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Porcine Reproductive Respiratory Syndrome control in Cookstown area

Mid term update from the Cookstown area PRRS project

Porcine Reproductive Respiratory Syndrome control in Cookstown area

Howard Tonks, Director of PigRegen

Porcine Reproductive respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) was first recognised in USA in 1987 and is now considered to be the most economically important disease for the global pig industry. Symptoms of the disease were first recognised in Northern Ireland in 1997 and blood sampling carried out by PigRegen over the last 10 years has shown its gradual spread to most, although not all parts of Northern Ireland. Unsurprisingly the highest percentage of affected breeding herds were identified as being in the mid Ulster area, which has the highest concentration of pig units in NI, and in particular within a 5 mile radius of Cookstown.

In 2021 a competitive European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Scheme was launched with an associated grant of £120,000 (part funded by EIP and DAERA) to cover all operational costs in proposed 3-year projects. PigRegen Ltd applied for this funding and were successful in having what became the Cookstown Area PRRS Project approved. The methodology of the management of the scheme was clearly defined in the conditions of the scheme with a Team Leader, Project Manager, producer partners and specialist vets/advisers when required. Overall business management was under the auspices of DAERA through a CAFRE representative.

The major factor determining the success of this type of scheme is the stabilising of the breeding herd with respect to PRRS and, in particular, ensuring that gilts are solidly immune to infection by the time they are served. This is best achieved through blanket herd vaccination every three months. However, PRRS virus is extremely adaptable and is constantly changing producing what is known as wild type virus namely virus that is not totally covered by vaccine.

The aim of this project is to reduce the level of the wild PRRS virus and control its spread in the area defined within the Cookstown Area Project through improved biosecurity, a coordinated vaccination programme and enhanced monitoring hence basically leaving the virus nowhere to live and change. Since it is recognised that the major continuous reservoir of the virus is in the breeding herd, all breeding units within the defined area have been contacted to explain the proposed details of the project and ask for their cooperation and interest in becoming involved. It is recognised that this is basically a producer project and without the cooperation of the producers it could not succeed. In the event we had close to 100% cooperation with 30 breeding units agreeing to become involved. In view of the numbers of units involved and the relatively short time period of the project eradication was not considered a possibility for the entire group although it could be possible that individuals may achieve that goal depending on their current PRRS status.

To satisfy the conditions of the project it was necessary to establish a starting point, and this was based on blood testing 30 approximately 10-week-old, piglets (the stage at which they produce most virus if they are affected) on each farm to determine the virus status of the unit. At the same time, along with their veterinary surgeon, a 50-part questionnaire was completed to be processed with the Boehringer COMBAT App to indicate their internal, external, management and geographical biosecurity status, all of which have a very significant bearing on the success of the project. The third line of attacking the virus was to coordinate vaccination of all units in the project. This practice has been shown to be more effective than random vaccination and also helps producers to establish a regular routine. The Project Manager contacted all producers to achieve this and also took the opportunity of highlighting any weaknesses in their biosecurity programme.

The project is now at half term and as at the beginning, bloods have been taken on all units and a new biosecurity score established. Analyses are almost completed, and it is very encouraging to report that there has been success in stabilising the virus in most units and 100% success in coordinated vaccination. There has been some improvement in Biosecurity which should help in the internal management aspect of PRRS spread within the unit, but old habits and unit design are difficult to overcome. We now have 12 months to complete this project and to be successful the continued outstanding cooperation the project has received from the individual producers as well as their associated vets is essential. If the project continues with current success at completion, we may have a blueprint which PigRegen will be able to extend throughout the NI Pig Industry.

This project, as part of the European Innovation Partnership is co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

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