7 March 1997

Space rules too rigid?

Revised regulations on space allowances for all pigs could force many producers to rethink management policy when they are imposed next January. Jonathan Riley reports

NEW regulations on space allowances threaten to disrupt management policy on many British pig units.

Newark-based Signet consultant Dan Morgan says that the EU directive – which lays down revised space requirements – already applies to new buildings but will also apply to all existing buildings from Jan 1, 1998.

"Defined maximum stocking rates under the directive are set at levels which in trials have given the fastest liveweight gain a square metre," says Mr Morgan.

"These rates in principle are, therefore, appropriate and where insulation is adequate and ventilation rates well managed few units would be affected in terms of performance by their imposition.

Series of jumps

"The problem is that the directive does not define the space needed by pigs as a smoothly increasing allowance but as a series of jumps from one to the next.

"This is totally at odds with the fact that pigs grow continuously not in large steps," says Mr Morgan.

For example, a pig weighing more than 10kg and up to 20kg will need 0.2m sq of floor space, but above 20kg and up to 30kg the pigs will have to be given 0.3m sq of space and so on.

"This series of jumps in space allowance makes no sense at all because, for example, while a 20kg pig needs 0.2m sq a pig weighing 21kg suddenly needs 0.3m sq," he says.

This stepped system means that producers may have to move pigs regardless of whether their established routines and pen sizes allow them to do so.

"At the mid-point between these steps, for example between 10kg and 20kg when new space requirements are 0.15m sq and 0.2m sq, respectively, commonsense suggests that the space allowance for a 15kg pig – a weight when many producers move pigs out of flat decks – should be 0.175m sq a pig," says Mr Morgan.

Extra accommodation

"This would allow a batch of 100 pigs to be moved to a room of 17.5m sq at this mid point. But to comply with the legislation, the space allowed would have to be well above this and a 17.5m sq room could only hold 87 pigs. Extra accommodation would have to be provided, incurring costs.

"Potentially even more expensive is the 51-85kg liveweight range, where pigs are allowed 0.55m sq. At the lowest point of the weight range pigs require 30% more space with a stepped increase in allowances compared with a gradually increasing line," says Mr Morgan.

He warns that this lack of flexibility will force many UK producers using intensive houses divided into rooms to put up extra housing.

"On some units operating all-in, all-out policies the management system could be seriously dis- rupted. And these are the very systems which improve pig health and cost-effectiveness. The extra cost imposed by strict enforcement of the directive rather than its spirit would be variable.

But, for example, pigs leaving pens at 60kg to pens accommodating them up to 95kg would have to be moved out or thinned down at 50kg. On many units the only practical solution would be to build extra accommodation to allow for the equivalent of two weeks throughput.

For a 250-sow herd, this accommodation would have to house 200 pigs and the cost could be £27,500 if building costs are taken as £250/m sq. &#42

Signet consultant Dan Morgan says that the wording of new rules on space allowances is unscientific and will cause problems for UK producers.

New space allowances to be introduced for all grower finisher pigs should be based on a steadily increasing line and not on a series of large steps, which reduce management flexibility and could cause understocking.