North Dakota farmers understand that healthy animals produce quality products. That’s why animal safety, health and biosecurity are so important to the state’s agriculture industry.
Sharlene Wittenburg and her husband, Carl, have been raising turkeys since they were married. Sharlene’s been at it for even longer, as she grew up on a turkey ranch in northern Minnesota. Today, the couple raises approximately 100,000 turkeys annually for Northern Pride in Wyndmere.
“We’ve made many changes to our farming practices over the years,” Sharlene says, “and we’re now raising turkeys antibiotic-free and organic.”
Sharlene, who is also the past president of the North Dakota Turkey Federation, says that biosecurity is one of the top priorities on her farm, especially after there was an outbreak of avian influenza (AI) throughout the state in 2015.
“We will wash vehicles that are coming onto the farm, restrict visitor access during heightened risk times, wear separate footwear for all of the barns, put up netting on open-sided barns, and we installed a Danish entry system,” she says.
A Danish entry is divided into a “clean” side and a “dirty” side, which helps significantly reduce the spread of disease.
Also taken into account is the potential financial risk of keeping unhealthy birds, as it affects the farmer’s bottom line when a turkey or other animal is sick.
“Turkey farmers do what is necessary to protect our birds at all times and keep them healthy,” Sharlene shares. “We’re testing our birds for the presence of AI before any bird is shipped to market, and they’re also tested for any residue.”
According to Sharlene, these measures are taken for the protection of the consumer just as much as they are for any other avian livestock. “The consumers should know that we’re looking out for the birds’ welfare and their own.”
Turkeys aren’t the only animals receiving top-notch care. Todd Erickson is the general manager of the North Dakota Sow Co-Op, which has 10,000 sows for commercial production and another 2,500 sows for breeding.
The co-op owns and operates five farms in North Dakota, producing around 350,000 weaned pigs annually. Approximately 50 full-time employees work on the farms, and Erickson says that they all maintain strict biosecurity measures to keep the pigs protected from disease.
“We have a shower in/out and limited access for nonproduction personnel,” he says. “We also impose a 72-hour downtime for people exposed to other pigs. Even veterinarians are asked to stay away from other swine for 72 hours before visiting us.”
Thanks to these measures, Erickson says they’ve been able to produce healthy pigs with low antibiotics use, which is appealing for the consumer.
Employees of the farm also understand the importance of biosecurity, and all of them have been through the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program. This program teaches how to humanely handle pigs of all ages to help protect the community, public health and the environment.
“It’s a very comprehensive program that the handler is tested on before being certified,” Erickson says. “Producers need to be recertified every three years.”
He adds that as a pig farmer, the animals are the lifeline, so it’s to everyone’s benefit to keep them healthy and safe.
“The pledge that American pig farmers live by every day is ‘Doing what’s right for people, pigs, and planet,’” he says.