BPEX blog

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Think like a pig

Alan Stewart from Harper Adams was viewing the world through the eyes of a pig at the Shropshire Pig Club, led by Miriam Parker MBE, LivestockWise Ltd.

Miriam got the group to think like a pig to help producers develop handling systems that keep pigs in their ‘comfort zone’ and are less stressful to both the animal and handler.

She discussed ways to reduce or make handling easier when moving pigs around the unit, including using weighing systems. Producers should walk the route and think like a pig to try and identify areas that will stop the pigs moving forward eg:

• drains, objects or chains to explore
• sharp bends
• poor lighting – either too bright or too dark

One of the producers said afterwards, “I will be reviewing the way I load my pigs!”

There is more information in BPEX Work Instruction 7: Loading and unloading pigs, available from: www.bpex.org.uk/publications/WorkInstructions.aspx

Friday, 9 December 2011

Split suckling explained

We've just added a new video to the BPEX website which shows Tom Lloyd from the Hartpury College Pig Unit demonstrating split suckling and explaining the suckling pattern on the unit.
Split suckling takes Tom about 10 minutes per suckling shift to sort out the litters and the benefits he has seen include:




  • Piglets receive a good intake of colostrum

  • Mortality is reduced

  • Good for staff morale

Watch the video and listen to Tom explaining the system by clicking here.

Friday, 2 December 2011

100 producers hear about euthanasia

Two euthanasia workshops in Yorkshire drew in 100 pig producers to hear from Charlie Mason from the Humane Slaughter Association.

Charlie explained the different methods of euthanasia, best practice, the importance of cleaning and maintenance, and the legal and licensing requirements.

It was clear that this is a complicated area, so producers must follow the recommendations in the Pig Veterinary Society (PVS) booklet 'The Casualty Pig' when determining whether a sick or injured pig should be treated or euthanased. Euthanasia methods must be in accordance with the recommendations in the 'The Casualty Pig' booklet. Ask your vet for a copy or email: office@pigvetsoc.org.uk

Producers took away useful guidance notes and certificates of attendance, which are useful to have, as some of them had been asked by assurance scheme auditors if they had done any euthanasia training.

For further information about dispatching pigs on-farm please speak to your vet or contact
Charlie Mason: 07798 815527

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Monitor sows at farrowing - don't be without a disc

Robin Brice is one of many producers now using BPEX’s farrowing discs. Showing them in use in the farrowing house, he told us "We wouldn’t be without them. I bet BPEX has sent out thousands of them!”

The requests have certainly been coming in. Producers who would like to order some, free of charge, can call 0247 647 8792 or email kt@bpex.org.uk

The disc is simple to use and helps monitor sows' progress at farrowing. There are three coloured circles on the disc, one to mark the time over the course of 12 hours, the second to record how many piglets were born alive at the time they were last checked and the third to mark how many piglets were born dead.

Three movable arrows are used to show the sow’s latest progress, so all staff know how she is getting on and can provide the right management for her and her piglets.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The pig industry is in good hands...

The BPEX Professional Manager Development Scheme (PMDS) is back for 2012. Joining the course when it gets started in January are:

Sophie Howe, Writtle College, Essex; Kathryn Mutimer, BQP, Suffolk; Jason Ashford, Mutimers, Norfolk; Simon Ashley, Bawsey Pigs, Norfolk; Andrew Sankey, Shropshire; Philip Payne, Henson Farms, Wiltshire; Harry Heath, M&J Heath, Shropshire; Tony Wright, Shedden Farms, Yorkshire; Nick Baird, Greenway Farms, Buckinghamshire; Anna Davis, BPEX, Warwickshire.

Pig producer and AgriSkills Forum chairman Richard Longthorp was on the selection panel and said: “We have some fantastic talent and I have no doubt the 2012 PMDS group will carry the banner of professionalism in the pig industry with as much distinction as their predecessors. The industry is indeed in good hands.”

Click here for more about the course and here to watch videos with the 2010 cohort.

Friday, 18 November 2011

More than 30 people log on for first BPEX Live

Pig producers from across the UK took part in the first BPEX Live interactive online workshop with Dr. Luke Minion, who spoke live from Minnesota. He explained how his region’s pig health improvement measures could be applied to the UK market.

Focusing on BPEX’s recently launched Pig Health Improvement Project (PHIP), Luke said: “The UK has an industry that could eliminate diseases such as PRRS through teamwork between producers, veterinarians, and the industry.”

He explained that it is vital producers know their neighbourhood health status first, in order to eliminate any disease from a particular area or cluster of farms. “If your health status goals are aligned – our experience says you can find a way!”

More than 30 people logged on for BPEX Live from their home or office computer. Producers said they found it very useful, so watch this space for more to come. To view Luke’s presentation, click here.

Sign up to the PHIP is free for pig producers. Simply download an application form from www.pighealth.org.uk. Alternatively, producers can contact their vet, or call BPEX on 0247 647 8877.

Monday, 7 November 2011

More pigs in the box mean better returns

Pig producers can improve returns by aiming for at least 85% of finished pigs to meet the top grade specifications on their abattoir contract. This was a key message from a Walk the Line Day held at VION’s Malton processing plant, jointly hosted by BPEX.

Walk the Line days are designed to help share best practice among members of the pig supply chain.

Processors want to receive a particular type of pig to best meet the demands of retailers and consumers for particular cuts, sizes and trends such as the preference for low fat pork.

Pigs which do not meet the optimum contract specifications require more processing which incurs more cost, which can then affect the price received by suppliers. It is essential producers understand their contract and the product they need to supply. Pigs that grade outside the ‘optimum box’ can lose 10p per kg on average. There is guidance in 2TS Action for Productivity factsheets 11: Increasing uniformity of finished pigs and 22: Improve your marketing return. Click here or call 024 7647 8792.

William de Klein from VION Food Group said: “This is a part of a wider programme that aims to improve supply chain communications." To help make information as accessible as possible, VION sends producers text messages containing their slaughter data and a more detailed report is sent by email.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Producers strengthening disease defences

More than a third of producers said they were going to review their defences against pig disease, following the 2TS Focus on Health conferences.

Speaker Robin Brice from Rattlerow Farms (pictured) explained how they aim to maintain good health status, having invested several years in eradicating PRRS on one unit.

He said: “An all-in all-out system with good cleaning and disinfection is important to our biosecurity, but that alone is no good if there is a risk of vermin re-introducing disease. Vermin control has to go hand in hand with cleaning and disinfection.”

Good stockmanship is also central to managing pig health. “It helps us spot clinical signs of disease as early as possible so we can get any tests done, work out what the problem is and decide how to deal with it quickly.”

Thirdly, Robin emphasised his view on using vaccines: “We make sure we vaccinate at the optimum timing to benefit the pig, rather than just to suit our own routine. We see all vaccinations as insurance.”

Dr Luke Minion from the USA and Danish vet Anders Elvstroem also discussed their current strategies to eradicate PRRS in their respective regions – using close co-ordination between producers and tight biosecurity measures. Their sustained efforts include using all-in all-out systems, health status mapping, sharing of information and vaccination of gilts which, combined, have reduced PRRS incidence in both countries.

For more information, all the speakers’ presentations are available to view in full at www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/conferences.aspx along with BPEX factsheets. The national Pig Health Improvement Project now provides the structure and resource for producers to work together. Go to http://www.pighealth.org.uk/

Monday, 24 October 2011

Good health can be worth an extra £1 per pig

A healthy pig can earn an extra £1 per pig because it is much more efficient at converting feed for growth than a disease-challenged one. This was a key point from nutritionist Paul Toplis at the 2TS Focus on Health conferences. Feed intake is key to growth so, even when there is a herd health problem, producers can make just as much difference as the vet and nutritionist by reducing all other stressors.

Paul was one of five speakers from the UK, US and Denmark and there was some good discussion with producers about the practical steps they can take on farm and about how the UK pig industry can shift towards a more collaborative approach to combat disease for the long-term.

View all the speakers' presentations and see pictures of the events here.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Simple, effective and free: farrowing discs

We have stocked up on more of our popular 2TS Farrowing Discs, which producers hang up in the pen to monitor a sow’s progress at farrowing.

To request your free farrowing discs and a guide to using them email Clancy Smith or call her on 0247 647 8792.

The disc can either be hung above the farrowing pen on a string with a bulldog clip or attached to the pen side somewhere easily accessible. After each sow has finished farrowing, the disc can be moved to the next farrowing sow and it is useful to have several discs in each farrowing house.

Attention to detail during farrowing is essential to get newborn piglets off to a good start and it has a major influence on overall litter productivity, which is one of the key areas of focus for breeding units aiming for the 2TS target.

Monday, 3 October 2011

A garden sprayer helps service management

It’s good to catch up with pig producers and staff now the autumn season of Pig Club meetings is underway.

We’re always on the look out for practical ideas on how to move the industry nearer to the ‘two-tonne sow’ target and Garth Pig Club North invited Easey breeder producer Neil Newlove to highlight a few things he’s been doing recently.

Neil (pictured) runs a 730- sow outdoor breeding herd on a batch system and keeps all the dry sows in tents on concrete.
· They’ve found the best bedding is wood chips with rape straw (not chopped) on top. It is really absorbent and the laying areas are nice and dry.
· At service, they use a garden sprayer to spray water on all the vulvas followed by a wipe down with a disinfectant wipe. Using the sprayer has proven much more effective in removing dirt
· Stocking density makes a big difference: the unit saw a drop in farrowing rate from 90%+ to around 85% when a tent order got delayed and the stocking density in the dry sow tents went up
· Neil built his own farrowing arcs. The total cost was £220 per arc (as apposed to a purchased model for £400-£500)

As for the other end of the pork supply chain, the Club got all the details on the new BPEX pork marketing campaign to get consumers to make the Pork Promise.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Recovery pens a top topic for stockmen

Stockmen got started on the first BPEX Stockman Development Programme for the south, with 16 people attending the session in Wiltshire group and another seven in Oxford.

There was a thirst for knowledge, particularly on recovery pen design and how to improve it. Click here for more information in 2TS Action for Productivity no. 15: Recovery pen management.

Vet Julia James, from Larkmead practice, led the training on veterinary and medicine management, covering everything from pathogen types to administering medicines.

Two other Stockman Development Programmes are now open for registration:

Stockman Development Lincolnshire (new for this year) will be held at Uncle Henry’s, Grayingham, Lincolnshire, with the first workshop on 18 October 2011. Contact Angela Cliff: 07967 788484 or angela.cliff@bpex.ahdb.org.uk

Stockman Development North will be held at Sandburn Hall, Flaxton, York, with the first workshop on 2 November 2011. Contact Lis Ravn: 07891 656784 or Lisbeth.ravn@bpex.ahdb.org.uk

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Pigs need more looking after when it’s cold

Finisher pig producers have come up with a practical ‘to do’ list in readiness for the winter months, during a good discussion with vet Janet Owen, from Garth Partnership.

Janet told the Easey Finisher Pig Club just how much extra attention pigs need during cold weather. You need to ensure they get up five or six times each day, otherwise they will just huddle and not eat, drink or pee. Cold weather stresses pigs and stress can make them ill!

The group’s list checklist includes:

• Adjust vents • Block draughts • Plenty of straw • Lag water pipes • Check roof gutters • Check bins for leaks • Organise mould curb • Prepare for water supply in frost – what to do if water freezes

From last year’s experience, it was suggested that putting heaters (oil radiators) next to the water pump could stop it from freezing. One producer also pointed out that, if you turn your tap on to stop water freezing, you need to turn it on properly – not just a little bit or it won’t help.

Another found that covering his water pipes in straw and draining all the water pipes every evening prevented his water system from freezing up last year. Water then needs to be switched back on in the morning.

And, for breeding herds, there is more information on preparing for autumn here.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Huge numbers sign up for pig health scheme

Nearly 800 pig units have now signed up to free BPEX Pig Health Scheme (BPHS) membership, which is approximately 50% of all assured units.

All 785 BPHS members are also Pig Health Improvement Project (PHIP) members, having jointly registered for both schemes via the new sign-up process.

The BPHS provides members with post-mortem health data, with checks carried out by specialist vets when producers submit pigs to participating abattoirs. It helps producers and vets to monitor and assess the health condition of stock.

The health report sent back to producers gives them a picture of their overall herd health which they can then discuss with their vet to tackle any issues promptly.

It includes sub-clinical disease which is not always easy to spot on farm, but still affects performance. That’s why we want producers to take advantage of BPHS and to use it to inform what they do on farm as part of the Pig Health Improvement Project.

For BPHS information click here and, for PHIP, click here.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Charlotte West to cover the south

Welcome to Charlotte West, our new Knowledge Transfer (KT) Manager for the South of England. Charlotte took up the post on Monday, taking over from Helen Thoday who has a new job in the Falklands.

Charlotte, who lives in Wiltshire, was the BPEX Veterinary Project Manager responsible for developing the regional health programmes before taking up her new position.

She has practical experience of pig production and, before joining BPEX, she worked on a 1,000 sow breeding herd.

Charlotte said: “I am very much looking forward to working in the area and helping to deliver the BPEX 2TS programme and the range of KT services in the South.”

Anybody who would like to contact her can do so by phone on 07973 701202 or by email, charlotte.west@bpex.ahdb.org.uk. And we'll look forward to blog updates from Charlotte on activities in the South this autumn.

Friday, 26 August 2011

How pig health strategy can help bring in ££s

Improved pig health and welfare could easily be worth as much as £25 million a year to the British industry. An extra 50g weight gain per day as a result of improved health would return between £2 and £3.50 per pig – between £15 and £25m a year.

BPEX has just produced a new health and welfare strategy with support from across the industry and launched by Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens. 20:20 Pig Health and Welfare builds on the success of the first strategy launched at the end of 2003.

One of the key elements is the Pig Health Improvement Project (PHIP). The national Stage 1 is underway and in addition there will be pilot projects with groups of producers across the country. It aims to change completely the way endemic pig diseases are managed, mitigated and controlled across the country.

This will require a radical change in the mindset of all involved - from a rather singular, self-contained approach to a far more inclusive, co-ordinated and collaborative one. BPEX Chairman Stewart Houston said: “Improving the health and welfare of pigs affects our cost of production, our ability to compete in a highly competitive EU market, our impact on the environment, the safety of the food we produce, our responsibility to the animals in our care, our reputation as a producer of high welfare pork, bacon, ham and other pork products and ultimately our ability to produce a secure supply of food in an increasingly volatile world.

“Despite the progress we have already made we remain behind many of our immediate competitors on key measures of efficiency. Improving pig health is key to closing this competitiveness gap.”

Friday, 19 August 2011

New stockman training course for the south

The BPEX Stockman Development Programme will run in the south of England for the first time this year, following the success of the courses in the east and north. We have designed the programme to boost practical knowledge and develop an overall understanding of the complete production cycle, from farrowing through to finishing, so stockmen can contribute as fully as possible to the business.

The scheme, which runs over a 10-month period, consists of a series of workshops, delivered by BPEX staff and regional experts and also includes allied industry visits. Each workshop will be run in five locations to ensure local training for all staff but allied trade visits will be combined between the groups.

The cost to attend the whole course is £150 per person. However, ad hoc attendance at a specific workshop is available at a cost of £25 + VAT per session. Please note allied industry sessions are only available as part of the full course. Registration for Stockman Development South closes on 1 September 2011. For more information and to register, contact me using the details below or the comment button.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Disposing of fallen stock

BPEX-funded PhD student Ceri Gwyther has been very busy recently disseminating results from her studies at Bangor University. She is looking into ‘Bio-reduction: an alternative strategy for disposing of fallen stock in the UK livestock sector’.

Ceri went to the XVth International Congress on Animal Hygiene 2011 in Vienna to give a presentation on her work on the fate of pathogens in a simulated bioreduction system for livestock carcases.

A poster was also presented at the Plant and Microbiology Wales conference in Bangor which looked at the accelerants that speed up the initial stages of decomposition. These could be beneficial to the farmer by speeding up carcase degradation, freeing up space in the vessel for fresh carcase additions which could potentially save money.

For more information on this project and to see a copy of the presentation/poster please click here.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Shade, hydration and sun block for pigs

Prolonged exposure to sun and heat can result in stressed pigs and reduced performance. Just like when you go on a hot holiday, think shade, hydration and sun block.

Pigs subjected to high temperatures will have reduced growth rates (by up to 50g/day) and, in the breeding herd, farrowing rates could decline by as much as 25%.

Action for Productivity sheets 3 and 4 provide advice on keeping your pigs cool, whether they are inside or outside, including wallow management.

Action for Productivity sheet 39 provides more specific advice for heat stress in boars. Remember, boar fertility accounts for 50% of his progeny's genetics, but potentially 100% of output, as poor quality semen affects both conception and litter size.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

New health measures piloted on farm

New biosecurity measures will be put in place on pig units in three pilot projects just given the go ahead, as part of the national BPEX Pig Health Improvement Project (PHIP).

This marks the eagerly-awaited second stage of the programme for pig producers in Yorkshire and East Anglia, which were the first to get started on regional health improvement – gathering and mapping health information and forming a regional network of producers.

The three on-farm pilot groups – two in Yorkshire and one in East Anglia – will help establish the effectiveness of certain measures in improving pig health status in a sustainable way. BPEX has helped the producer groups access RDPE funding to support the practical steps they are taking.

One group is upgrading its loading ramps to improve biosecurity and, in the second group, one of the farms is doing a full depopulation. The third group, comprising more than 30 units, is carrying out a targeted PRRS vaccination.

To read more, click here. To sign up for the PHIP click here or contact Helen Clarke at BPEX on 07973 701369

Monday, 1 August 2011

Reducing phosphorus excretion

A project is underway to demonstrate the environmental and economic implications of reducing phosphorous (P) excretion in pigs.

The University of Newcastle is working with BQP, BOCM Pauls and BPEX on this two-year project which started in August 2010.

The aim is to establish whether dietary P can be reduced below current commercial norms without negative effects on pig health and reproductive performance and, at the same time, reduce diffuse pollution of P to the environment via manure and effluent.

So far five breeding farms have been selected to take part in the experiments; all of them are in a catchment sensitive farming area. Three dietary P levels will be tested for their effect on sows during the dry period and pregnancy.

Treatment A – Industry standard diet
Treatment B – BSAS standard diet
Treatment C – Low P diet where P level is reduced by 22 % in relation to BSAS Standard

A further two finishing farms have been selected for the experiments and will be looking at finishing pigs from 40 – 100kg. Results from these experiments will be reported on in the future.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Lorry wash project gathers pace

A very successful meeting was held last night in Derbyshire as part of the East Midlands Pig Health project (EMPH), following in the footsteps of the Eastern Pig Health (EPH) meeting held in the spring.

Peter Kettlewell and Eddie Harper, both livestock haulage consultants, presented to a group of 25 people including producers, hauliers, marketing groups and processors.

The meeting covered important issues surrounding biosecurity when hauling pigs to slaughter and included positive discussions on cost of lorry wash facilities to abattoirs, cost to hauliers if they have to wash out somewhere else and the cost producers face if they break down with swine dysentery.

One thing was clear from the meeting: all sectors of the industry are serious about tackling lorry washing facilities and haulage standards and change is now afoot to make sustainable, long term improvements.

The lorry wash project will come to the south west on 20 September and to Yorkshire on 29 September. If you have any queries or want to be involved please contact Katrin Turvey (pictured).

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The cost of empty days

Do you know what an 'empty' day costs you? If not, try using this equation to work it out..

Cost per sow-day =

Total annual breeding herd expenditure / (productive sows x 365)

Cost of reproductive failure =

Cost per sow-day X empty days per annum / pigs born alive (sold) per sow per year

Myself and Colin spent some time discussing the financial impact of empty days and wanted to provide a simple way to quantify the cost.

Click on 'Comments' below to let us know if what you calculate is similar or different to what you expected.

There's also more information and advice in 2TS Action for Productivity 26 - Improving Key Peformance Indicators: Breeding Herd

Friday, 15 July 2011

Ways to minimise boar taint risk

Advice on controlling boar taint in pork has just been published as part of our Target Pork Quality factsheet series.

Boar taint is an odour or flavour which is offensive to some people if they detect it when cooking or eating pork or pork products. It is important that producers minimise the risk of boar taint to ensure they produce consistent, high quality pork and pigmeat products for consumers.

The odour or flavour is a result of high concentrations of androstenone and/or skatole in the meat. Androsterone is a natural sex pheromone found in boars and skatole is a by-product of digestion in the pig.

The BPEX factsheet highlights a number of areas that pig producers can manage to minimise the risk of boar taint, including:
- pig pen hygiene
- ventilation
- dietary fibre – increasing fibre content can help
- dietary protein – avoid feeding excessive protein
- age for weight – achieve target pig weight at a younger age
Plus there is information on technologies in the pipeline that may help control boar taint in future.

For a copy of Target Pork Quality No.6: Boar taint and its control click here or call 02476 478 792.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Camaraderie and a career in pigs

The first BPEX Stockman Development Programme for the East ended this week with our final workshop and awards evening.

From my own personal view, this has been some of the most rewarding work I have been involved with since joining BPEX two years ago.

Within Stockman Development East I have witnessed team camaraderie, professionalism and an enthusiastic interest shown in making our industry a career choice that will hopefully secure everyone in the group with jobs of responsibility.

Stockman East 2010 was developed for pig stockmen looking to develop their career and looking for possible promotion in the future.

Well done to everyone on the programme and a particular mention for Roxanne Rogers (pictured) of Bacton Pigs who received the Trainee of the Year award for the course.

We also presented Ian Gillies at Rattlerow Farms with a Trainee of the Year award for his achievements on the BPEX/Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Development Programme which also ran this year.

Click here for more information on pig industry training programmes.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Super Six - comparing pig unit performance

We have put together a farm case study showing how one pig unit’s performance compares to the Super Six Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on the BPEX website.

It includes notes on the unit’s management practices and what contributes to its performance. Good record keeping is essential to pinpoint which areas of performance to prioritise and to monitor progress.

The KPIs section on the BPEX website uses Agrosoft data and allows producers to make comparisons between their business and the average, top third and top 10% of producers. It's a straightforward way to review the most important areas of pig unit performance

There is information for indoor breeding herds, outdoor breeding herds, rearing herds 7-35kg, finishing herds 35-110kg and combined rearer-finisher herds 7-110kg.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Don’t let draughts affect growing pigs

Draught is one of the things that can impact on lying behaviour and vice. Consultant John Chambers had a good discussion about this with stockmen at the latest Stockman Development North training session.

It’s important to get the growing pig’s environment right and it's easy to check for undesirable draught in your buildings. John recommended purchasing an inexpensive smoke test kit. He has found one option from Draegar, details below, and there are others available.

Part number: CH00216
Draeger Safety UK Ltd., Ullswater Close, Kitty Brewster Industrial Estate, Blyth, Northumberland NE24 4RG
Tel: 01670 35 28 91

Monday, 20 June 2011

Leadership in the North

Eight pig unit supervisors received leadership awards at the end of the first BPEX leadership programme for the North and Midlands.

Their training, on the BPEX/Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Development Programme, has helped them boost pig productivity and staff motivation on their units.

A special student of the year award went to Dean Brammer who has been recently promoted to manage one of Midland Pig Producers’ units at Branston, Lincolnshire. He said: “The course has made a real difference to me in my new role. It’s helped me communicate better with my team and helped get us working more efficiently together.”

George Trowsdale is assistant manager for Dent Ltd on their outdoor unit near Malton. “The numbers of pigs born alive have gone up and mortality is also down since I started the course. I think it’s mainly through better planning and organisation and I’m also more confident discussing tasks and routines with staff to help us get better results.

“The six training days on the course also gave us chance to talk to other managers. It’s useful to hear how they do things on their units.”

The ILM course is designed for anyone responsible for leading people or who will take on the responsibility in the near future. The training is provided by Alistair Gibb of Cedar Associates.
Contact Lis Ravn for information on future courses: 07891 656 784 or by email.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Stressful spring for boars

The hot, dry spring has highlighted the issue of heat stress in pigs which can cause fertility problems in boars as well as sows.

To help pig producers avoid this problem, we have published our latest 2TS Action for Productivity fact sheet on preventing and managing heat stress in boars.

The main concern currently is how heat stress can affect working boars’ fertility rates and render them less fertile for a period as long as eight weeks. If body temperature is raised by as little as 2°C it can interfere with sperm production and lead to a reduced number of sperm.

Air temperatures above 23°C can cause heat stress so the boar searches for ways to prevent over-heating – and temperatures have already reached 27°C this spring. Measures producers can take reduce the effects of hot weather include:

- Shade and wallows – do the same for the boar as the sow
- Space – allow room for the boars to lie prone and isolate
- Little bedding – provide easier access to cool flooring/dirt etc
- Plenty of water – the minimum requirement for a boar daily is 5-8 litres
- Do not encourage matings in such heats
- Additional air movement – use fans
- Feed in early mornings or evenings when cool

If you suspect that your DIY AI boars have been heat stressed, then be extra vigilant and monitor their semen quality over an eight-week period. If chaser boars have been affected by heat then consider using AI as insurance. There's more advice in 2TS Action for Productivity no.39: Heat stress in boars. Call 02476 478792 to request a hard copy.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Next stop...the Falkland Islands

This will be my last BPEX blog post as I’m heading off for pastures new this month, 8,000 miles away in the Falkland Islands!

After almost five years at BPEX, I’m taking on a new role and new challenge as agricultural advisor, genetics and animal nutrition, for the Falkland Islands Agricultural Department.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel and visit many different countries in the last year, as part of my Nuffield Scholarship, but it will be my first trip to the Falklands.

I can't explain how much I have enjoyed my time at BPEX, being part of the KT team has been a brilliant experience and meeting and working with the producers and allied industry has been motivating and a pleasure.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sow care checklist – where to start?

A number of aspects of management can go wrong during the cycle of the sow and have subsequent effects on performance. At Oxford and Salisbury Pig Training Groups we used our ‘Care of the Sow’ workshops to discuss culling policy, reasons for losses and to design a check list for new starters in the dry sow department.

For the checklist, some people chose to concentrate on the paddocks first, including water, fences and hut damage. Some favoured giving clear instructions on what to look for in the pigs themselves, pointing out that alarm bells should always ring when one pig is doing something different from the rest. Other people thought the farm routine should be stated first, to paint a picture of what is expected and how things work.

We also discussed the term ‘lameness’ and some of its causes, which can range from flinty ground to incorrect boar sizes, poor space allowance at weaning and mycoplasma arthritis.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Alternative bedding materials?

Have you got experience of using alternatives to straw as bedding material for your pigs?

We’d like to hear what you have found works as a good alternative, and what hasn’t!

Email kt@bpex.org.uk with your experience or add your comments below.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Abattoir lorry wash contacts

Abattoirs have pledged to introduce a clear line of communication to ensure that lorry washing facilities are adequate for effective biosecurity. Cleaning and disinfection of livestock transport vehicles was the subject of an important meeting held in Diss yesterday. BPEX Eastern Pig Health led the discussion between livestock hauliers, farmers, processors, pig marketing groups and veterinarians.

We discussed the benefits of having farm contact numbers clearly visible to pig transport vehicles and other visitors at the gate or near the farm entrance. This led to a proposal and agreement to do the same at abattoir lorry washing facilities.

Typical issues livestock hauliers may find include water leaks, a hose pipe that is not long enough or lack of disinfectant. This new initiative will mean that drivers can quickly find the number and make contact with someone who has responsibility for the lorry washing facilities.

I’m anticipating that by the end of today we will have confirmation from 50% of the BQAP abattoirs committing to put this system in place. We need to take shared responsibility to get this to work within the supply chain. I think everyone went away from the meeting feeling much more confident that we can improve biosecurity with more consistent and effective vehicle cleaning and disinfection.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Know what's in your muck for better nutrient use

BPEX is at the Grassland and Muck event today as part of an AHDB muck analysis feature. Farmers are invited to bring along a manure or slurry sample with them for free analysis. The first 25 farmers each day to bring along a maximum of two samples will qualify for free analysis. Results will be sent to farmers after the event. Plus, visitors will be able to see a demonstration of the technology throughout the event on the AHDB stand in the muck area.

Accurate analysis gives livestock farmers the knowledge to make efficient use of the nutrients in manure and slurry. Knowing the composition of manures helps to both reduce the environmental impact of manure use and increase profitability.

Manures and slurries can make a major contribution towards grass and cereal crop nutrient requirements and help save costs on fertiliser inputs. It means manures can make a positive contribution to the bottom line, rather than being a cost burden, as the benefits of better nutrient management help offset the storage and spreading costs.

The challenge for farmers is to make best use of the valuable nutrients in manure while, at the same time, minimising any effect on water courses and the environment.

Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS) is an innovative muck analysis technique that will help farmers analyse the nutrient content of manures rapidly and accurately, at a lower cost than before. It was developed through a LINK-funded research project and is able to predict total and ammonium nitrogen, phosphate, potash, magnesium and sulphur content of manures, slurries and biosolids.

Nigel Penlington, BPEX Environment Manager (pictured) said: “This analysis technique enables farmers to manage valuable plant nutrients with greater confidence, knowing more precisely what they are applying to the land.

“The key is that they can make informed decisions about where and when to use their manure or slurry, whether it be as part of their grassland management or to the benefit of an arable enterprise.”

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Pig Club making practical changes

Exeter Pig Club members have tried out a few new ideas since the 2TS Focus on Farrowing conference in Cirencester. Simple but significant changes include:
· making sure piglets get their mother’s colostrum
· checking dry sow diets for fish oil and researching additives – there are options, for around £8/tonne, to provide a mix of omega-3 fatty acids
· creating a maternity pack with a clip board, previous litter information and BPEX farrowing disc (pictured), to help record and monitor sows’ progress during farrowing – in one week, seven ‘type 2’ stillbirths (caused by asphyxiation at birth) were prevented as a result
· providing extra water pre and post-farrowing
· finding a way to try split suckling, by using the creep area and blocking off the pop-hole.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Pig industry going beyond Government environment targets

The pig industry is setting out how it intends to achieve reductions in its environmental impact in a Roadmap launched this week by BPEX and its partners.

The document sets out targets for the reduction of key environmental burdens over the next 10 years and goes beyond the 11% reduction set by Government for agriculture in England.

The report targets four key areas; climate change, the amount of nutrients and scarce natural resources used and the release of acidic gases.

BPEX Environment Programme Manager Nigel Penlington, who wrote the report, said: “The aim is to reduce all of these by between 15% and 17%. Since 2001 we have already seen reductions of between 7% and 17%.

“The roadmap not only outlines the targets for the industry but also takes a broad look at ways these targets can to be achieved.

“Here the Two-tonne Sow Campaign will have a major role in helping achieve the targets at a very practical level.

“Lower mortality, improvements in piglets per sow per year, better feed conversion, for example, are all 2TS targets which, when achieved, will help hit the Roadmap target reductions.”

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Choice stalls research: more pigs per litter

At our last Nuffield meeting, Alan Stewart of Harper Adams University Collge gave an overview of recent research. There were a couple of interesting points on using choice stalls:

  • Sows were more comfortable in choice stalls rather than stalls that were shut outside feeding time, meaning submissive sows had to lay in the dung passage

  • The reproductive performance of sows in choice stalls was 1.5/pigs per litter higher
  • Friday, 15 April 2011

    Just what the pig industry needed

    Eleven inspirational pig managers celebrated completion of the first BPEX Professional Manager’s Development Scheme.

    They wowed a small pig industry audience with their energy, professionalism and achievements, both as individuals and as a group, during a special evening of presentations.

    Hear what the pig managers and course leader Alistair Gibb had to say by watching our video.

    They shared many examples of how they changed the way their teams work together and improved pig productivity, as well as their own personal development as people and as managers. These are skills and experiences that will stay with them and build as they continue their careers.

    One of the group, Andrew Palmer, said that the programme is exactly what the pig industry needed – a course that looks at people skills and team management, which can make an immeasurable difference to a pig business.

    For pig managers interested in joining the next course, there is more information and details of who to contact here.

    Monday, 11 April 2011

    Health and safety advice for pig farmers

    Health and safety is vital to all farms. The aim of this new BPEX publication is to help make your pig farm a safe, healthy and legal place of work for employers, employees and others who may be affected by what you do.

    This includes full, casual or part time workers, trainees, customers, neighbours, sales people, members of the public and uninvited visitors.

    Anna Davis, BPEX Environment Project Manager said “BPEX has worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive and been able to create a health and safety document specifically designed to help pig keepers deal with the issues they may face.

    "We hope producers will put a copy in their office or staff room so employees and contractors can take a look.”

    To download a copy of ‘Health and Safety for Pig Keepers’ click here.

    Wednesday, 6 April 2011

    Producers focus on farrowing performance

    Feedback from our 2TS Focus on Farrowing events has been gathered and the numbers have been crunched. Between 70 and 80% of the 300+ attendees were pig producers, with the others representing the allied industry.

    It was great to see so many producers there, keen to pick up new advice and ways to keep improving herd performance. A few thoughts and comments from them after the event:

    “Well done for organising an excellent conference at Cirencester. Everyone who helped pull this together should be very proud. An excellent turnout and a very good mixture of speakers combining technical and practical aspects.”

    “We’ll go away and think about our dry sow feeding.”

    “We always learn something new from BPEX meetings and this was a really excellent event. We will be re-thinking how quickly we start cross-fostering piglets and make sure they have had enough maternal colostrum first.”

    “Great presentations by the two producers. Very interesting!”

    Monday, 4 April 2011

    Be there at farrowing

    Being present at farrowing is critical to ensure the birth process goes smoothly and piglets get off to a good start. If it is not always possible on your unit currently, consider altering routines or introducing a rota to provide cover at this crucial time. You could also talk to your vet about the practicalities of using products to promote farrowing during the daytime, when you can be there to monitor it. There are more tips on newborn management in 2TS Action for Productivity fact-sheet no. 14, which is part of the 2TS Farrowing Pack.

    Friday, 1 April 2011

    My final Nuffield blog

    As I let Zoe take over the baton of the Nuffield Gob — I mean Blog — on the NPA website and I start to form my final report in my mind lots of ideas and thoughts about what this industry will look like in ten years time fill my spare time.

    Can we really service as a whole if half the industry goes? Will we end up like the poultry industry? Is the concept of free-farrowing actually going to shaft us as an industry or should we embrace the early adopters and innovators stance.

    Click here to read the full blog.

    Friday, 25 March 2011

    Yannig Le Treut, of French nutrition company Lallemand, left no doubt as to why pig producers must ensure quick and adequate colostrum during three conferences last week.
    More than 300 producers attended the Two-Tonne Sow (2TS) Focus on Farrowing conferences, organised by the BPEX Knowledge Transfer team. Yannig was one of four technical experts who joined local pig producers to discuss management of both the sow and piglet to deliver a strong litter through to weaning.
    Yannig said: “Colostrum provides energy and immune protection as well as helping the gut mature in the first few hours of life, which is one of its lesser-known functions. It is essential that the piglet has its first colostrum intake as quickly as possible as its body fat reserves and glycogen levels are very low at birth, making colostrum its main source of energy. It cannot survive without it.
    “The best pig producers spend a lot of time with a newborn litter making sure that all the piglets, particularly the weakest, get to suckle, ideally within the first six hours. After that, the quality and level of immunity colostrum provides reduces rapidly.
    “Where practical, producers should not cross-foster until at least 24 hours after birth as maternal colostrum intake must be the priority. Just mark the piglets ready for moving later. It is important that piglets drink colostrum from their own mothers, which ensures that piglets are equipped with the exactly the same type and level of immune protection as the sow.”
    One producer said afterwards: “We always learn something new from BPEX meetings and this was a really excellent event. We will be re-thinking how quickly we start cross-fostering piglets and make sure they have had enough maternal colostrum first.”
    To view the full presentations from Yannig and all the conference speakers visit www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/events.aspx. Also check with regional knowledge transfer managers for details of local meetings where there will be more discussion of these topics.

    Tuesday, 22 March 2011

    New feed crisis pack

    BPEX has put together a new feed crisis advice pack. The biggest and most important single cost for pig producers is feed; on average it accounts for almost 60% of total production costs.

    It is no exaggeration to state that global rises in the price of feed are the biggest threat to the sustainability of English high welfare pig production and processing.

    The factsheets in this new pack discuss a range of ways to make efficiencies and reduce feed waste through the weaner and finisher stages, to secure the best net margin you can.

    Wednesday, 9 March 2011

    Landrace sows will cope outdoors

    A question came in from a producer:
    Can you put pure Landrace sows and gilts outdoors? Will they cope?

    If you have views and experience on this, please add your comments below. Also, use the 'Ask BPEX' button opposite if you want to ask us a question or share your views on any other technical topic.

    Thursday, 3 March 2011

    Performance picks up thanks to manager training

    The first Professional Manager Development Scheme has seen everyone on the course achieve great results over the past year, with tangible improvements to pig performance as well as becoming more confident in managing their teams.

    Helen Hooks, of East Anglian Pigs, used her first project to look at stockmen’s skills in the farrowing house on her indoor unit. From the new ideas Helen has put in place, piglets born alive have increased by half a piglet per farrow on average and the unit is now seeing 12 to13 piglets born alive, with an average of 11 piglets weaned per farrow. AI planning is a major area where Helen feels she has saved money: “To calculate the doses of semen required for service we used to multiply the number of sows to serve by three and, having looked more closely at what actually happens in the service house, we now multiply it by 2.25.” This means savings of roughly £2.60 per sow.

    John Dunning of Kenniford Farm in Devon has changed the unit’s breeding programme so, instead of buying in gilts every month, the unit is now a closed herd and they breed their own replacements – with benefits for health and bio-security.

    More achievements by their fellow managers on the course have included reducing pre-weaning mortality, improving staff skills and team-working and modernising their unit.

    On 14 April 2011 the group will meet for a final awards presentation and celebratory dinner in Peterborough, including a special student of the year award. It'll be a great opportunity to recognise what they are achieving both personally and for their staff and businesses. Also, guest speaker Joanne Denney-Finch OBE, Chief Executive of the Institute of Grocery and Distribution (IGD), will share her views and experience on supply chain integration and relationships with retailers.

    Applications for the next Professional Manager Development Scheme will begin this autumn...

    Monday, 28 February 2011

    Health challenge: protecting your pyramid

    I asked producers to critique what they do on their units at three brand new workshops on biosecurity: 'Protecting your pyramid'. Between them they were responsible for producing more than 21,000,000kg of pork per annum and all went away armed with extra information on how to keep their herds protected. The workshops focused on protecting herd health and key bio-security principles to, firstly, stop disease entering the unit and, secondly, stop its spread around the unit.

    Areas the groups identified as being the most inconsistent, where biosecurity can go wrong, are: the distance between isolation facilities and the main unit, shared equipment and acclimatisation.
    Practical sessions on rodent control, loading facilities and visitor policy were discussed alongside other important issues BPEX is working with producers to manage, such as Salmonella and notifiable diseases.

    Thursday, 24 February 2011

    Skills to be proud of

    Pig industry staff are an impressive and dedicated bunch. Between them they have been awarded more than 2500 Certificates of Competence over the last three years, for basic stockmanship, pig husbandry and vet and med. It’s further testament to the industry’s commitment to developing the right skills on farm, to deliver the high health, welfare and production standards we are proud of. Well done to all who have completed training so far or are currently working towards their certificates.


    The Certificates of Competence are practical, relevant and can be delivered and assessed on farm. They have been designed by pig producers for pig producers and have removed the need for off-site training courses, biosecurity concerns and lots of paper-based assessments.

    For more information, please click here or contact Helen Brookes at BPEX: 07891 214335 or helen.brookes@bpex.org.uk

    Thursday, 17 February 2011

    Typical straw usage?

    The Knowledge Transfer team is asked questions on all kinds of pig production topics. We recently received an email from a producer wondering if we have any benchmark figures for straw use...

    Any thoughts on this? See Helen's response and add your comments below, or use the 'Ask BPEX' button opposite.

    Friday, 11 February 2011

    Optimal time to fast before slaughter

    Food withdrawal prior to slaughter helps to reduce cross-contamination with salmonella and other organisms at the abattoir. If a pig has a full gut and the bowel opens during or just after slaughter, the faecal matter will go into the polisher and the water tank. The next pig going through will then get leftovers spread on its surface.

    If the faecal matter was infected with salmonella it means that, instead of just one pig with salmonella on the carcase, it can spread to other potentially clean carcases. Staff and equipment handling the contaminated carcase could also contribute its spread.

    BUT it is important to get the length of the pre-slaughter fasting period right. When a pig is fasted it will mobilize body tissues to provide energy for maintaining the vital functions of the body.
    Fasting pigs for 24 hours is too long as it can result in a loss of 3.8% of their initial liveweight and 2.1% of carcase weight, compared with a fasting period of only four hours. The optimal fasting period is 8–12 hours.

    For more information, please click here and download 2TS Action for Productivity no. 7: Factors affecting killing out percent.

    Wednesday, 2 February 2011

    Cost review for Cornish producers

    Cornish pig producers got straight down to business, with a comparison of figures and review of costs at their first discussion group meeting of the year. All the units are indoors and have seen considerable investment over the last few years so it was pleasing, yet still surprising, to see performance had not dipped due to the inclement weather at the end of last year. Nor were there signs of seasonal infertility.

    Discussion of the current lack of demand in the market quickly moved on to feed. As is the case for most other producers, this is the scariest factor. With little forward cover and no signs of feed prices dropping, the only promising sign was that pig prices would increase as demand returned to normal and supply declined. Many of the producers will be attending the BPEX and NPA risk management workshop in Exeter on 8 February.

    They felt a vulnerability to factors outside the daily remit of pig production, including the exchange rate and, in the short term, more imports coming in. In the medium term, there was the view that European producers were going through the same problems, although they were going to have to face the challenge of the sow stall ban.

    Next up were finishing pigs: the importance of knowing your contract maximum and minimum weights and the penalties for being outside these parameters. Also, the penalties involved with pigs being over probe. Producers still felt that ‘weight pays’ providing it is within the boundaries of the contract and very few pigs get penalised for being outside these parameters. A further challenge was finishing space and ensuring the pig was maximising its growth potential at all times without putting too much fat down.

    Pete Bown was also there to discuss reasons for carcase condemnation and ran through the terminology used by the OVS (Official Veterinary Surgeon) and MHS (Meat Hygiene Service). Pete explained why pigs are being condemned and what may have caused these symptoms.

    Tell us how you your business is tackling some of these challenges at the moment, either by commenting below or by contacting us direct.

    Tuesday, 1 February 2011

    Soil and water - advice from Anna

    Congratulations to BPEX’s Anna Davis who has just passed her BASIS Soil and Water Management qualification. Anna is currently developing the next BPEX Soil Management plan and managing a number of environment related projects.

    This qualification will help confirm BPEX as an authoritative source of information on soil for pig producers and in on-going discussions with the likes of Defra, EA and Catchment Sensitive Farming. It's also part of BPEX's commitment to training and developing its staff as a long term resource.

    BPEX Environment Programme Manager Nigel Penlington said: "This is a challenging qualification to attain and Anna has done very well to achieve it."

    Let BPEX know if you need advice on soil management planning. Post a comment below or contact Anna directly: anna.davis@bpex.org.uk 0247 647 8798