30 June 2000

Re-stocking paid off in a big way…

COMPLETELY restocking the 330-sow unit at the National Centre for Pig Industry Training at Bishop Burton College, East Yorks is beginning to pay off, says unit manager, Mike Bell.

Significantly improved performance, particularly daily liveweight gain and food conversion rates, have followed the re-stocking programme. Before the move, about 400 sows were kept to compensate for poor fertility. With 19.5 pigs sold a sow a year at an average of 76.9p/kg, the unit was losing £13.40 a pig. Today, the average is 93p/kg showing a profit per pig of £4.56.

"We recognised some time ago that we had a health problem and inconsistent results," says Mr Bell.

After deciding to restock, the unit had eight weeks without pigs to clean thoroughly and disinfect the housing. A redesign means that people can enter the weaning and farrowing areas only after they have passed through a cleaning unit and they leave by a different way.

"Before the restock, post-weaning mortality was 7%, now it is 1.8% and most fatalities are caused by injuries such as damaged legs," says Mr Bell.

Daily liveweight gain was 575g from weaning to finishing at 68kg deadweight compared with the 740g a day finishing at 70kg deadweight achieved now. Feed conversion has also improved from 2.4:1 to 1.88:1.

One disappointment is litter size, admits Mr Bell. Nine piglets are born alive to the gilts. That figure rises to 9.7 at second farrowing. He believes that will lift as the sows mature. In fact, the first batch of third farrowing sows averaged 12.5 piglets born alive.

Conception rates are good and housing all the dry sows together in one group of 210 has been a positive step in welfare terms, he believes. Newly weaned sows are put in groups of 15, for 21 days after serving before joining to the main group.

"The system ensures that aggression and the associated risks at implantation are not problems and conception rates have improved."

Weight at weaning at 26 days has risen by an average of 1kg a weaner to 8.5kg. There is a definite correlation between weaning and slaughter rates, says Mr Bell. An extra 4kg at slaughter is worth two pigs a sow a year in financial terms.

His next task is to examine growth and slaughter rates. "In one batch we sold the better pigs, producing a 78kg carcass with 1mm of backfat at P2 for £74.10. But a 68kg carcass with 14mm of backfat sold for almost £10 less at £64.17.

"Given that the smaller pig will have had a poorer food conversion rate, should we be selling at a lighter weight for pork, and taking the better growth rate pig on to, say, 110kg? It is an option we should be considering if our margins are to improve," says Mr Bell.

Restocking in progress: Pigs make a welcome return to the National Centre for Pig Industry Training, Bishop Burton College, East Yorks.