14 May 1999

Regular scanning helps

weed out barren sows

By Marianne Curtis

REGULAR pregnancy scanning and a rigorous culling policy have boosted production by nearly two pigs a sow and reduced feed costs for one Suffolk outdoor producer.

"Pregnancy scanning is even more essential when times are bad," says Colin Haddingham who produces 7kg weaners from 650 Cotswold Gold sows at his 290ha (720 acre) Sayers Farm, near Lowestoft. "I simply cant afford to carry barren animals."

Reducing empty days has led to feed savings of £1600 a year for the herd. Average production a sow a year has also increased from 19.5 to 21.5 pigs. Even at current weaner prices Mr Haddingham reckons this brings in an extra £22 a sow.

Disappointed with the accuracy of his own Doppler scanner, Mr Haddingham started using freelance pregnancy tester John Adey two years ago. Mr Adey uses an Ultra Scan 45 to check for embryo sacs in the uterus. Mr Haddingham believes this is at least 95% accurate.

With these machines costing around £5000 each, paying £3 a sow a year is more cost-effective for Mr Haddingham than buying his own scanner. However, the discipline imposed by having someone on the farm to scan sows every fortnight is just as important, he says.

A dynamic service system is used for sows. They are grouped with boars and remain in the service paddocks for seven to eight weeks before scanning. "By scanning once at this time we can catch sows holding to both first and second service in one hit," says Mr Adey.

For an experienced operator, little time and effort is required with this form of scanning. Sows do not need restraining and can be scanned along the paddock fence line as they eat cobs. Each sow takes less than 30 seconds to scan, although the occasional uncertainty may take longer.

"Barren sows are culled straight away," says Mr Haddingham. "I dont believe in spending lots of money on Vet Investigation Centre tests and fancy drugs to get sows pregnant." He admits that last year, when it was hardly worth taking cull sows to market, he gave some another chance. But with only 3% of these becoming pregnant he decided it wasnt worth keeping them after all. The average culling rate is about 12%.

"When adopting a rigorous culling policy, keeping on top of sow replacement is particularly important to avoid a shrinking herd," says Mr Adey. Mr Haddingham introduces gilts to his herd nine months a year.

"Producers often experience a higher culling rate in late summer, due to seasonal infertility," says Mr Adey. He advises that sourcing more gilts to compensate at this time will help to maintain output at higher levels through the winter.

Convinced of the benefits, Mr Haddingham recommends this form of scanning to other outdoor producers, concluding that when it comes to culling, the first loss is always the least.

SOWSCANNING

&#8226 Outdoor herd.

&#8226 Scanned regularly.

&#8226 95% plus accuracy.

&#8226 Rigorous culling.