BPEX blog

Friday, 20 December 2013

Human element could be the key to lowering pre-weaning mortality

Some pertinent points for English pig producers were raised by pig journalist Jane Jordan in a recent issue of the Weekly Tribune e-newsletter, which I read with great interest. 

Jane highlighted in her article that pre-weaning mortality rates are much higher than they could be on many pig units, having examined a set of pig herd performance data. “Good-sized litters and high numbers born alive were very evident, demonstrating that dam line prolificacy and fertility were on the whole exceptional. Where it seems to fall apart was post-farrowing, where potential appeared to be thrown away,” she wrote.

“In spite of producing in excess of 13 pigs born alive per litter, few of these herds were managing to rear nine pigs to weaning. One case in particular caught my eye with numbers born averaging 15 born alive per litter, yet this herd was weaning less than nine pigs per litter per sow on average.”

Jane also gave a view on what might be done to improve this: “Pig producers are being bombarded by advice, ideas and innovations on how to boost sow productivity – which is brilliant. However, as I listen and learn about what could be achieved, I’m fast coming to the conclusion that the tools capable of doing the job are already in place; it’s the human element involved in harnessing that potential that’s holding back progress. The pig business is a hi-tech meat production sector where technology is used on a daily basis. But is it being applied in the right way?

“As an industry we have many high-tech tools to help us do a very efficient job - both indoors and out. But I’m not sure the skills at the coalface are always in tune with the technology we are working with. Better recording and data analysis could provide a clearer picture and stockmen and managers must be encouraged to record data more accurately and use it effectively to pin-point areas for improvement. We must not just hang our hat on increasing sow prolificacy and numbers born in the vain hope it will raise overall productivity.”

These are important challenges that Jane has identified, which BPEX is addressing as part of the Breed+3 initiative to help pig businesses become more cost-efficient and wean more pigs per sow per year. Please get in touch with me or the knowledge transfer manager in your region if you’d like to discuss your breeding herd and data recording and analysis.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Getting ideas from the French

To keep improving efficiency on English pig units, the industry must keep right up-to-date with new ideas from both home and abroad, including investigating the pros and cons of new buildings and technologies.

Our most recent BPEX producer tour to France illuminated how building investments can be both fit for purpose and cost-effective.

The three-day trip to Brittany, which we led jointly with BOCM PAULS, got producers thinking about making changes to ventilation systems, a possible move to a slatted system and improvements to weaner and grower accommodation. One of the highlights was a cost-effective concept building from a French manufacturer, which can be adapted as accommodation for farrowing, dry sows, weaners and more.

There’s nothing quite like seeing other pig units first hand and having the chance to question the producers and engineers involved, to work out whether a technology could be suitable, or adapted, to help improve pig production on an English unit.

Please get in touch with me if you'd like to know more about the trip or about ideas for future knowledge-gathering tours.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Reducing piglet mortality

Increasing litter size and weaning more pigs per sow are the current priorities for pig producers who are aiming for more cost-efficient breeding herds, which is what the BPEX Breed+3 initiative is all about.

The two factors that have a significant impact on productivity and cost efficiency, which are numbers of piglets born and piglet mortality, are also two of the most straightforward areas to record and monitor, to help target and achieve improvements. 

Sow cards or a specific mortality data sheet can be used to record numbers born and the age, piglet condition and causes of pre-weaning mortality. Totalling up the numbers, either each month or per farrowing batch, will illustrate successes and highlight areas where improvements can be made.

To decide how to improve survival rates, it is important to combine recorded data with quality stock observations. For example, your records might highlight that a major cause of death is overlying. Then stock observation will help you determine whether this is primarily due to: over-fat clumsy sows, creeps that are too hot or cold, draughts leading to restless sows and chilled pigs, poor crate design or lack of milk, meaning piglets are continually close to the sow and in the danger area.


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Pig producers must measure performance – and share it with the team

Stockmanship, attention to detail and making full use of data were the big topics throughout the BPEX Breed+3 regional events, which concluded yesterday in Diss.

A range of producers presented what they do on their units to keep improving breeding herd performance; recording and the importance of a good team came up time and again. 

And the two are closely linked, as performance data, targets and progress updates all need to be shared with all pig unit staff, as they are the ones who can ensure the targets are achieved.

Industry experts Sylviane Boulot, David Chennells and John Richardson also gave clarity on what we should be focusing on to wean more piglets per sow and showed just how important it is to measure and analyse your costings and performance figures.

As one producer put it, “If you don’t measure it, how do you know where you are, where you want to go and how do you know when you’ve got there? Poor information will only lead to poor management decisions.”

It’s well worth having a look at all their presentations, available here

Friday, 8 November 2013

Feeding gilts for first lactation

It is vital that the gilt consumes enough nutrients to produce an ample supply of milk for her litter and to maintain her body condition, so she loses no more than 0.5 in body condition score.  

Increasing the lactation diet specification to a ration with at least 14 MJ DE and 1% lysine per kilogram is one option, with many producers using a higher specification gilt lactator diet; producers should discuss the options with their nutritionist.

However, the greatest challenge is stimulating the gilt to eat a sufficient quantity. A gilt’s appetite can be influenced by events prior to farrowing, as well as how well she is managed while lactating. It’s been shown that the higher a gilt’s feed intake is during gestation, the lower it is during lactation.

Appetite can also be affected by changes in environment pre-farrowing, when the gilt moves into farrowing accommodation.

For more information on how to manage these challenges, talk to one of us in the knowledge transfer team or download Knowledge Transfer Bulletin no.7, The first lactation: a feeding review from www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/publications

Friday, 11 October 2013

Where next for breeding herd performance?

English breeding herd performance is on the up. The best indoor producers are still getting better but the real success has been in the lowest performing section of the industry, according to the BPEX rolling 12-month dataset (from Agrosoft figures) up to June 2013.

The outdoor herd has also improved and, at around 25 pigs weaned per sow per year, the top 10% of outdoor producers have surpassed the average indoor producers – although, there are still big gains to be made in numbers born alive (read more on this in Pig World here).

In a Pig World online poll, 28% of respondents said they’ve achieved the Breed+3 target to wean three more pigs per sow per year, another 6% expect to in the next six months but 50% said they weren’t trying.

Our Breed+3 initiative is to encourage all producers to examine their unit’s performance and identify problem areas to focus on; there will always be a something that can be improved and myself and my colleagues in the knowledge transfer team are happy to help you review performance and achieve the next level.


We are keen to hear more from producers about what they think about the Breed+3 target – get in touch with us via email, phone or by commenting below.  

Friday, 27 September 2013

New ideas for improving pig performance

Stockman Rob Dugdale told us how going on the BPEX Stockman Plus course gave him a lot of different ideas to help question things and make improvements on farm.

Rob featured in one of the video clips of stockmen and managers talking about the training they’ve done so far, as part of the presentation from our BPEX Live online workshop this week.

Manager Tony Wright also went online to talk about how training had helped all staff aim in the same direction and achieve better sow conception rates.

Click here to download the presentation and find out about the full range of training and qualifications available or feel free to contact me using the details below. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Skilled people are most important part of a pig business

This year's pig industry training courses and workshops will be underway soon and BPEX has published a training and qualifications brochure to summarise all the opportunities on offer, which can be downloaded here.

To find out more about the options and what to choose next, log on to BPEX Live on Monday 23 September or download the recording afterwards.

Skilled and enthusiastic people are the most important part of a successful pig business and the pig industry boasts a range of ways to train and learn new skills at every level, from new stockperson through to pig unit manager.

Stockmanship, leadership and management schemes, practical on-farm qualifications - Certificates of Competence - and local workshops.

Contact clancy.smith@bpex.ahdb.org.uk to order a hard copy of the brochure.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Novel way to provide cleaner water to outdoor sows


A new method of providing clean, fresh water to outdoor sows is being trialled which we hope will improve conception rates, numbers born alive and weaning weights.
 
The trial, on producer Robert Battersby’s unit, is using water tanks to supply clean water rather than a wallow trough which can become contaminated.
 
Anecdotal evidence so far suggests that the piglets weaned from sows drinking from the tanks are more even in size. For more information on this and other BPEX Innovation Fund projects, click here.
 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Hands-on experience on a Danish farm

I’ve just spent a couple of days working on a Danish pig farm with my knowledge transfer team colleagues and there are a few interesting things we’ve picked up…

We’ve been trimming sows’ feet this afternoon! It’s thought to increase longevity by at least one litter.

Also:
  • We’ve done some fostering, with 10-15% nurse sows needed – it’s a one to two step foster, depending on the strength of the piglets
  • Feeding fat to sows three weeks before farrowing is thought to increase quantity of colostrum
  • Tickling under a sow’s tail improves stimulation when inseminating.

Let us know if you’ve got any questions about what we’ve seen in Denmark, either by commenting below or dropping me an email. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Good service facilities help boost numbers

Good service facilities and staff are key to good service management which, in turn, will help increase both farrowing rate and numbers born.

Well-designed service areas help stockmen manage heat detection and artificial insemination (AI) effectively. The service area should be nice and quiet and laid out in a way that aids accurate heat detection and stimulation, without interference from other sows.

It can be more difficult to manage service on an outdoor unit, as batch systems require more than 100 sows to be checked and served. So a producer in East Anglia is trying out a newly developed ‘AI pod’ for outdoor units, as part of one of our BPEX field trials.

The pod has individual AI stalls for sows and gilts, on either side of the boar pens. So far, it is helping sows stay calmer and it is much easier to differentiate whether sows are showing standing heat or are not in heat, so it should mean that timing of service is more accurate. We will know more soon about its effects on numbers born.

For more information on service management, download Action for Productivity factsheets numbers 29, 30 and 31 from www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/breeding/

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The 'right' time to serve

The ‘right’ time to inseminate varies between farms and individual sows, so it is important to adapt the insemination routine to the specific farm.

Insemination must occur some hours before ovulation, which normally happens two thirds of the way through oestrus, eg 36-44 hours after onset of oestrus. Acceptable fertilisation results are normally achieved by inseminating 24 hours before ovulation.

Accurately identifying the start of first standing heat is the most important thing to get right as inseminating too early or late will result in poorer litter sizes and lower farrowing rates.

Producers should carry out ‘oestrus mapping’ for their unit; this involves testing for standing heat in the morning and afternoon, to help ensure that timing of boar contact, testing for standing heat and insemination are all being carried out at the optimum times.

To download the factsheet, Action for Productivity 31: Optimising timing of service and for more information on the Breed +3 initiative, go to: www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/breeding/   


Friday, 2 August 2013

New Practical Pig app to help boost performance

Attention to detail is essential on every unit to improve pig performance, which is one of the things that led us to develop our new Practical Pig app. It features a whole library of short video clips demonstrating practical management techniques on farm. 

The clips explain why tasks are done in a certain way and what impact that can have on pig productivity and, because they are available as a free app for smartphone and tablet computer, pig stockmen and managers can use them while they're out and about. 

You can download the app, free, at play.google.com here or the videos can also be viewed on the BPEX website here.

Breeding herd management has been covered first, as part of the Breed +3 initiative, and filming for finishing unit management clips is due to start in autumn 2013.

Have a look and let us know what you think! We'll be adding new clips regularly so please tell us if there's something you'd like to be included. Please comment below or email me. 


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Managing pigs in summer heat


It is important for pig producers to do all they can to keep sows cool in warm weather. Two or more consecutive days of temperatures greater than 18°C, around weaning and during late or very early lactation, can result in a reduced farrowing rate. 
Shades, wallows, sprinklers can all help. Wallows are a key method to help outdoor pigs cool down in hot weather and help prevent heat stress. 
Good management of wallows is vital and includes: making the wallow big enough for twice the number of pigs it will serve, replenishing wallows with water in dry periods and ensuring it is more liquid than mud – aim for ‘emulsion paint’ consistency. 


For more information go to: www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/breeding/Summer.aspx

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

CO2-controlled ventilation

Pigs give off varying amounts of carbon dioxide depending on number, weight, activity, health status and feed conversion; this varies over the course of 24 hours.
If the ventilation rate is wrong, heating will also be wrong and the air quality will be suboptimal, leading to a depression in productivity and increased risk of disease outbreak. To hear more about CO2 controlled ventilation and how heating costs can be reduced, watch Niels Veng’s presentation from our Innovation Conference here

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Insight into pig farming, American style


It’s been a packed few days on the producer tour. We headed from World Pork Expo to Carthage Veterinary Service, Illinois, where we enjoyed the presentations and question and answer session with the team there (the group is pictured outside the Carthage offices).

Then there was plenty to interest us on all aspects of pig production on our farm visit to Middle Creek Swine. Just a few points to share here…

  • PIC is the dominant genetics, with Camborough females, crossed with Hampshire or 337 line 
  • Farm recently broke down with PRRS but performance is recovering – currently above 25 weaned per sow per year and aiming for 12 reared per litter
  • The US industry has stopped using pig sorters as they were restricting daily gain (as the they are set up so pigs have to pass through sorter to access feed and water
  • US market for hogs is not restricted by P2, so they just want to focus on efficient growth
  • Dead stock are composted, rather than using fallen stock collector 


Friday, 7 June 2013

East Anglian producers start US tour

Our group of producers from East Anglia has arrived safely in the US and, after our first full day at World Pork Expo, there are a couple of interesting bits to mention…

We’ve seen a biodegradable mat that can be used in a farrowing house, which claims to help reduce scour and reduce mortality.

Also found a water additive that is inexpensive and currently being used successfully in Ireland and Holland.

And had an interesting presentation from Elanco, including Dr Keith Hayden who gave us some insight into the US pig industry.

We’ll also be visiting some pig units during the next few days. Please comment below if there’s anything you’d like us to try and find out from the US industry while we’re here. 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

First Stockman Plus course concludes

Well done to all in the BPEX Stockman Plus (North) training group who gave fantastic presentations about their farms yesterday.

It was the final session of the course and a chance for everyone to celebrate their achievements on farm since they began the course last autumn.



Additional congratulations go to Louise Dorward, pictured with BPEX knowledge transfer manager Steve Winfield, who presented her with the course’s Student of the Year award - for her great enthusiasm and contribution to the group’s discussions throughout.


Friday, 17 May 2013

Keep sow body condition stable


It is important to assess sow body condition accurately to ensure that appropriate nutrition is provided to each sow for maintenance, growth, reproduction and lactation.

There should be minimal variation in condition throughout a sow’s productive life and producers should aim for an optimal average condition score of 3 (on a scale of 1 to 5) throughout the breeding herd.

Score sows at key times in the reproductive cycle and always score the sows by touch, using the palm of the hand as it is more accurate than just scoring ‘by eye’. Consider the shoulders, ribs, backbone and hips, not just one location.

For more information on the Breed+3 initiative and to download the factsheet,
Action for Productivity 20: Condition scoring of sows, go to: www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/breeding/. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Stockman North group tackles ventilation


The latest stockman session began with basic finisher pig care, with the group discussing daily checks, feed management and stockmanship.

The second half of the session was about ventilation – a hugely important topic as poor ventilation on pig farms can be a key barrier to improving pig health and productivity.

The group talked about all types of ventilation and the building types each of them has on farm with ventilation consultant John Chambers. It was a lively discussion!

The next session of Stockman North will be the Abattoir visit on Wednesday 12th June.
To find out more from John Chambers, check out this video


Friday, 26 April 2013

Understanding your farm data


Our new 2TS Recording Project is well underway. It’s to help pig producers understand recorded data to improve their herd performance and profits.

We are working with pig recording analyst Sanne Baden and six different pig producers on the project, as part of the Breed +3 initiative.  Sanne is making four visits to each farm over the course of this year.

Plans producers made after their initial discussions included: 1) measuring the impact of different genetics through the system 2) reducing the number of non-productive days by scanning twice and using boars to check for heat and 3) recording causes of death in the farrowing house to help pinpoint associations with higher than normal pre-weaning mortality rates.

Herd performance recording and spending time understanding trends and patterns in the data helps pinpoint which changes could make the biggest difference to pig performance and cutting costs.

Please contact me or any member of the KT team if you’d like any guidance on recording and understanding your data.

Have a look back at my previous post on 18 February too

Friday, 19 April 2013

Get gilts used to routine before serving


Before their first service, it is important that gilts are familiar with the routine of moving to the heat detection area and service pens where they should also be able to explore the area and meet the boars.

This will reduce stress, keep gilts calmer and help ensure strong standing reflexes during insemination. BPEX Work Instructions 13 and 14 on humanising and handling gilts have more information.

Be aware that gilts are notorious for taking a long time to inseminate, which can be due to stress. A good gilt familiarisation routine will help to reduce this along with calm, patient staff in the service area. Serving gilts in a small AI pen (typically 2m x 2m) with good boar contact will also increase the chances of a successful insemination. See Action for Productivity factsheets 29, 30 and 31 for more information on AI.

Good gilt management is the starting point of a productive breeding herd and will help improve the number of pigs weaned per sow per year, the aim of BPEX’s Breed+3 initiative.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Stockmen get together in person and online


Both the Stockman East and Stockman North development groups have been on visits to local feed mills as part of their course. In the East, the venue was Crown Milling in Norfolk and included a background to the business, tour of the mill and details of how it is managed.
The Stockman North group visited the ABN feed mill in Northallerton for a similar tour, including an insight into how feed rations are created.  The trainees said how much they enjoyed “the chance to see pig feed produced
from start to finish”.

And more than 40 people have now joined the BPEX Stockman Development Facebook group.  It is for all pig stockmen to help keep in touch, improve knowledge and share ideas with others around the country. 

It’s also linked directly to the BPEX Stockman Development and Stockman Plus courses. The group page highlights details of workshops, relevant videos and photos and gives the chance to ask questions, comment and discuss with others in the group.

Log in to your account at: www.facebook.com and search for ‘BPEX Stockman Development’ to join the group.
For information about Stockman Development, Stockman Plus and all the other the practical training activities in the pig industry, click here http://www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/Training/ or contact Samantha Bowsher: 07976 980753 or samantha.bowsher@bpex.ahdb.org.uk

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Record turnout for online tour of Danish farms


More than 70 people attended our BPEX Live online workshop this week – the most since the series began – to see photos of new technologies and buildings on Danish pig farms.
These included loose farrowing pens, new weaned pig accommodation and a slurry cooling system to reduce ammonia emissions and extract heat.
Despite a technical hitch at the start of the workshop, viewers stayed online to ask the presenters more about the technologies and pig performance.

The presenters, Lis Ravn and Nigel Penlington from BPEX and Jonathan French from BOCM Pauls, travelled with a group of English pig producers, buildings manufacturers and feed consultants on the BPEX study tour to Denmark in March.

Running the online workshop, or ‘webinar’, was a way for them to share what they had learned with many more people across the industry.

It is an increasingly popular way for producers to gain new knowledge; everyone can join in online from their own home or office and they have the chance to join in and ask questions or just listen in and pick up some ideas.
The presentation on the Danish tour is now available to download from: www.bpex.org.uk/news/events/webinars/default.aspx 

Friday, 22 March 2013

New project to help manage seasonality


Pig producers met in Norfolk this week to discuss seasonality. My colleagues and I in the BPEX knowledge transfer team will now identify suitable interventions to trial to try and combat it. Points discussed included:
  • Plan ahead and have extra at least 10% extra gilts available for the seasonality period
  • Provide wallows, sprinklers, showers and shades for all stock, at all stages of production
  • Adjust the service routine so animals are served earlier in the day when cooler
  • Do not be tempted to reserve return sows and keep to the policy of: two returns as a gilt and one return for the rest of her life
  • If you are home breeding, do not select gilts from a dam that has returned during the summer period in case there is a genetic predisposition for seasonal infertility.
Look out for more on this soon. In the meantime, please get in touch if you have comments or questions and want to find out more. Please comment below or contact me directly.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Attention to detail


Attention to detail and doing routine tasks to a good standard is one of several priorities identified by BPEX to help pig producers achieve more pigs weaned per sow per year.

Staff training is one of the ways to boost understanding of pig husbandry best practice and improve consistency in daily tasks.

For information about the practical training and development activities in your area, along with possible funding, click here http://www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/Training/ or contact Samantha Bowsher: 07976 980753 or samantha.bowsher@bpex.ahdb.org.uk

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Replacement gilts: avoid ‘holes’ in the system

It is important that pig producers always have enough gilts available to serve, in the correct condition and at the required time. They should aim to maintain a replacement gilt pool of at least 12% of the target herd numbers.
So you need to be aware of and manage any holes coming up in the system, such as low service weeks when there has been a rise in cull rates or late returns among sows.

Good gilt management is the starting point of a productive breeding herd and will help improve the number of pigs weaned per sow per year, the aim of the BPEX Breed+3 initiative.

To download the 2TS Gilt Management pack, click here. www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/breeding/GiltManagement.aspx

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Wean more pigs to be more profitable


BPEX is re-focusing its efforts on the pig breeding herd with a ‘Breed +3’ initiative to help each herd wean an extra three pigs per sow year. We must help pig producers wean more pigs, if the industry is to manage its output and costs to reach its Two-Tonne Sow (2TS) target.

British pig producers are efficient at finishing pigs but are not producing enough pigs in the first place. Although progress has made in physical performance, a big gap remains between Britain and the rest of Europe.

Our aim is to help every producer move towards an extra three pigs per sow per year weaned, whether they’re currently about average at 23 pigs weaned or if they’re already at 27 and want to get to 30.

We have identified some priorities to help achieve this. Keeping performance records and, importantly, spending time understanding the data is something that high-performing businesses have in common. As is doing all the ‘small’ daily things to a high standard, which is where training and skills development help too.

All businesses, including the top performers, need to keep monitoring how they are doing and keep their finger on the pulse.

Let us know your questions and comments on achieving this target either by using the comments section below or contacting us directly.

Local knowledge transfer meetings for pig producers this year will follow the Breed +3 theme, covering topics including: performance recording, gilt management, litter management and staff communication. BPEX will also be exploring new knowledge, innovations and technologies, offering producers the chance to see them first hand on farms in the UK and abroad.

There is already a wealth of practical information on the BPEX website

Monday, 18 February 2013

Know your pig numbers


We want to encourage and help more farms make use of performance data in the daily routine to generate more pounds and pence on the bottom line.

Keeping performance records and investing time in interpreting them is a priority for high-performing pig businesses.

National herd performance data for producers are updated every quarter at: www.bpex.org.uk/prices-facts-figures/ The online tables show how the industry’s performance is progressing towards the Two-Tonne Sow target and enable producers to compare their own figures.

Contact the knowledge transfer team for help and information on recording:
www.bpex.org.uk/2ts/contact.aspx

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A young herd is the most productive



A pig unit should aim for at least 45% of sows to be in parities three to five, as these are the most productive animals. 20–25% of production should be from gilts so it is important there are enough gilts available to serve.

To calculate the target annual replacement rate, producers need to decide what the target number of litters per sow lifetime is, ie an average lifetime of five parities. If the farrowing index is 2.33 litters per year, the whole herd turnover is calculated as 5 / 2.33 = 2.15 years. So target annual replacement rate will be 100 / 2.15 = 46.5%. Actual replacement rate is the number of served gilts introduced expressed as a % of the average herd size for the year. Alternatively, multiply the average number of served gilts (% of the herd) by the farrowing index, ie 20.5% x 2.33 = 47.8%.

The higher the litters per sow per year and the lower target litters per lifetime, the higher the replacement rate will be. The cost implications also need to be monitored and evaluated.

Feel free to contact me directly or comment below if you’d like more information on this.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Alternative approach to ‘vet and med’ training…


The ‘Stockman Somerset’ training group played a game modelled on the BBC3 programme Snog, Marry, Avoid when it met for its first session this week. Not what they expected perhaps?!

But the game of ‘Sell, Treat, Kill’ turned out to be popular with trainees, helping them decide how best to manage the ill or injured pigs they saw pictured during the training. Annie Davis from The George Veterinary Group led the session and also covered the correct use, handling, storage and disposal of pig medicines. 

Service management is the next topic for the group when it meets again on 19 February in Shepton Mallet.
Look up the BPEX Stockman Development page on Facebook if you’d like to join the group of stockmen from around the country online: http://www.facebook.com/BpexStockman

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Focus on breeding herd to reduce pig production costs


Thirty people joined market analyst Stephen Howarth and I for BPEX Live, our online workshop this week.

Stephen explained how production costs vary between key pig-producing countries. His data also suggested priority areas where British producers should focus to help improve their pig performance and reduce their costs of production.

While our finishing herd efficiency is pretty good and on a par with the European averages, our breeding herd performance is still behind. The number of pigs weaned per sow per year in Britain is the lowest in the EU at 22.56 (2011 figures).

The EU average number of pigs weaned per sow per year is 25.10, with Denmark and the Netherlands averaging more than 28.

Three main things that producers can address to make a difference to the numbers of pigs weaned and thus help reduce our cost of production are: 
  • pre-weaning mortality
  • litters per sow per year
  • pigs born alive per litter
To view the presentation and listen to the audio recording of the discussion, click here. http://www.bpex.org.uk/news/events/webinars/default.aspx

Please also type in any questions or comments you may have below.

Friday, 25 January 2013

'Strawing up’ correctly helps reduce piglet mortality


'Strawing up’ farrowing arcs correctly is a critical to help reduce pre-weaning mortality on outdoor units, particularly in colder weather. Newborn piglets need a warm, dry environment and easy access to teats, so check whether more straw is needed just prior to farrowing.
For tips on strawing up see 2TS Action for Productivity number 2: www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/publications/

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Gilts – the future of the pig herd


The third session of Stockman North looked at gilt and dry sow management and was led by vet Duncan Berkshire.  Duncan highlighted the importance of gilts and gilt management as they are the 'future of the herd'. He discussed the advantages and disadvantages of home-breeding gilts and buying them in.

They also discussed protocols when bringing bought-in gilts onto the farm. Trainees had a go at designing an ideal isolation unit and protocols. Click here to see photos of the results.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

BPEX Blog: Coping in the cold

The temperature has dropped across the country with many areas experiencing snow and ice. The outdoor producers are probably better equipped for winter periods than most indoor producers; while indoor producers will lag their pipes, if it freezes within their buildings it can then be extremely difficult to get sufficient water around these units by any mechanical format.

The outdoor producers usually have the mechanical means to deliver water seven days a week when needed to all stock. Many will hire additional tractor/loaders over the winter and, in turn, extra labour can be brought in by the larger units with arable farms. Additional costs are also considered a necessity in the pre-winter months by the stocking of plumbing fittings that may also be required.

Extreme cold weather can cause headaches at abattoirs too when the water freezes and it makes cleaning and disinfection of lorries difficult, or even impossible. This is clearly not ideal from an animal disease perspective and we would urge abattoirs every night during the cold spell to ensure that hosepipes don't freeze up overnight, and try and insulate exposed taps with a thermal cover.

Regarding the feeding of outdoor sows, if the ambient temperature at 15 C = base feeding level, then for every one degree C below base temperature they should be fed an additional 100g.Let us know how you have been getting on so far – coping with loading ramps, water pipes etc…

There is some information here on coping in the extreme weather, originally published in autumn 2010, but just as applicable today.


A few top tips, directly from producers, include:

  • Ensure pigs 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.
  • Adjust vents
  • Block draughts 
  • Use plenty of straw
  • Check the lagging around water pipes 
  • Consider putting heaters (oil radiators) next to the water pump to help stop it from freezing
  • 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
  • Try covering your water pipes in straw and draining all the water pipes every evening to help prevent your water system from freezing up. But don't forget that water then needs to be switched back on in the morning.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Farm ideas worth investing in?


Great new ideas that producers want to test out on farm are pitched to us every month, with more and more people applying for a BPEX Innovation Fund grant.

The successful applicants get a cash boost from the Fund and practical help from the knowledge transfer team.

Then we ask the producers who benefit from these grants to tell fellow producers about their experience. It helps everyone in the industry decide which new ideas are actually worth investing in.

The range of new systems and technologies producers are trying out include a ‘real-time’ pig weighing system, electronic sow feeders (ESF) for outdoor sows and a water treatment system.

The Innovation Fund is designed to help lower the risk to producers of introducing novel techniques into the English pig industry – and help enhance pig performance more rapidly as part of the Two-Tonne Sow campaign.

Click here to read about the current on-farm projects.

The knowledge transfer team is always looking for new and innovative ideas so please do get in touch with us.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Keep the herd young


The Fenlands Pig Club heard about some of things that can be changed on farm to achieve the ‘Two-Tonne Sow’ target. Production manager Paul Bradley, from Ermine Farms, is producing 29 pigs per sow per year and there are a couple of areas that he said have made a big difference for their 700-sow unit…
  • Managing parity profile to maintain a young herd: Younger sows are more productive and better able to rear a litter of 12 piglets. Paul used to do a couple of shunt fosters per week but rarely needs to any more.
  • Using a ‘skip a heat’ policy: Paul allows six or seven gilts per week to skip a heat after their first litter and have another cycle, allowing the uterus to fully recover and also to regain any lost body condition. Paul says this always pays off for them and avoids the ‘second litter drop syndrome’ that can follow on from weight loss during a gilt’s first lactation.
Get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss these ideas further or would like advice on any other aspect of breeding herd management.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The results are in for one unit’s pig growth trial…


Nick Butler from Elanco and I visited a south-west unit to speak to farm staff about the results of their Full Value Pig project trial – which involved selecting and tagging 100 piglets at birth then weighing them at every stage until slaughter.

It’s a valuable exercise which helps pinpoint any stages where there is variation in pig performance so that targeted changes can be made to help improve growth.

Staff were interested to hear the results and suggested a few management practices that might help reduce variation. The main source of variation in the herd was immediately post weaning and the staff are now thinking of different ways of addressing this including:
  • better sorting of pigs
  • one person taking full responsibility of weaner pigs
  • trialling a different creep feed
Click here to see photos of Nick on farm tagging and weighing pigs.

And for more information about the Full Value Pig programme and improving finishing herd performance click here http://www.bpex.org.uk/news/events/focusonfinishing/default.aspx    or contact me or your local knowledge transfer manager.