Virus kills thousands of W. Mich. piglets

OVERISEL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A virus that killed millions of piglets in 27 states and thousands locally is expected to drive up costs at the grocery store.

Allegan County farmers first noticed their pigs had symptoms of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) in February.

“I got a call on a Monday morning from one of the managers at a sow farm and he had 12 sows with diarrhea, which is very rare,” said Erin Ehinger of Dykhuis Farms.

Piglets at Dykhuis Farms in Overisel Township. (April 23, 2014)
(Piglets at Dykhuis Farms in Overisel Township. April 23, 2014)

Workers at the Overisel Township farm wear clean suits when interacting with the pigs, but the virus found a way around safety procedures. The farmers aren’t entirely certain how its pigs contracted PED, but have started to narrow down the origin.

“They’re starting to think it came in in the feed,” Ehinger said. “You can’t put a coverall on the feed.”

Mature pigs were tough enough to fight the virus, and piglets born a three to five weeks after the virus emerged carried the immunity their mothers had developed.

But piglets two weeks and younger died by the thousands.

“This has been a game-changer,” Ehinger said. “It’s been emotionally difficult, finically difficult. It’s taken a toll on people.”

PED can’t be spread to humans and does not pose a threat to food safety.

Nonetheless, it will affect consumers. With fewer little piggies being sent to market, prices will increase. Bacon has already gone up in price by $.64 this year to an average of $5.55 per pound.

“Knowing that we have that gap, we’re working on feeding strategies to help our pigs grow faster so they will kind of fill that gap,” Ehinger said. “And we’re working really hard on getting the disease out of the barns so that going forward we don’t have any more losses for PED.”

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Online:

The Centers for Disease Control on PED

National Pork Board on PED

Iowa State University on PED

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