September and October, 1999

[Three letters are printed in this issue: from Dr. Peter Davies, Dr. Kirk Clark, and Drs. Isabelle and Hank Harris. The column From the Editor is also part of this discussion. The proposal being discussed was printed as a letter to the editor in the May and June, 1999 issue. ]

What's in an name? Comments on proposed standardized nomenclature

Dear Editor:

I commend the initiative of Hank and Isabel Harris to address the issue of nomenclature applied to swine production systems (Swine Health Prod. 1999; 7 (3):101-102). The uncontrolled evolution of terminology accompanying changes in production systems has certainly brought confusion. Standard nomenclature should facilitate scientific and commercial communication within the profession, and simplify explanation of swine production to broader audiences. For Swine Health and Production (SHAP), as a scientific journal, to adopt
a system of standardized nomenclature for describing production systems, the system would ideally be:

  • simple and understandable;
  • comprehensive--applicable to all swine production systems;
  • universal--consistent with formal American English; and
  • durable--remain applicable in the face of ongoing evolution of production systems.

I believe the system proposed by Hank and Isabel approaches these goals, but see potential problems that warrant discussion. First is the question of what SHAP 'adopting' a system entails. Some options are:

  • endorsement as an industry standard for swine veterinarians and other sectors of commercial industry, including publication in a glossary of contemporary swine production nomenclature (United States);
  • preferred terminology for papers published in SHAP-- authors could elect not to use this terminology if they demonstrated that the manuscript would be improved; or
  • adoption as strict editorial policy.

The merit of any system depends on its purpose. Language that is advantageous in one forum (e.g., communication among AASP members) may be problematic in another (e.g., communication with a general scientific readership). I offer these comments from the perspective of SHAP adopting standardized nomenclature as editorial policy for peer-reviewed papers.

Stages of production

The proposed three stages of production seem least problematic, but are not comprehensive. For example, field studies that include farms supplying replacement breeding stock need to be considered. The emergence of wean-to-finish systems provides an example of how industry innovations may require modification of any standardized nomenclature over time. Distinction of the "breeding" from "nursery" stages is based on a discrete event (weaning). However, differentiation of weaned pigs into nursery, grower, and finisher-stage pigs is an artifact of our management systems that is not founded on specific biological events (such as age or weight). Familiarity with current conventions makes us comfortable dividing the nursery and finishing stages in conversation. However, for written manuscripts (and thinking of readers 10-20 years from now), these stages have little meaning if not qualified by further information. To provide adequate clarity in manuscripts, detailed description of farm facilities and management cannot be substituted with standardized nomenclature.


The Random House College Dictionary defines site as "the area or plot of ground on which anything is or has been located." There is conflict between this common meaning of "site" and current industry jargon. Hank and Isabel propose that "a site number indicates the placement for the various stages of production" and that "pigs may be reared at one or more locations within a site." The dilemma arises when, for example, a "three-site" system (i.e., breeding, nursery, and finishing sites in the proposed system) is comprised of a number of "sites" (conventional English definition) other than three. If "site" were adopted in the proposed context by SHAP, it would preclude authors from using "site" in its conventional context. This raises a philosophical question: at what point does the acceptance of jargon that conflicts with the conventional meaning of the words it employs (for example, "three-site production" used to describe a number of geographical sites other than three) preclude the use of the words in their conventional context in scientific literature?


I do not support the adoption of 'Isowean' for the following reasons:

  • Is a word necessary? Alone, the word Isowean (with or without inclusion of age at weaning) does not provide adequate information for a scientific paper. Hank and Isabel propose that "Isowean" would indicate that "at weaning piglets are placed in isolated accommodations...precautions are taken to assure that each group of Isowean pigs are not contaminated by other age-groups of pigs...[and] weaning age is variable." Without clarifying "isolated accommodations" and the specific "precautions," minimal meaning is conveyed by Isowean. If age at weaning, and a description of the geographical (e.g., distance) and other relationships between the breeding and nursery sites are provided, do we need a word?
  • Universality: "Isowean" is not a word in formal English, but fits the definition of jargon (language peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group). In this case, the language is not even shared with the general veterinary science community, nor with swine veterinarians in some countries. Foreign readers could not find it in a dictionary.
  • Etymology: The prefix "iso-" means "equal" (e.g., isobar, isosceles, isohyet), which might be misleading to readers seeking to understand the word.
  • I share the reservations of the Harris's about some of the 'synonyms' that have been in use. In reviewing their list, I believe MMEW (a mess), SEW (what is "early"?), and SDC (?) have little to recommend them. Segregated weaning is redundant (managed weaning is an act of segregation of piglets from sow), and age-segregated rearing is not specific to weaned pigs. If we do need a word, in my opinion both "isolated weaning" (but what is isolation?) and "offsite weaning" are preferable to "Isowean."

Types of production

I believe the terms one-site, traditional two-site, two-site Isowean, and three-site can be useful for communication within the AASP and the North American industry. However, they are inappropriate if SHAP is targeting a more general or international readership. Adequate description by authors should obviate the need for this type of terminology in manuscripts, while the terms alone provide insufficient detail to convey the variability that can be found within these categories.


I do endorse the adoption of "multisite" (syn: "multiple site") as a "blanket term." Etymologically, I have trouble accepting that "multisite" and "multiple site" can be considered as anything but strict synonyms. "Multisite" may be sufficiently ingrained in the swine vernacular to be formalized, provided that its specific definition is not at odds with the conventional meaning of the words. Some 'wordsmithing' of a formal definition is required. This also applies to other entrenched jargon such as "all-in-all-out," "continuous-flow," etc.

Alphanumeric notation

The proposed system for notation may provide a useful shorthand method for the North American industry. However, I have reservations that it will find application in SHAP manuscripts.

The Harrises have taken a bold step forward to slay the dragon of terminology. In the short term, I would be amazed if broad consensus, let alone unanimity, among swine veterinarians were to emerge on this issue. I have made these comments to provoke what I think is a necessary debate for the Editorial Board and others. The first, and possibly most important, step might be to identify a list of terms that are not acceptable for manuscripts in SHAP.

--Peter Davies, BVSc, PhD
North Carolina State University

"Isowean" could specify age

Dear Editor:

I have been reading about the campaign of Drs. Hank and Isabel Harris to make Isowean the name of the current rearing technologies we are all using and advocating. I am happy with the term and favor it over "all-in-all-out" if for no other reason than it is easier to type. Neither "SEW" nor "ASR" tell the whole story. However, if I am to use Isowean, I would like to have the maximum weaning age used after the name; for example, Isowean14 for the use of isowean technology in which the pigs are weaned with a maximum age of 14 days. This tells me exactly what kind of pigs I can expect and how they will be raised. The only thing left out is what type of biosecurity will be used in the rearing of the pigs, but Sandy Amass and the NPPC Biosecurity Committee does not have all the research needed to tell us what biosecurity means anyway.

--Kirk Clark, DVM, PhD
Purdue University

Isowean reply

Dear Editor:

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to the letters of Drs. Kirk Clark and Peter Davies. We concur with Kirk's idea to add weaning age (as an Arabic numeral) after the word "Isowean."

Peter has made some excellent comments regarding the development and use of standardized nomenclature. More specific responses appear, below:

Stages of production

We felt it important to adopt the terminology suggested by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). As stated in the second footnote of our letter to SHAP (May and June, 1999 pages 101-102), these terms for stages of production were recommended in the National Pork Production and Financial Technical Manual of the NPPC, edited by Will Marsh. We disagree with Peter's statement regarding the inadequacy of standardized nomenclature. We have proposed a standardized nomenclature that is used in conjunction with a dynamic and flexible alphanumeric notation system.

We believe our suggestions clearly allow for differentiation of wean to finish buildings from production systems with nursery, grower, and finisher rooms and/or buildings. It should be noted that the letter to the editor of SHAP did not contain our complete list of suggested terms (see Swine Practitioner, March-April, pages 4-8 and May-June, pages 20-26 [1999] and Multi-Site Pig Production by D.L. Harris, Iowa State University Press, in press, 1999). For example, we suggest that wean-to-finish buildings be called "NurFin."


The word "site" is currently used by those associated with pig production with several meanings. We simply suggested that it be clearly defined when referring to pig production facilities. In retrospect, it may have been better for multisite production to have been call "multitier production." Then, each location within a tier would be called a "site." We felt that the word "site" was so ingrained that it would be difficult to introduce the concept of tiers. Thus, Isabel came up with the word locus (loci) to describe a site(s) within a tier.


We feel that if "Isowean" is not used, the words "isolated weaning" be used (as suggested by Peter) to describe the concept of separating the piglets from the adult population at weaning. The word "Isowean" is easy to say and very descriptive, so why not use it? It is rather common for new words to be added to both conventional and scientific literature. Yes, we do think 'a word' is necessary. We do not endorse the use of the words 'offsite weaning' because they lack a clear meaning.

Types of production

We agree that terms such as "traditional two-site" and "three-site" do not provide sufficient detail to convey variability within these categories. This is precisely the point of suggesting standardized nomenclature used in conjunction with an alphanumeric notation. These terms are short-hand phrases that if standardized are adequate for conversation and even in a scientific publication. For example, one could describe in the methods section exactly what is met by a three-site pig farm by using the alphanumeric notation. Once the three-site farm is precisely described alphanumerically, the phrase "three-site farm" would only be necessary throughout the remainder of the text of the article.

We agree that "multisite" should be an accepted term.

Alphanumeric notation

We believe that alphanumeric notation may be useful for database input and retrieval, plus it can serve as a communication guide when it is difficult to produce detailed diagrams of production complexes. A journal such as SHAP may find this notation (or modification thereof) quite useful for space and cost savings.

We hope that our proposal for terminology creates more discussion but not necessarily consensus. Standardized terminology is a goal possibly only achievable by organizational committees as part of the AASP and/or NPPC.

  • --Drs. Hank and Isabel Harris
  • Iowa State University