20 November 1998

Understanding is a cheap profit route

TREATING pigs with care boosts physical performance and creates a less stressful environment for both animals and staff.

This was the message from Anne Martins, Terrington based ADAS business consultant, at a MAFF handling pigs meeting. "Unfortunately, welfare issues dont go away when theres an economic crisis in the industry.

"Good stockmanship can be improved with little cost having tremendous benefits in terms of increased performance.

"Research shows a 67% improvement in pregnancy rate between sows treated well and adversely, and an improved growth rate of 6-13% for piglets to 22 weeks," said Ms Martin.

Marketing of pigs could also benefit from improvements to stockmanship, helping distinguish our product from others, she added.

"However, some things get in the way of good stockmanship, such as lack of time, poor weather and economic pressure. But these cannot justify poor standards.

"Some people are patient, calm and confident – which are all attributes that help when handling pigs. Some dont have these skills, but can learn them."

Ms Martins believes that a stockman must address the pigs requirements. "What are the physical and social requirements for pigs? What is their normal behaviour? How do pigs perceive and respond to their environment and how should you operate within the unit?"

Research shows that the way a person handles pigs is related to their belief about pigs. "This belief can be reinforced by their own behaviour, which if aggressive causes pigs to be more fearful and difficult to handle. Confirming their opinion that pigs are awkward.

"Pigs cannot distinguish between people, so they can react badly to any person because of one individuals conduct ."

Ms Martins suggested a starting point for improving stockmanship on many units is to write down the working routine.

A well planned routine is more efficient and going through it promotes discussion of the tasks and methods of doing them.

"One of the most important tasks for a stockman is observing and monitoring animals. This requires knowledge of normal pig behaviour."

Stockman, therefore, need to know the normal smell, noise, colour, movement, performance and condition as well as sickness symptoms of pigs to tell whether they performing as expected, said Ms Martins.

STOCKMEN SHOULD

Try to understand pigs.

Handle pigs carefully and confidently.

Write down work routines.