Are sows losing maternal touch?

21 May 1999

Low profitability is thought

to be the key reason for

lower attendance at last

weeks Pig and Poultry Fair

at Stoneleigh, Warks.

Despite numbers being 2000

down on last year,


in force to gather news

and views

Free-range egg cuts a shaker

RECENT free-range egg price cuts of 4p-6p have rocked confidence in price sustainability and given rise to fears of overproduction.

But this is typical of the way a free market place works, said British Free Range Egg Producers Association vice chairman John Widdowson. "Boom and bust will continue in the future.

"There are a lot of buildings going up and so supply from these units will come onto the market at some point.

"It is not too dissimilar to the pig industry. Good prices have encouraged production. Free-range eggs have been undersupplied for last 18 months and so we have had good prices."

Mr Widdowson thinks that more price cuts are likely. Money lost in intensive eggs by packers has also had an affect."

He said that packers have been carrying a surplus of free-range eggs recently and it costs money to downgrade eggs. "When free-range eggs are sold as barn or battery they lose money."

But packers have lost so much on intensive eggs that they are trying to claw back margin from free-range egg producers, he believes.

"Because investing in free-range eggs is high cost, about £15 a bird place, a downturn in price can put those who borrowed too much money or are inefficient egg producers out of business," he said.

Presently egg producers are struggling to break even and are probably losing money at 62p/dozen. "We would like to see better management of the market to avoid the cyclical boom and bust."


* Egg oversupply.

* Boom and bust.

* Price drops.

AGP ban…not if but

By Sue Rider

ITS NO longer a question of if theres a total ban on use of AGPs for pig production but when, according to Chris Ling, agricultural manager for Tesco, the only retailer at the event.

The multiple expects to be sourcing all its pigmeat from animals not fed AGPs in two to three years.

"Our aim is to take product from systems which dont use AGPs," said Mr Ling.

"The whole industry must address this issue – if the Danes can produce something free from AGPs, then British pig production must follow suit.

"British pig producers talk about a level playing field so they must be prepared to accept some European standards that they dont yet apply."

Mr Ling said the company would still accept product from animals fed permissible AGPs but would be working with its supply base to remove them completely.

"The long-term aim must be to remove prophylactic use of AGPs and the quicker the better. Were not able to give a timescale for removal but itll certainly within the next five years – and hopefully within two to three."

Sandra Edwards of Aberdeen University acknowledged that there is pressure from supermarkets and European competitors for a total ban on AGPs.

"People will be looking the whole time to remove AGPs, and although in the short-term most producers will continue to use permitted AGPs to get the benefits of improved feed conversion efficiency and growth rates, in time some will be producing without AGPs for specified markets."

According to Suffolk based pig vet Jake Waddilove, consumer pressure will continue to mount. "The remaining AGPs will go fairly quickly."

Pig consultant Vernon Fowler agreed: "Its prudent to assume that only prescription antibiotics will be permitted in the long-run. We must find acceptable alternatives."

High-welfare trailer for pigs is top invention

WINNER of the farmer invention category of the Pig and Poultry Fair innovation awards is Owen Farming Transport for its modular Live Animal Transport System (LATS).

Concerned about complying with current and impending animal welfare transport legislation, managing director Richard Owen said developing the system has taken 18 months of hard work.

The result is a system where pigs can be penned into a stainless steel and aluminium livestock transit module at ground level, and dont leave it until they reach their final destination.

"Each module can take 11 100kg pigs. Modules can be sub-divided using gates and up to nine can be stacked on the trailer," said the companys David Ward.

"Once pigs have entered the module, it is lifted on to the trailer using a fork-lift. The fork-lift is transported on the trailer too." This means pigs dont have to be forced up ramps.

"For long-distance haulage, where pigs have to be rested, the pens can simply be unloaded into lairage. This also helps overcome health status issues because they stay in the pens," he said.

The travelling environment is also better. An integral sump, which allows urine and drinker water to drain away ensures floors remain dry. Mucking out is made easy; modules are lifted and rotated through 90 degrees to tip out soiled bedding before hosing and disinfection.

Initially the system will be part of Mr Owens transport business but he hopes to develop it commercially.

Electronics play a large part in the design of LATS, particularly when the company is transporting producers pigs. Customers will be able to access the LATS web site, enabling them to obtain data on their shipment at any time. This includes vehicle position, weights and ear number lists. Air flow, temperature and ventilation can also be electronically monitored and controlled.

The trailer is still being developed but Mr Owen expects LATS to carry its first consignment of breeding pigs in the autumn.

Program picks out best pig deals

ENTERING slaughter data on pig weights and backfat probe into a new abattoir comparison program enables producers to find out where they can get the best deal.

Thats according to Porcofram Marketing trader, David Harrison, demonstrating the program at the Pig and Poultry Fair. "Using analysis data from the program, one producer found that he could make £25,000 more profit, simply by having a different contract for boars and gilts.

"Historical weight and probe data, either transmitted to the program electronically from the abattoir or entered manually from MLC grading sheets can be analysed and returned to the producer within 48 hours," he said.

"This enables a decision to be made on the best contract for your type of pig."

The program can also handle spot selling with a facility for haulage, weight range, levy and other relevant data to be added in.

Keeping tabs on correct payment is also possible. "If an abattoir makes an incorrect payment, the system refuses to accept it until it is correct."

"A lot of producers dont realise how much abattoirs can make through incorrect payments," said Mr Harrison.

Currently the program is only available to producers marketing their pigs through Porcofram but Mr Harrison said that the company would consider licensing it.


Labour and feed are critical costs


LABOUR and feed costs have the greatest effect on whether pig units are competitive, the farmers weekly/FWi/Andersons cost control clinic at the Pig and Poultry Fair concluded.

Andersons Jamie Gwatkin said many producers were searching for comfort that things were going to come right. "No-one can promise that, but there is scope to look at overheads and improve technical performance."

Of producers visiting the cost clinic, the main area for improving overheads was labour. "Many said they couldnt achieve a target labour cost of 7.5p/kg for finishing pigs, and some had costs of over 9p/kg.

"It is easier to carry units on with current staffing levels, but they are commercial businesses requiring a flexible approach. Consider labour requirements for the number of sows – on outdoor units, aim for one man to 300 sows," he said.

Feed costs should also come under greater scrutiny, said Mr Gwatkin. "Feed is a major cost. In most cases it has fallen, but theres still scope to cut costs further in many cases."

Although few producers had filled in the cost of production coupon printed in the farmers weekly, Mr Gwatkin said that this type of calculation – although appearing time consuming at first – was vital.

"Benchmarking is valuable, and cost of production can be worked out within 10 minutes using the spreadsheet available on FWi."

&#8226 The benchmarking spreadsheet can be accessed on

Home-reared chicken brand

CONSUMERS are to be targeted by a new NFU campaign to identify British poultrymeat.

Launched at the Pig and Poultry Fair, the campaign centres round a label identifying British reared and produced chicken.

NFU poultry policy advisor Alison Bone said a key industry concern was that imported poultrymeat which was processed in the UK could be labelled as British. The NFUs campaign aims to stop this practice by clearly identifying home-reared chicken and chicken products.

Charles Bourns, NFU poultry chairman told a press conference at the Fair that being unsupported, the poultry industry had to help itself.

"Consumers say identifying British poultrymeat is difficult, but this label will help them find products on supermarket shelves. Processors will be able to obtain a sticky label – supplied at cost – or a bromide to incorporate within their own labels."

The label will be used only on chicken and turkey reared on UK farms, said Mr Bourns. "The scheme will rely on processors integrity. If we find people not using it properly we will use the might of the NFU to stop it.

"We will also back the label with visits to supermarkets and processors to encourage them to source British reared poultrymeat. Some say they just cant find it, but they often fail to say that they cant find it at a price."

Mr Bourns said the NFUs poultrymeat project was on-going, and that any ideas would be gratefully received by the NFU poultry committee.

Just learn to live without AGPs…

SHAPE UP to producing without antibiotic growth promoters.

That was the warning from BPA acting chief executive, Grenville Welsh. He recognises the industry has to respond to the realities of life without AGPs, but is concerned by what he sees as a total disregard for science by politicians when deciding to impose the ban.

"Our concern is that science has been jettisoned in the decision making process," he said.

"What used to be a fear of residues has become a fear of transferred resistance and the scientific evidence for it just isnt there."

NFU pigs committee chairman, Graham England, echoed that view. "We must move forward in line with scientific evidence and not on the basis of a perceived threat. It seems to be totally wrong to be deprived of good animal welfare when theres no scientific evidence that AGPs pose a risk to consumers."

Are sows losing maternal touch?

ARE modern pigs losing the ability to respond to their young?

This is a question that Jeremy Marchant, researcher at De Montfort University is hoping to answer in current trials.

One experiment involved playing tapes of fox noises and placing a stuffed fox and fox anal glands near recently farrowed sows to see how they reacted to predators.

"Some sows keenly protected their young, whereas others were rather laid back about the whole thing," said Dr Marchant, speaking at the Pig and Poultry Fair.

"Sows of the same breed reacted differently, so it is not clear why some are more protective than others."

Dr Marchant also placed tapes of distressed piglet squealing noises next to sows to see whether they would get up, thinking they were crushing a piglet. Again the reaction varied between sows.

"With the noise in a large farrowing unit, sows become used to hearing squeals, which may make them less reactive. We are going to compare this with outdoor sows where the environment is quieter," he said.

In Sweden, legislation means that sows can only spend seven days in the farrowing crate. Dr Marchant says that although crates are extremely unlikely to be banned in the UK, the length of time that sows spend in them may be more restricted in future.

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