Backfat scans for happy customers
By Marianne Curtis
BACKFAT scanning commercial pigs means one Dorset producer can better match them to contract specifications, leading to customer satisfaction and higher margins.
Outdoor gilts comprising 50% Landrace, 25% Duroc and 25% Large White are bred at Manor Farm, Seaborough, Beaminster, Dorset, for Hermitage-Seaborough, says the companys managing director Jeremy Barber.
About 170 boars and gilts not required for breeding are sold for slaughter each week. Scanning has been used to select breeding pigs for several years, but two years ago he decided to try it on the slaughter generation.
"We have been probing commercial pigs for two years. I bought a Medata scanner, which is simple to use, at this years Pig and Poultry Fair for £500." Pigs are scanned at 75-85kg or 95-100kg depending on whether they are to be sold for pork or bacon.
As they approach the correct weight, pig manager Eddie Hodges initially selects them by eye for scanning, which is carried out in a weigh crate. The scanner is attached to a digital display, calibrated to measure P2 backfat.
Vegetable oil is applied to the probe, with scanning only taking a matter of seconds, says Mr Hodges. "Pigs are scanned just after the last rib and 2in down from the spine, giving the P2 fat measurement." Colour marking identifies which pigs are ready for slaughter and their destination.
Bacon pigs are sold on two different contracts, one for P2 measurements of 5-10mm and the other for P2 measurements between 10-14mm. Being able to assign pigs accurately to the two contracts means better financial returns.
Support from Dalehead – where some bacon pigs are sold – which takes pigs over a large weight range also helps maximise returns. "Working together with buyers helps ensure pigs are marketed at the optimum time," says Mr Barber. Shortly he is going to compare P2 measurements from the scanner with those from the abattoir to check accuracy.
Precisely measuring backfat has been particularly useful in developing new markets for pigs from the unit. Over the past three months 10-30 pigs a week have been slaughtered at a local abattoir to supply butchers, pubs and restaurants, he explains.
"Recent food scares mean people are more concerned than ever about where their food comes from. Tagging pigs means we can offer local outlets full traceability. The trade has grown every week since we started and is financially worthwhile."
Pigs for local outlets are supplied at 75-80kg and require more attention to selection than bacon pigs. "Some butchers ask for P2 measurements of 12-13mm, whereas more traditional butchers ask for a fatter pig. The 20 restaurants and pubs we supply also have particular P2 requirements so scanning each animal enables us to tailor pigs to the market.
"Scanning means we can select pigs more professionally. When trade picks up, more commercial producers may consider P2 scanning," he adds. *
• Scanner cost £500.
• Takes seconds a pig.
• Can match pigs to markets.