GREENSBURG – Gordon and Jeff Smiley ramped up biosecurity in and around their hog barns when a swine virus broke out on a neighboring farm last year.
They hoped to keep the killer at bay.
Their buildings were sprayed with an antiseptic. Workers donned disposable coveralls and boot coverings. Most visitors were banned from the premises. Even their veterinarian started driving two pickup trucks, reserving one to be scrubbed down before arriving at the farm.
The precautions seemed to work. Ten months after one of the nation’s earliest confirmed cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus erupted just three miles away, the Smileys’ 7,000 hogs remained virus-free.
Then it hit. Since late February, when the brothers detected the first hint of the fast-spreading virus, they’ve lost 1,000 piglets. Most died within the first few days of birth.
The fatality count has dropped as the virus has dissipated, but the anguish of finding so many dead piglets remains.
“It’s been tough. You’ve got to carry them out in buckets,” said Gordon Smiley, a fourth-generation farmer. “It’s not what you were designed to do.”
The virus has spread to at least 28 states and killed millions of piglets since the first handful of cases were detected in Indiana, Ohio and Iowa in the spring of last year. Though it poses no food safety risks or danger to humans, the worst strain – which showed up on the Smiley farm – carries a 100 percent mortality rate for piglets.
Finding a vaccine is critical for Indiana, one of the country’s top pork producing states, where the industry contributes about $3 billion a year to the economy, according to agriculture officials. As of late March, the Board of Animal Health reported cases of the virus in 43 of Indiana’s 92 counties, with tens of thousands of piglets lost.