Two more pigs per sow on Strategic Farm

Saturday, 2 June 2018

There has been an increase of around two pigs weaned per sow per year on David Goodier’s unit, from 24.57 to 26.79, showing continued improvements since he became AHDB Pork’s pilot Strategic Farm host in 2016.

This is down to a combination of changes, following four open meetings in which producers and the allied industry have joined David to discuss pig management and performance results on David’s 230-sow indoor unit in Lancashire.

David said: “One of our first priorities was to reduce pre-weaning mortality which, at 15%, was above the industry average. We started doing things differently in the farrowing house to try to get this down to around 10% so that the unit can consistently wean just over 11 good piglets per litter. We achieved this within six months and have maintained these lower mortality levels for more than a year.”

AHDB Pork calculated that this reduction in pre-weaning mortality reduced the cost of production by 2.1p per deadweight kilo, working on a 2015 cost base and assuming all other things were equal. David’s increase in litters per sow per year from 2.22 to 2.26 knocked a further 0.7p off production costs and the boost in live piglets born per litter, from 12.87 to 13.2, reduced his costs by a further penny. In total, these three improvements reduced the cost of production by 3.8p per deadweight kilo, based on 2015 costs.

“The priority is now to work on gilt performance and retention to further improve the numbers born per litter and over the whole lifetime of each sow,” said AHDB Pork knowledge exchange manager, Angela Cliff. “David’s recorded data originally showed consistently low numbers born in the second litter with 36% of sows having an average total born less than 10.

“However, there are already more gilts being retained to their second parity this year than last year, following a number of improvements throughout the breeding herd. This should start to improve the overall herd make up and parity profile, with fewer sows in the later parities and more sows in the most productive parities.”

Breeding herd: steps to success

  1. Gilt nutrition is an area that’s been pinpointed for review. David’s team is working on adjusting gilts’ diets, having had a good look at the current feed curve and gilt condition at different stages of the production cycle. For example, they’ve found gilts’ condition score has tended to be too high at farrowing and too low at weaning.
  2. Measuring out the daily feed allowance more accurately to ensure the quantities are consistently right and regularly calibrating the feeding bucket are two further practical changes.
  3. To help monitor condition, the team has started weighing gilts going in to the farrowing house and again post-weaning. They will also measure back fat.
  4. When it comes to serving sows, timing of insemination is highly important and, having mapped the timing of oestrus with Angela’s help, it was decided to serve each sow just twice, instead of three times.
  5. They are also leaving a longer time from detection to first AI, so that both inseminations are contributing to optimum cover, close to the time of ovulation. The key has been learning not to rush. They’re now waiting until Monday afternoon to serve and it is making a difference compared to doing it in the morning as they had done before. They just needed the confidence to wait until they saw a proper heat.
  6. An Opticare supplementary milk feeding system for piglets was installed in some of the farrowing pens in the autumn. Initial results seem to have been improved creep intake and an increase in total litter weight and individual piglet weight. This will be measured in more detail in the coming months.

Tagging and weighing

In the finisher herd, David has made major investment in a new finisher building to help cater for increased pig numbers being produced by the breeding herd and to enable them to take pigs to higher finished weights; the first pigs went into the building in May 2017.

Pigs are now going to be individually tagged and then weighed at birth, weaning and a week before slaughter which will provide really detailed information on how individual pigs perform in the new accommodation and help ensure the business makes the most of the investment. 

Weighing litters individually at weaning will be key to understanding patterns of variation in the finisher herd so that variation can start to be reduced throughout the rearing and finishing periods.

David added: “A key feature of the new building is that the vents are only on one side due to consistent strong winds coming from the west coast towards the building’s opposite side and there was a lot of good discussion at the open meetings about if and how this would work. To help avoid any potential issues with air circulation, the dividing walls in the slurry pit have been built parallel to the long walls of the building, so they act as baffles and redirect the air flow.

“If you want to be the best you’ve got to learn from others. Being part of this project has made me question what we’re doing on our unit much more – I’m always happy to listen to advice and try and implement changes people have suggested.”

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