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.