Hutterite colony blazes antibiotic-free trail

You don’t have to sacrifice productivity or compromise health standards by 
going antibiotic free, say swine managers at Spring Creek Hutterite Colony

Hogs raised without antibiotics at Spring Creek Hutterite Colony are growing as fast, 
and often faster, as conventional hogs.
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Spring Creek Hutterite Colony has become one of the first large hog operations on the Prairies to ship RWA (Raised Without Antibiotics) pigs to market.

The colony, located near Walsh, shipped 200 hogs to Britco Pork in Langley, B.C. earlier this month and sent a second load a few days later. Britco, a specialty pork-processing division of Donald’s Fine Foods, will sell the RWA pork in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

“We’re very excited about this — to be among the first producers of RWA pork in Canada,” said Paul Hofer, swine manager for Spring Creek Colony. “Any time you change a production approach you have to be very careful. We were a bit nervous at first, but we took it slow, got the right advice and implemented the right practices.”

The move to antibiotic-free production went well, said Mike Hofer, assistant swine manager. “The barn is clicking on all cylinders and the full flow of our swine production is now going out RWA,” he said. “Average days to market, feed conversion, gain, even mortality — it’s either similar or often significantly better under the new program.”

The progress by Spring Creek may prove a tipping point for swine production in Western Canada and beyond, as more operations consider reducing or eliminating use of antimicrobials. Along with increased consumer demand for antibiotic-free pork, governments are also imposing restrictions on antimicrobial use. In the U.S., the Veterinary Feed Directive — which bans antibiotic use for growth promotion and feed efficiency and greater vet oversight for treating sick animals — takes effect Jan. 1. Similar rules are planned for Canada.

The issue is not black and white, said Paul Hofer, but the colony wanted to be positioned for the future by reducing reliance on antimicrobials as much as possible without compromising animal health and welfare.

“I think the future is coming this way… it’s what the marketplace wants and what consumers want,” he said. “We figured if we’re going to be in this business long term, then this is the best approach and we should get ahead of the curve.

“For us, animal health and welfare is still first and foremost. Part of our approach is doing all we can to create an environment where disease risk is as low as possible and where the animals are well supported, for example with nutritious high-quality feed and clean water. We try to keep the disease challenges down in the barn and keep a healthy gut in the pig.”

Sick animals are still treated with antimicrobials, he added.

“But we separate the treated animals out so they go to a different market not with the RWA animals,” he said. “So far we haven’t had to treat many.”

Cleanliness is critical, said Mike Hofer. That includes regular washing and intense disinfecting of the pens and rooms, and strict biosecurity protocols are also observed. In addition, the colony uses bio-based feed additives (such as enzymes and nucleotides) to support optimal nutrition, health and performance.

“The feed technology has come a long way and is a big part of our program that we couldn’t have done this without,” said Paul Hofer. “It does a lot to make sure you get the same or better performance even without antibiotics. And bio based fits what consumers want.”

The colony also passed regular third-party audits to ensure RWA status.

“It has taken more work to run the program but it has been worth it,” said Paul Hofer. “We have less health issues and the results are better than ever. We feel great about the product we are producing.”

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