Prairie Livestock Expo features pork quality, PED

By Anne Cote

Prairie Livestock Expo’s carcass quality competition is a unique and highly anticipated attraction at the event, which was just held for the first time, since 2019.

Following a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, Prairie Livestock Expo returned to Winnipeg on Dec. 14, with University of Manitoba researchers headlining the information sessions. The show was opened this year with remarks from Cam Dahl, General Manager, Manitoba Pork.

Prairie Livestock Expo is a multi-species livestock show featuring hogs, beef and dairy cattle, sheep, poultry, bison and goats, with nearly 140 exhibitors on-hand. The event is free to attend and includes a full day of presentations and networking.

But it was the hog carcass competition that generated the most excitement among producers and exhibitors in attendance.

Carcass quality impresses guests

Along the rear wall of the exhibition space, 10 carcasses hung in a cooler. None had competitors’ names on them, but three sported ribbons indicating they were the top-three carcasses. Throughout the day, producers and exhibitors alike wandered past the windowed refrigeration unit discussing the merits of each and guessing which breeder would take top honours. The judging was done by Jason Care, Manager & Auditor, Manitoba Hog Grading, Manitoba Pork.

“We consider it to be the largest pork quality competition in Canada, maybe North America, maybe the world,” said Dennis Stevenson, General Manager, Premier SHP Veterinary Corporation, who served as emcee.

Stevenson said the hog carcass competition began in 1996 and, since then, has raised over $442,000 from sponsors. The money is awarded to the winners of the competition. They, in turn, donate it to charities of their choice across Manitoba and around Canada.

Starlight Colony’s 101-point hog – the highest score ever received in the competition – won first place and $5,000 for the colony’s preferred charity.

“We can’t thank the colonies enough for their cash donations to charity and generous donations of over 152,000 pounds of pork to Siloam Mission, Winnipeg Harvest and other food distribution entities, just in time for Christmas, when many families are most in need,” said Stevenson.

This year, 12 farms submitted 24 carcasses to be judged. Ten of them received cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 for the charity of their choice. In third place, Boundary Lanes Colony earned $3,000, while Woodlands Colony followed in second place, winning the title of 2022 Reserve Grand Champion and $4,000 for their charity, Portage Hospital Foundation.

Top honours and the title of 2022 Grand Champion, with a $5,000 prize donated to Heart of Truth, went to Starlight Colony for a carcass that weighed in at 96.8 kilograms and garnered 101 points on the quality rating scale. Stevenson said this was the highest score ever achieved on the 111-point scale, beating the previous record of 100 points.

The winning pig was chosen by Trevor Hofer. He said he picked the pig out of the herd in November, when it was about 115 days old. When asked why he chose that particular pig to groom for the hog competition: “It had the widest back, and it was the perfect weight.”

And, just to be clear, Hofer isn’t about to sit on his laurels; he’s already planning to enter the competition again next year.

Disease concerns continue to linger in Manitoba

While presentations focused on disease issues, processors Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife Foods collaborated with Family Foods to demonstrate ways to display pork at retail. About 120 kilograms of meat were used and donated to local food banks, following the event.

While excitement and voices in the exhibition area were rising as attendees squeezed between displays covering everything from animal nutrition to retractable doors and slotted flooring, there was a quieter space up the hall and around the corner where Jenelle Hamblin, Manager, Swine Heath, Manitoba Pork, and researchers from the Department of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba, were sharing their stories.

Hamblin began the morning session with an overview of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) in Manitoba. She said there were 128 confirmed cases of PED in the past year, with the majority of cases found in finisher hogs.

Even more important than the numbers she presented were the coping mechanisms she suggested. Producers can be active participants in the prevention of disease spread.

According to Hamblin, Manitoba Pork commissioned the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at the University of Saskatchewan to come up with recommendations for farmers facing swine disease in their barns or on neighbouring farms.

They suggested the first step in disease prevention is to minimize or eliminate gilt exposure to disease by avoiding over-crowding or too much handling, and making sure the animals receive vaccines that are available.

The long-term goal is to eliminate 96 per cent of PED outbreaks by 2027. It’s a realistic goal, Hamblin said, because, knowing the disease won’t be completely eradicated, there’s a margin for outbreaks on up to 10 Manitoba farms per year.

So, the way to achieve this goal is to manage the ongoing risk by employing a rapid and aggressive response by limiting the interactions with infected animals and surfaces. But keeping animals safe has proven to be a challenge during COVID-19, Hamblin admitted, with labour shortages being especially problematic.

Hamblin suggested every barn should have its own biosecurity plan based on the risk of disease spread for that particular building. Space plays an important role in this plan, as the more crowded the barn is, the more likely disease will spread rapidly.

Presently, the Canadian Pork Council (CPC) is working on a national strategy for disease prevention. A national strategy for the control of swine diseases such as Seneca Valley Virus (SVA) and African Swine Fever (ASF) will be helpful for existing and future trade deals between countries, as evidenced by an outbreak of SVA in Manitoba this past summer, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to express concerns about shipments of Canadian pigs arriving at the international border.

“The USDA didn’t want SVA-diagnosed hogs in the U.S. system, especially in slaughter facilities and assembly yards,” said Hamblin.

In the case of an outbreak of ASF, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a critical role to play when handling public, government, producer and stakeholder communications. They also negotiate with international partners, whenever necessary, to re-establish trade after an outbreak of disease has occurred.

Researcher Qiang Zhang talked swine disease, which has been a problem in Manitoba this year, related to PED and SVA.

Qiang Zhang, a research scientist from the University of Manitoba, pointed out just how hard it is to contain the viruses that plague the pork industry.

“Viruses don’t just get into the air on their own,” he said. “They travel by direct contact and indirect contact: touching an object that a sick animal has previously touched. Then there’s the problem of airborne transmission of viruses. COVID-19 in humans is a good example.”

Zhang provided some examples of airborne animal viruses, which travel much more widely than viruses spread by either direct or indirect contact. One instance is Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD), which travels even farther than the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus, which has been shown to travel up to nine kilometres through the air, hitching a ride on a water molecule or dust particle smaller than five microns, completely undetectable by the human eye.

Zhang noted that PED has been shown to travel at least the same distance as PRRS and can conceivably travel from one barn to another on dust or moisture expelled by an air ventilation fan and taken in by a fresh air intake at another barn.

The problem with this airborne transmission is it is impossible to filter, as the density of an air filter that could contain the airborne virus will also interfere with ventilation required for healthy air in the barn. The problem with filters is that they require regular maintenance to remain effective and they are costly, according to Zhang.