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Porcine epidemic hits Noble farm

A Noble County pork producer is one of many farms that has been hit by porcine epidemic diarrhea – a virus that’s potentially fatal to baby pigs.

Dr. Mike Lemmon, a veterinarian and CEO of Whiteshire Hamroc in Albion, said the illness has shown up in most of the hog-raising counties in Indiana. That’s about 275 herds of pigs, he said.

The virus moves through a herd in three to four weeks, he said.

Adult hogs get a milder form of diarrhea. But piglets suffer a 20 percent to 100 percent fatality rate, depending on the strain that infects a farm, he said.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do,” Lemmon said. “It’s a virus, so it’s not treatable.”

Pigs born after an outbreak survive because they receive immunity from their mothers. Unfortunately, that immunity lasts only three months, requiring farms to be extremely vigilant to keep the virus from re-entering the herd, he said.

Because experts don’t know how the virus spreads, Whiteshire Hamroc doesn’t allow outside livestock trucks anywhere near its barns.

The operation’s own trucks have to undergo an extensive disinfectant process before being allowed back on the farm.

The cleanup can cost up to $600 for one truck.

Some have speculated that animal feed, people and pigs themselves might carry the virus from one farm to another.

Whiteshire Hamroc, which has about 2,000 sows, is a closed operation, meaning it doesn’t bring in any pigs from the outside.

Visitors and workers are required to shower and change clothes and boots before coming into contact with the animals.

Piglets are worth about $25 at birth and about $85 once they’re weaned. By the time the hogs are ready for market, they’re worth about $200 each.

Lemmon said every pig that dies represents a lost opportunity for profit. Markets have reacted by paying more for full-grown hogs.

“The higher prices do help, certainly,” Lemmon said.

But he wouldn’t go so far as to say the additional profit offsets losses from piglets that don’t survive. The virus doesn’t infect humans, but it does affect them.

“It just adds more risk because this is just one more thing that you can’t predict,” Lemmon said, speaking on behalf of pork producers. “You can’t prevent it. Sometimes, you just don’t know what to do.”