BPEX blog

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.