Batch farrowing cuts disease and eases feed management
Achieving the benefits
associated with segregated
weaning has proved difficult
on smaller pig units. But
now batch farrowing is being
investigated at Newsham
Hybrid pigs and could
provide the answer
Jonathan Riley reports
FARROWING sows in large batches rather than weekly service regimes can improve feeding management and health status.
That is the view of Newsham Hybrid Pigs technical manager, Simon Grey. "A major weakness of weekly service regimes is that they promote a continuous flow of pigs through pig houses, increasing disease risks," says Mr Grey.
He says piglets receive immunity to bugs from colostrum. But this protection has worn off after four weeks. After this pigs begin to develop their own immunity by exposure to the environment.
But for a crucial few days the pig has neither its own immunity nor the protection from the colostrum. It is at this stage – the most vulnerable of the pigs life – that it is weaned.
On most units, where weekly farrowing is practised, newly weaned pigs are then put into a building in pens next to pigs from the previous weeks weaning.
These pigs will be shedding high numbers of bugs and so the newly weaned pig is not only vulnerable but it faces one of the biggest disease challenges of its life.
"Avoiding mixing at this time is the key principle behind segregated weaning and all-in, all-out, which basically avoids mixing pigs at this stage. Improved health and closer matching of feeds to growth stage is worth £6.50 a pig."
But this principle is difficult to adapt to smaller farms where groups large enough to fill buildings cannot be formed, says Mr Grey.
The basis of batch rearing is to serve sows in larger groups to create batches of pigs of the same age, large enough to fill whole finishing buildings.
Instead of a weekly farrowing regime sows are synchronised to farrow every three weeks.
Mr Grey says that any size of unit could adopt batch farrowing. "A 500-sow unit on a 21-week cycle, producing 21 litters a week could easily serve enough sows once every three weeks so that 63 sows farrowed in a group.
"This is relatively easy to achieve by making use of a phenomenon known as transport heat where shortly after arrival gilts come on heat together. "Sows are still on a 21-week cycle, but they go through the production stages in groups.
"The unit could then be organised so that sows farrowed one week were served the next, with weaning taking place the following week, spreading the workload," he suggests.
On most units transport heat creates a problem because the batch of gilts – usually bought-in monthly – must be broken down into smaller groups. Batch farrowing can exploit this phenomenon to get larger groups cycling together. Sows and gilts can also be synchronised or culled to change the cycling pattern of the herd.
"With finishing groups large enough the health benefits can be reaped and a larger scale all-in, all-out policy can be adopted on the smallest units," suggests Mr Grey.
Batch farrowing offers reduced disease risks and better feed management.