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It wasn't only the pigs that wasted during the PCV2 outbreak

8th May 2020 / By Paul Toplis

In the latest in our series on the mental health implications of COVID-19, Paul Toplis, AB Agri’s technical director for pigs and member of NPA’s PIig Industry Group, recalls how previous crises played out in the pig sector. 

Paul ToplissCOVID-19 is the latest in a long line of dark days suffered by the pig industry. There have been dark days, some very dark days in the past as I look back over my career in pigs.

I joined RHM Agriculture to work at the Deans Grove Trial Farm in the early 1970’s just before the oil crisis which caused a national meltdown in manufacturing (including the Feed Industry) and my first work anniversay was spent trying to soften the blow to new graduates we made redundant before they had actually started work.

Unemployment shot up and it took some of them years to get their careers back on track. That was a sad and worrying time.

In 1991, I was working for SCA Nutrition when PRRS arrived and at first no-one had a clue what it was. In the early days feed was accused of being responsible for spreading the virus and so our exports plummeted and we ended up making mill and office staff redundant.

Then came foot-and-mouth in 2001 and all exports were stopped. Primary Diets was still establishing itself but this time I was one of the partners and bankruptcy looked a real possibility. This time I stood to lose everything.

Each crisis was worst than the last but the one which seemed to knock everyone for a six was PCV2. It was like reliving the arrival of PRRS as no one seemed to understand what was causing it and how it was spreading but the difference this time was the high mortality despite huge efforts by everyone on the pig units and involved in supplying the farm.

The lack of response to everything we tried seemed to send owners, stockpeople and suppliers into a cooperate depression.

Visiting farms was heartbreaking, so many pigs were ill, hospital pens were overflowing, staff were desperate to find anything that might help and traumatised by the number of pigs they had to euthanise.

Nothing was working and no one could see an end to the problem. We rarely spoke of mental health in those days but looking back few were spared and suffered to some degree. Eventually we learned how to handle it and the vaccine arrived. We emerged from those dark days and the worst was soon forgotten.

COVID 19 has that feel of those PCV2 days. Its different of course because this time the threat is not to our pigs but to us and to our ability to run our pig businesses.

At least this time we are more aware of how we need to address our own and each others mental health.

I hope this is the crisis I will look back on and remember it as the one where we all kept talking to each other and listening to each other to respect and protect each others mental health.