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New Alternative Swine Production Health Reference Available

Niche markets for pork bring special opportunities and special challenges.

In recent years there has been dramatic growth of specialty markets for meats produced on farms that satisfy new sets of consumer preferences. These production systems bring special opportunities and also unique challenges. A new guidebook, "Managing for Herd Health in Alternative Swine Systems", draws on the knowledge of veterinarians and experienced producers who are successfully working in alternative production systems.

"Alternative swine systems" often differ from a typical, "conventional" operation both in the inputs they use and in the way pigs integrate with the overall farm. There is likely to be tighter integration, with crops providing bedding and in turn relying on swine manure returned to the field. Swine pasture may rotate with other crops. Alternative swine systems are often tied to specific premium markets that determine some of their production practices.

Creative management, sound science

Typically this includes the avoidance of antibiotics. It may also include practices to assure animal comfort and restrictions on synthetic wormers. For these reasons, applying basic principles of herd health in alternative swine systems calls for creative management and sound veterinary science.

Managing for Herd Health represents a three-year effort by swine producers, field veterinarians, ISU scientists, and the nonprofit organization Practical Farmers of Iowa, PFI,  

The work was supported by a major grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) of USDA. Since 1988, SARE has advanced farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound, and good for communities ( Support for the guidebook also came through the Value Chain Partnerships for a Sustainable Agriculture, which is led jointly by PFI and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Practical advice for farmers, from farmers

Managing for Herd Health balances veterinary science and practical management tips. Real-world examples and producer profiles are spread throughout, as are "words of wisdom" from experienced hog farmers.

The guide includes: Principles and Strategies; Biosecurity, Pig Flow & Introduction of Stock; Breeding Herd; Farrowing; Nursery and Grower Pigs; Diagnostics & Veterinary Services; Vaccinations & Testing; Table of Significant Diseases; and additional references. A forthcoming resource from Iowa State University, the Niche Pork Production Handbook, will deal with managing specifically for production, topics not covered in detail in the herd health guide.

Copies of Managing for Herd Health in Alternative Swine Systems are available without charge from Practical Farmers of Iowa. Contact PFI/ ISU Extension Farming Systems Coordinator Rick Exner at 515-294-5486 or The 50-page guide is also available at, where you can download updated versions of chapters and also leave your comments and suggestions for future revisions.

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