12 May 2000

PIG PRICES WE CAN

ONLY DREAM OF…

When farmers weeklys

former livestock editor

and pig expert Harry Hope

went on holiday to Guam,

it was inevitable that hed

find himself on a pig farm.

Which he indeed did

AT a time when UK pig producers struggle to survive, small-scale operators on the island of Guam in the North Pacific seem to be doing very nicely, thank-you.

A holiday visit to Joe and Terri Taitingfongs ultra-simple unit on 2 ha (5 acres) of partially-cleared scrub at Barrigado proved a real eye-opener to someone steeped in state-of-the-art British breeding, finishing, housing and slaughter-processing methods.

Forget, if you can, much of the so-called progress made over the last 40 years in pig breeding, housing, equipment and nutritional know-how. The Taitingfongs pigs are fed exclusively on waste products, collected mainly from local school canteens and a factory specialising in Korean foods. Ingredients for pigs of all ages include reject egg, ham, Spam and tuna sandwiches, a range of fruit and vegetables and fish and edible rice paper from the Korean sushi factory.

Mrs Taitingfong runs the pig unit while husband Joe works for the Guam postal service and also as a skilled mechanic. She says: "The availability of waste foodstuffs determines the pig numbers we carry and when supplies are ample we go up to about 20 breeding sows. Very occasionally I might buy a bag of compound pellets when a sow comes down with a large litter, but this is not general practice for imported compound feeds are expensive. But when waste feedstuffs are in good supply, the pigs enjoy as high a standard of living as ourselves. The diet is certainly sufficient to support sows producing litters of nine and 10 piglets twice a year."

She stresses that waste foodstuffs are not free and care is needed to ensure that total costs, including collection and sorting, do not exceed their nutritional value. A major saving, compared with the UK, is an absence of legislation to boil waste feeds containing meat and fish to control transmission of disease.

Despite this freedom, pigs on Guam (a territory of the USA and roughly the size of the Isle of Wight, though longer and thinner) are good. The population is claimed to be free from swine fever and veterinary treatment is mainly confined to worming to control Ascaris roundworm.

Fixed investment is kept to an absolute minimum in a tropical climate which ranges from 21-32C (70-90F) and with a 2300mm (90in) rainfall. Taitingfong breeding sows emerged at feeding time from lush scrub forest to pick their way through an assortment of goodies including mangoes, chopped on the spot by pigman Kin Borja.

Roofed wallow

Expenditure is confined to paddock fencing, a concreted strip for the feeding area and an adjacent wallow under a corrugated iron roof. The wallow is considered essential for pigs of variable colour in temperatures where unacclimatised UK visitors are advised to invest more on sun blocker cream than cold beer. The area of cleared paddock and scrub run-back for pigs is changed every two years to minimise parasitic infections.

Breeding stock are a variable mixture of improved breeds including Landrace, Duroc and Hampshire of US origin. Hybrid vigour is valued as much in the boars as the sows and fresh blood is usually introduced every third or fourth year. Apart from that all breeding and finishing replacements are home-bred.

Pigs destined for slaughter are taken to 36-40kg (80-90lb) weight. The latter terminology applies in this US territory which still uses imperial measures. In the absence of a central slaughter-processing infrastructure, and all the rules and regulations which now apply in the UK, finished pigs are killed on the farm, where I was assured that nothing was wasted but the squeal. The present position on Guam is that, while pork, bacon, ham, spare ribs and hamburgers are available in the supermarkets at highly-competitive prices, relatively lightweight pork pigs are in keen demand for special occasions, of which there are many. Such events include weddings, birthdays and saints days, when the preferred meat dish is a pork carcass cooked in its entirety. This may be done at home or at the local bakery for convenience.

Mrs Taitingfong says: "We have a ready and regular outlet to members of an extended family, to friends and friends of friends for such pigs. The result is that all our finished pigs go for cooking as a whole, ending up on a large plate complete with an apple in the mouth and surrounded by asparagus fern for decoration. This also means that our porkers require no butchery before sale."

Current price

The current price for a 36-40kg pig is 150 US $ which is equivalent to £93. This is a low price and when pigs are scarce the price can be as high as $225 (£140). Returns ranging from the equivalent of £2.31 to £3.87/kg liveweight make current UK prices look extremely sick by comparison.

Dont ask me how long it takes Guam pigs to reach light pork weight on the extremely variable diets offered, the actual cost of waste feeds, conversion rates, carcass gradings and net returns on working and fixed capital. I saw no evidence of paperwork and there wasnt a computer in sight.

Suffice to say that the islanders still seem to make a decent living out of small scale pig production and long may they continue to do so.

Left: The buildings investment is minimal – a feed rail with concrete slab and a covered wallow at one end. Below: Pale skinned author Harry Hope, ex FW livestock editor, who never could resist the opportunity to chase a pig story, with Kin Borja.

Above left:Kin Borja slices mangos collected on the waste food round for sows and litters. Above right: Mrs Terri Taitingfong with covered wallow behind.