Pig vets can expect to spend more time on-farm with producers talking through and planning improvements to herd health – the single biggest brake on performance and, therefore, profitability.

Steve McOrist, clinical professor at University of Nottingham Veterinary School, told this week’s JSR Technical Conference UK that vets would see their role develop in line with colleagues in the USA.

“Targeted use of vet advice has lagged in the UK,” suggested Professor McOrist, who has extensive experience in organising pig systems in Asia.

“While large UK units contract-in specialist vet advisers, small and medium-sized producers will rely on their local vets to fill a gap in knowledge and understanding.

“Pig health is the single, biggest brake on efficiency, particularly feed use, which is the largest cost in any pig system,” he added.

“Producers need help to think about health status, as the UK industry has not been without its problems in recent years, for example, PRRS, PMWS and swine fever.”

And improvement is badly needed. The UK is already on the back foot, he said, with producers in Asia and the USA able to use lower cost labour to undertake labour-intensive tasks such as cleaning and disinfecting of buildings.

Professor McOrist suggested it was ironic in a country boasting some of the world’s leading pig genetic companies delivering annual improvement in stock performance that so much is lost to poor health status on commercial units.

“Great improvements can be achieved by depopulating units, but it’s no good putting clean stock into dirty buildings. It has to be planned and may take up to two years to complete a programme.

“But the resulting improvement in performance is more than worthwhile. Dutch studies indicate it can be worth as much as 15/pig,” he suggested (see table).

“I, personally, have seen some good improvements in feed conversion from depopulations. Producers also benefit from shorter finishing times and greater evenness in batches of slaughter pigs and, in a commodity market where each cut has to fit a plastic pack or tray, that’s paramount.”

 

IMPROVEMENT IN PERFORMANCE
  Before After
Pigs per sow per year 24 27
Daily liveweight gain [g] 768 929
Feed conversion ratio 2.64 2.31
Source:S McOrist