More on Improvest & Small Farms

Improvest Castration Heritage Hog

One of the things I love about the agriculture industry is the passion and personal pride people have in their work. I don’t think I’ve run across anyone who is not all-in in their work. Ag is not a job, it’s a deeply rooted passion that courses through the veins like the cult-culture of an alma mater. Which, unlike some tailgating parties, is a beautiful thing.

Case in point: I was recently contacted by Jim Bradford. Jim is an independent consultant with Bradford Consulting in southwest Michigan, a livestock veterinarian, and retired from Pfizer which just so happens to be the maker of Improvest. And he just so happened to have spent his last few years with the company working on the Improvest project. What’s really important to note about this is that he did not contact me on behalf of the company, in fact, I don’t even think Pfizer knows about our conversation. Jim contacted me because he’s passionate about the work he’s done, enjoyed the post I wrote on the topic in January (and your responses to it) and wanted to know if he could help. And did he ever help!

As you might remember we left that last post with a few questions, the feasibility of Improvest use on small farms like ours was certainly not the least of those and was the first thing Jim and I discussed, and we circled back around to it a number of times.

Jim stressed that size neutrality was a goal for the Improvest team from day one. That is, it is and always has been a goal of Pfizer’s to ensure no farm, regardless of size, would be precluded from the technology. Jim acknowledged that there may be benefits associated with economies of scale in the utilization — there pretty much always is — but emphasized how important it was to them that it not be prohibitively expensive or difficult for small producers to adopt Improvest castration should they be interested in doing so. And as you might imagine, this was very welcome news.

The simple fact that Pfizer is thinking about small farms in the development of the product, its supporting technologies, and its implementation is tremendously encouraging. It means we may not have to be late adopters simply because the product is not available to us or has not yet been adapted to our circumstances. In the comments of the last post I briefly touched on the topic of small farms being late adopters of technology. Some of this, certainly, is because they choose to be late adopters, but another component of it is that the technologies can often be too expensive or unavailable for those small producers who are interested in early adopting. Pfizer’s apparent awareness of our needs makes me hopeful that choice will be the primary consideration in adoption of Improvest.

Another question that we left the previous post with was whether or not aggression (and/or other puberty related behaviors) would appear in heritage type pigs who take longer to grow out to market weight. As you might remember, with pigs who take longer to grow out (like ours) Improvest will have to be dosed at different intervals; mostly it means giving them their injections later in life in order to coincide with the time they will go to market. Jim confirmed that dosing schedules outside the norm could result in periods of time during which mature male behaviors could be observed. Normally pigs would be dosed at the beginning of puberty and processed before the behaviors would return (7-10 weeks after dosing). Because heritage pigs will need to be grown out longer they may receive that final dose after entering puberty, which means some of the behaviors that go along with it could be observed before the second dose of Improvest is administered. Fortunately, we already know that genetics play a primary role in aggression and breeding away from aggressive lines has been an effective management technique to date. For that reason, I don’t foresee this being a problem for our farm or most others like ours.

And last, but certainly not least, Jim and I talked a lot about the tracking and accountability program that Pfizer has developed along with this product. I think it’s important to note again that Improvest is not an antibiotic, steroid, or hormone. Improvest is a protein compound that works like a vaccine and for that reason it’s completely destroyed by the pig’s own immune system, leaving absolutely no trace or residue. This hasn’t stopped Pfizer from leaving no stone unturned however, and I think that really goes to show how thorough the ag industry is trying to be from top to bottom as it implements new technologies. Improvest is a prescription product, available through board certified veterinarians and in some cases even administered directly by them.

For producers who are consistently farrowing and raising pigs who will require Improvest injections a 4 1/2 hour training program that is followed up by certification with an Improvest field representative is available. The training program is designed to teach proper technique and a thorough understanding of the product, including how to use the tracking program that goes along with it, and is followed up by a farm visit from the field representative who observes the producer administering Improvest and assessing pigs who have received it to ensure the injection is safely and properly carried out and the pigs properly monitored for signs of sexual maturation (which would indicate the dose was not acting properly within the pig’s system or was not properly administered to begin with.) The tracking system itself can be used right from a smart phone and includes both date and gps tracking of pigs injected with Improvest. This not only helps track the program on the ground, it allows Pfizer to ensure they always have enough Improvest in the pipeline for the producers who need it. A pig will never be shortchanged on dosing because inventory is built right into the tracking program.

On the other hand, Jim was able to clarify another piece of the puzzle I’d been wondering about. For producers who are not regularly castrating pigs Pfizer is working on having alternate protocols available. This may include Pfizer field reps or it may simply mean having the farmer’s own veterinarian do the administration. Jim explained that consistency and frequency of administration was a bigger concern than size in whether or not it’d be reasonable for a producer to do their own Improvest injections and monitoring. Small producers who are regularly injecting pigs and monitoring for signs of sexual maturation are actually at an advantage over those producers who may be handling larger numbers of pigs but for whom groups only come through two or three times per year. Consistent and frequent use of the product prevents a producers skills from getting rusty and that’s the most important thing. In other words, though we raise far fewer per pigs per year the fact that we’re handling our pigs on a monthly or more frequent basis, albeit in smaller groups, may actually work to our advantage.

Do you have other questions about Improvest? Please let me know in the comments or contact me directly. Jim and I talked for a very generous hour and I’m sure my notes include tidbits that didn’t quite fit tidily in this post. I also still have Jim’s number and am not afraid to use it if there are some good questions I didn’t think to ask.

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