7 June 1996

Housing repairs mean switch to lighter pigs

Temporary lack of finishing space due to repair work means that pigs will be finished lighter at Dowrich. Tim Relf reports

WITH silaging completed, depopulating and renovating the pig housing is now top of the agenda at Dowrich.

Routine repairs are needed to the four finishing buildings, in which 3300 pigs are finished each year, having been reared outside. This requires a temporary cut in numbers, leaving the Lees with a choice – either sell pigs as weaners or at lighter finished weights.

"Originally we planned to market about 80 weaners a week for 10 weeks. At 30kg, they would, hopefully, have made £50-plus apiece," says Anthony. "But finding a one-off market could prove difficult. Most people who buy weaners only take them on a regular basis from a single supplier."

Offering them through a livestock mart has also been ruled out. "There are no big pig markets in the area. And without the numbers, they dont seem to get the buyers – or the good prices."

The favoured method, therefore, will be to sell the stock at the lighter-than-usual finished weight of 68kg – to give a 50kg carcass. If £75 can be achieved – and assuming it costs less than 66p/kg liveweight gain to finish them – this would makes more sense (see table).

Anthony is confident that these figures are realistic. According to MLC PigPlan results, Dowrichs average feed cost per kg lw gain was under 47p during the three months to the end of April.

"Although feed costs are rising, they are unlikely to increase dramatically in the immediate future. And the other variables in the equation – the weaner and finished price – tend to move in the same direction, anyway."

Sensitivity analysis shows that, even were weaner values to remain unchanged, the finished price could drop to below £68 a head (136p/kg dw) before this ceased to be the preferred alternative.

But deliberately trying to market stock at lighter weights will be something of a culture shock. "Once a pig has got to, say, 50kg, many of the overheads have already been incurred," says Anthony.

So the Lees long-term aim continues to be to increase the carcass weight. "Ideally, we would like to raise the average from 72kg to 75kg, although our contract allows us to sell them up to 80kg."

But finishing stock earlier should present no marketing difficulties, not least, says Anthony, because of their membership of a co-op, Western Quality Pigs. "They have a variety of outlets so, if we plan ahead and work together, there should be no problems."

Cleaning out and resting the buildings may also have a beneficial effect on the units performance – an area where Anthony recognises that there is room for improvement.

In the year to April, for example, the average daily lw gain was 496g, a slight fall from the previous 12 months. Anthony now hopes this figure can be raised above the MLCs average of 563g.

Meanwhile the Lees have also been planning their forage strategy. Recent improvements have been seen in milk yield from forage performance, with the figure of 2347 litres a cow in the year to April marking an increase of over 500 litres on the previous 12 months.

This reflects changes in the regime last summer to rotational grazing instead of set-stocking. "Management is easy and it means the grass will always be fresh. If there is a shortfall, it can be supplemented with zero-grazed grass or other feeds."

This has been the case this year. Cold, damp weather has hit grass growth and intake has fallen. At the end of May, a shortfall equating to about 1 litre a cow a day was being seen. "And with the summer heralding higher milk prices – last year, May, June, July and August saw prices of 22.8p/litre, 24.3p/litre, 26.9p/litre and 26.8p/ litre, respectively – we had to do something about this."

Zero grazing was introduced to boost intakes. "There has been sufficient silage for this, with 200 acres of first cut harvested."

But no sooner was the job finished than thoughts turned to the prospects for second cut, a task expected to take place in early or mid-July. &#42

Options for pigs

Returns a pig(£)

Sale price of 30kg weaner50.00


Sale price of 50kgcarcass75.00

Feed cost of additional

weight (£0.47p/kg x 38)17.86

Net return57.14

Extra margin7.14

*Assumes pigs sold at 68kg lw, to give a 50kg carcass, ie 73% killing-out.

Anthony Lee:Opting for lighter finishers rather than weaners.