Gilt management is at the heart of a widening gap between the top and bottom-performing pig herds, according to new data.
Speaking to Farmers Weekly at the Pig and Poultry Fair 2012, Agrosoft UK managing director, Stephen Hall, said the cost of producing a kg of pig meat varied by 11.79p/kg between the top and average-performing herds.
And this figure was largely driven by the parity distribution of the herd and gilt management.
"Some 19% of culls for the past five years were in parity one animals, with most of these gilts having not made it to farrowing, with the rest culled in lactation," explained Mr Hall.
"In the UK we are very good at ruining replacement gilts, keeping fat sows going and maintaining sick pigs."
Herd recording figures representing more than 150,000 productive sows in the UK for 2011 showed huge variation between the top, average and poorer- producing herds - a pattern that presented a major challenge for a large percentage of the national herd. In fact, the difference between the top and bottom third was six pigs weaned a sow a year for indoor units and 4.5 for outdoor units.
Mr Hall said the current trend in increasing gilt culls was "frightening", and although farmers were moving in the right direction in terms of parity distribution, gilt management needed addressing.
"The aim should be to get 12 pigs off every gilt as a minimum and condense the parity distribution from one to five. After parity six, production drops significantly, so there should be a target culling age of four parities."
The top herds have 90% of the herd at parity one to five. However, the national average is 85%. "This means 15% of the national herd is failing on the cost-efficiency spectrum."
Figures from 2007 demonstrated how the costs of production were dramatically increased by retaining older sows in the herd. At parity 10 the cost of producing a piglet sat at £75.87, compared to £29.68 at parity five.
"The cost is through breeding failure," explained Mr Hall. "From parity six onwards, return rate increases and down comes pigs born against serves."
Culling at five also gives the maximum cull value - after this, value decreases significantly. "At parity 10, you might still get a good price, but you are deluding yourself - she has already lost you money."
Sow breeding value (SBV) should also be targeted at 190 points, with top producers achieving 230 and the lowest performers getting 90. The data demonstrated that performance levels in the top-producing herds had improved again over the past 12 months and Mr Hall commented that high- production farms were capable of achieving a farrowing rate of more than 90%, more than 13 pigs born alive, 12 weaned a litter and eight non-productive days a litter.
Farrowing rate target
He also said producers should be talking about meeting a "10t farrowing rate target" of 10.3 farrowings a crate.
"From these ten farrowings, you should have 10t of farrowing output. High-performance units will be hitting this, however, actual national figures are falling well short.
"Herd performance should be measured on production line performance - it's all about pig flow," he stressed.
More from Pig and Poultry Fair 2012
See an interactive timetable and news on the British Pig and Poultry Fair on our dedicated page.