7 August 1998

Partial closures are key to pig slump survival

By Simon Wragg

PIG producers are left with little choice but to close sections of their unit which fail to achieve satisfactory performance to survive the slump in prices.

Bury-based independent pig consultant Peter Crichton says prospects are so dire that closing areas of the unit that fail to perform, for example antiquated finishing houses, is now the only way to survive the current economic climate.

"Areas that continually lose money should be closed or moth-balled. The same must apply to staff with those who fail to perform being the likeliest candidates for redundancy," says Mr Crichton. "These are drastic decisions – but they need to be made to survive."

Signets Malcolm Black urges judging performance on relevant figures. "Total output in kilos of pigmeat/year tells you more about performance in terms of cost/kg than piglets born/sow/year," he says.

"If the long-term intention is to stay in pigs then output must be maximised. That may entail keeping fewer sows, but finishing pigs to a heavier weight," he says.

However, some industry figures suggest that up to 25% of piglets born fail to enter the food chain, including piglets born during the night and written down as being born dead, says Mr Black. Better farrowing supervision, particularly at night, is a big opportunity to improve output, he adds.

His colleague Dan Morgan says that calculating the true cost of production must be the starting point for any decisions to be made. "Few producers know their actual break-even cost," he says.

For Signet-recorded herds using commercial feeds – which have fallen to £155/t – break-even cost is 97p/kg deadweight. For home mixers its 92p/kg, says Mr Morgan.

"Overall, the short-term picture accounting for lower feed costs and pig prices may not be as bad as it first appears. Before feed prices fell, break-even cost was £1.02/kg deadweight," says Mr Morgan.

Despite lower feed prices, SACs researcher Sandra Edwards urges checking for feed waste. "Research on commercial units has seen feed losses of up to 20%. Even at 5%, its a loss of £1.20/finished pig at a feed cost of £120/t."

Feed waste often goes unnoticed, particularly on slatted systems, but where visible it may account for losses of up to 10%, she adds. "Check your feeders – it is time well spent."

Although vet and energy costs may be small compared to feed expenditure, Mr Morgan says savings can be made without significant changes to the unit.