Aaron Lower: Q&A on Swine Health and Research

( Clare Schilling )

Aaron Lower, DVM, is passionate about research and education in his role as president of Carthage Veterinary Service (CVS). He says their company’s goal is to be an a la carte source for whatever a swine producer needs from sow records support to diagnostic testing, but the backbone is veterinary service. Farm Journal’s PORK editor Jennifer Shike sat down with Lower to learn more about CVS and Lower’s perspective on swine health and research. 

Q. How did CVS get started? 
The clinic started up when Dr. Joe Connor was recruited out of vet school by pig producers in western Illinois who saw that in order to be successful, they needed to have a strong veterinarian in the area. He joined a veterinary practice and bought it quickly after he went to work there. It began as a mixed animal practice at first and shifted to pigs in the early 1990s when the demand for a 100% swine practitioner came about. 

Q. How has CVS evolved over the years? 
In 1996, that model started expanding to sow coops. The first sow farm we built was a 1,200-sow multiplier farm with 42 owners. Some of those owners quickly learned it’d be a lot easier if you send me weaned pigs instead of the gilts and that’s when we started up our managed farm production business. Our clinic has grown over the years and we touch every state and several foreign countries. We also offer a research division, sow and finishing records support, diagnostic testing, vet supplies and training.

Q. What is one thing that makes CVS unique? 
One of the things that differentiates our practice is that we push hard on training and education. From our annual conference to training toolboxes, we think it’s important to develop systems and training to onboard employees and get them up to speed a fast as we can. That’s one of the main reasons we have the Carthage Learning & Development Center. It allows us to show and tell, conducting training in a real-world environment. For example, we can do ventilation training by bringing people in for classroom work, then go do case studies where we mess things up and ask them to identify what’s wrong and fix it. 

Q. What is the most important research you have done and why?
One of the projects that has left a lasting impact on me is a project I did with Sarah Propst Miller on the electrocution of baby piglets. Death is not a visually pleasant experience, no matter how you do it. We debate a lot on blunt force trauma in a farrowing house. It’s tough for the caregiver to see, but it’s the right thing to do for the pig. CO2 is the opposite. It’s easier on the caregiver, but it’s stressful on the pig. We studied electrocution on pigs of different ages and discovered it’s very effective and safe for pigs four days and older. Pigs under four days of age have too much fluid in their skin, allowing the current to run through their skin rather than through their brain and heart. This knowledge allowed euthanasia of piglets via electrocution if greater than three days of age in the 2016 On-Farm Euthanasia of Swine: Recommendations for the Producer. It allows us to implement this option of euthanasia on sow farms and is now used quite a bit in weaned pigs that don’t meet grade. What I liked about that study was that it helped further the knowledge base on what was right to do for the pig. 

Q. What is the biggest issue facing the swine health industry today?
We’ve done a nice job in the way we’ve designed our production systems to handle most of the endemic diseases and do disease eradication. But with that, we’ve set ourselves up for epidemic diseases. Though our better biosecurity practices (semen, gilt, transportation), we’ve unfortunately selected more virulent viruses that have only one option to move - aerosol. We also transport a ton of pigs due to the structure of the industry. About half of the pigs in the U.S. go across state lines to wherever they get finished. We set ourselves up to spread new strains across large distances.

As well, China has taken a lot of our routine diseases and bred them into much more virulent ones. 
1.    Pseudorabies, for example, used to have an effective vaccine, but now it’s out of control in China.
2.    PEDV was relatively mild and is now a nasty virus that we eventually drug here to the U.S. 
3.    High-path PRRS is making its way through China, a virus we haven’t seen in the U.S., nor do we want to see. 

China is a huge interface of pigs, people and poultry. They have a number of different constraints – some of its culture, some of it is differences in biosecurity. They run blind for the most part and don’t have the logistics infrastructure or diagnostic labs they trust. This ASF break is a demonstration of that. Our ability to help the Chinese swine industry could help safeguard the health of the U.S. industry. 

Read Lower's journey to become president of CVS.