands, using soap and water. Exhibitors should also refrain from eating or drinking around animals, if virus particles have been expelled by the pigs from coughing or sneezing, you could easily introduce them to yourself by consuming food or drink in the barn. Exhibitors can also spread disease to the pigs, if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, it might be best to limit your exposure to the pigs, so that you do not pass the virus to them.

As a pork producer you have a responsibility to the swine industry to help decrease the spread of disease. Not only can the health of your herd affect your farm, but your herd can spread disease to other pork producers in the area. If you are experiencing a disease outbreak, it is important for you to manage the disease risk and minimize the spread to other farms. To maintain the health of your pigs, follow sound biosecurity practices and work with a veterinarian if a disease outbreak occurs.

For more information on ways to keep your exhibition pig healthy and decrease the spread of disease, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office or me at or 269-983-7111.

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