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2013-14 was a long, hard winter for pork producers

—By Kathleen M. Dutro
Public Relations Team

Marc Hill of Hancock County poses in one of his swine barns. Photo by Kathleen M. Dutro.

Humans had a difficult time coping with the hard winter, so it’s not surprising that pigs – and those who raise them – did, too.

“It was an extremely long winter,” said Marc Hill, who with his parents and wife markets about 13,000 pigs per year from their Hancock County farm.

Challenges included ridiculously low temperatures – including a week in which the temperature never got above zero – blowing snow, persistently poor road conditions, issues with transporting market hogs, and issues with transporting feed from the bins to the pigs.

“The weather made ‘simple’ jobs a lot more difficult,” he said. “At 20 below zero, nothing wants to work right.”

And then, to cap everything off, the Hills’ herd contracted porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, better known as PEDv, a virus that has killed millions of pigs since it first entered the U.S. last year. PEDv thrives in cold weather, and it is nearly always fatal in pigs under 2 weeks of age, according to Purdue University.

That was certainly how it worked on his farm, Hill said.

“We lost every pig born for roughly four weeks,” he explained.

The Hills’ experience wasn’t unique, of course. Judging by the quarterly “Hogs & Pigs” report released on March 28, the nation’s losses of baby pigs over the past six months appears to have been about 5 percent of the total herd, according to analysis from Purdue University.

From December 2013 through February 2014, the national average number of pigs per litter dropped to 9.53, compared with an expected rate of 10.3, a decline of more than 7 percent. Indiana’s pigs per litter dropped from an average of 9.55 in 2013 to 9.20 during the winter period.

Things are slowly getting back to normal on Hill Farms. The wet spring has kept them from cleaning up fence rows and installing some new tile drain, as they usually do in the spring, but the family is ready to “call it good for this year” and move on to other things, such as planting.

The roads – though still “pothole laden” – are passable again, and the feed and hog transport trucks are back to normal.

And while PEDv is still present in the herd, it’s decreased in severity. According to Purdue, Indiana’s pig losses should decrease as the weather continues to warm up.

“We’re still not quite over it,” Hill said.

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