14 May 1999

GILT-REARING SYSTEM IS PAYING DIVIDENDS

PAYMENTS for rearing replacement gilts have fallen with finisher and cull sow prices, but that has not stopped one North Yorks producer investing more than £200,000 in gilt rearing accommodation.

Simon Lynch of Killerby Grange Farm, Scarborough, has erected a gilt nursery and grower house to lift throughput to 5000 gilts a year to be reared from 7-100kg liveweight. Investment by gilt rearers is worthwhile where top performance can be achieved and reputations developed to equal that of the breeding stock itself, he says.

A former London-based wine merchant, Mr Lynch established the unit as a bed and breakfast facility for a nearby feed company taking weaners through to bacon weight. "Despite achieving low mortality figures of 1% and fast growth rates there was little money to be made by the producer. After costs, margins were as low as £1.50/pig sent away."

In late 1995 the existing unit was completely destocked and mucked out as pigs left. To prepare buildings for rearing replacement gilts everything was power washed and disinfected using a two different chemical compounds a fortnight apart. "Ive learnt from others mistakes and know hygiene is important. Ive even hired in hydraulic towers to allow high roofs to be washed thoroughly."

The same approach to hygiene is taken with delivery vehicles. Discarding the idea of wheel baths, as they can be havens for disease, Mr Lynch ensures all wheels are treated with a disinfectant agent using a knapsack sprayer. Several sets of padlocked gates ensure vehicles cannot drive onto the unit until checked.

Originally gilts were brought in at 30kg liveweight, but are now introduced as 7kg weaners – vaccinated for EP – with the new nursery unit. Just as breeding companies pick finished gilts, Mr Lynch recommends picking through weaner gilts. "Anything that doesnt look right goes back. Theres no point in me being criticised when gilts are mature if Im not able to criticise when they come in as weaners," he says.

Initial housing

Weaners are initially housed in a nursery building before moving on to rearing yards at 32kg liveweight. Noticeable features in both houses include deep litter straw bedding, natural ventilation and extensive use of translucent roofing sheets.

Drinking troughs are used instead of nipple drinkers. Welded from channel, they feature fluted ends to ease cleaning which is done three times daily. Each pen has its own water header tank to allow for separate in-water medication should the need arise.

"Free access to clean water is essential for good food intake. If youre thirsty you wouldnt drink from a can using a straw; youd want to take a good gulp from the can itself. Its the same principle for pigs."

Feed is offered ad-lib, but feeders are only part filled and regularly topped up to ensure fresh supplies are available at all times. Bulk feed has been replaced by bagged supplies adding £10-15/t to costs. "Its much easier to keep track on feed use and it avoids dumping bulk loads of fresh feed on top of the last delivery."

Attention to detail means good hygiene and low mortality. Further improvements are achieved by isolating sick gilts, which never return to their original groups. As a result weaner gilts achieve feed intakes of 500g/head/day in the first week and 750g/head/day in the second. "Im told these are very good figures and it helps ensure each batch coming in is ready for selection at 100kg liveweight in 22 weeks."

Care to ensure gilts arent over condition at selection means 85% are picked as potential replacement gilts. The remaining 15% are sent to a Preston-based abattoir for processing. "The abattoir belongs to the feed supplier and allows a certain amount of bargaining power when buying feed and selling finished stock."

Although the slump in gilt demand has seen about half of all potential gilts sold as replacements, Mr Lynch is adamant producers must view rearing as a long-term partnership.

Better returns

"Returns will be better at certain times than others. But theres no point cutting corners when the chips are down as the end product has to be consistent.

"Likewise, if a replacement is sent on to a breeding unit and a complaint is sent back, consider following it through. Id recommend going to the extent of seeing it for myself rather than have it rejected after selection by a breeding company rep."

Ensuring only top quality gilts are selected will build a reputation for the unit alongside that of the breeding company; a development which he hopes will encourage buyers to request gilts reared at Killerby Grange when re-ordering. "Its like a good wine. If people like it theyll ask for it again." &#42