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Have you ever wondered what would happen in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak? To be honest, it is not an often thought among producers and consumers. At least for Brody Nemecek, a fourth-year student at Kansas State University majoring in animal sciences and industry, he admits it was not something he was particularly worried about. After spending a summer with the National Pork Board as a swine health intern, it is safe to say that Nemecek recognized the reality of how a foreign animal disease outbreak could affect the swine industry.   

The Beginning

Nemecek grew up on a diversified livestock operation in Iola, Kansas, showing and raising pigs, cattle and goats. With a primary focus on pigs, he developed a passion for the swine industry and quickly became successful in and out of the show ring. 

“A lifetime of raising and showing pigs fueled my passion for the industry and rewarded me with the knowledge and experience I have today,” Nemecek says. 

As a student in the animal science major, the opportunities are endless when it comes to finding an industry to plant roots. In high school, Nemecek worked at the local vet clinic, which inspired him to pursue an animal science degree. Combining his past work experiences and livestock production background, he knew that he wanted to focus on his niche, that is the swine industry.  

“I was very interested to learn more about the commercial industry and kind of get a grasp on how everything worked for a trade association like the National Pork Board,” Nemecek says.  

Handling Biosecurity 

Throughout his internship at the National Pork Board, Nemecek was assigned many tasks. Whether it be leading or assisting several research projects, such as a decomposition trial, or simply just updating the research summary books, he always found himself learning something new. 

While many of the jobs he worked on were vital to the success of the swine industry, perhaps the most important assignment was constructing a plan that would map and improve the biosecurity, specifically in show pigs, as a precautionary in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak. 

“With the constant threat of African Swine Fever, or any foreign animal disease, improvements to biosecurity practices are needed so that kids are able to continue to show pigs,” says Nemecek. 

Biosecurity is most known as the procedures used to prevent and or control the introduction and spread of disease into an operation. 

“On most show pig operations, this is observed as plastic booties, or even a simple foot bath, to keep pathogens away,” Nemecek says.  

It could also look like a quarantine pen for sick pigs or even a clean trailer after each time the pigs travel. There are several different practices producers can use to improve biosecurity on their operations. When comparing biosecurity practices with the commercial hog industry versus the show pig business, Nemecek says there is one major difference. 

“On a commercial operation, the pigs will move from farrowing to nursery to finishing. Whereas show pigs have the potential to move from farrowing to nursery to a consignment sale with pigs from other operations, then go back home and travel to and from 20 shows in a season before they are finished.” 

With all the travel show pigs do, it is extremely important to find a way to track and map where each pig has gone in the event of a foreign animal disease.

Nemecek says, “The National Pork Board has continued to work for years on a plan that effectively tracks the movement of pigs.”  

Pursuing an Action Plan

As part of Nemecek’s role, he was tasked with helping host an event for show pig producers to come and learn more about a foreign animal disease outbreak. At this event, the National Pork Board worked to walk through protocols and plans in the event of an outbreak, explaining to producers how it would affect their operations.   

“In the conversation, show pig producers brought up an interesting discussion about the Ag View app and how the National Pork Board needs to differentiate their plan for show pigs versus commercial pig production,” Nemecek says.

Ag View is an app the National Pork Board has supported with development dollars that tracks the movement of pigs. 

“Within the app, there are different types of accounts for state vets, producers and packers. It is a simple app to use, you just need to enter a premise ID and then you can enter your pigs,” Nemecek says. 

Throughout the summer, Nemecek continued to hold multiple conversations with producers and gathered crucial information and feedback regarding a plan to track these show pigs. Among each conversation, there seemed to be a theme. 

Nemecek says, “A common worry about the AgView app was how we can make this app effective considering the extra travel that comes with show pigs.”

He says, “The Pork Board has chosen this app not only because it is easy to use, but also because of the accurate traceability of the pigs. If a foreign animal disease were to break out, the National Pork Board could use this app to show government officials exactly where each pig has been. It has worked on commercial operations; how do we make it effective with show pigs.”

The Pork Board continues to work on this issue today. Nemecek says he gathered crucial information within his research for them to use towards creating a solution to hopefully prevent a shutdown.   

Continuing to Improve

When it comes to his own operation, Nemecek admits their biosecurity procedures were not the best. After his internship with the National Pork Board and doing more research on the importance of it, he has now made it a priority on the operation. 

Nemecek says, “If people wanted to come look at pigs to buy, they could just come in. Now, we have a foot bath that we ask people to step in and plastic booties for them to wear over their shoes.” 

A few simple procedures can be put into place to prevent what could truly be detrimental to the industry. 

Nemecek says, “Seeing the bigger picture of the entire United States swine population versus your four or five show pigs may not seem like you have that much of an impact, but even just helping a little bit with biosecurity protocols goes a long way.”   

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