If you are sceptical about computer recording systems,
then you are not alone. But computer profiling is
helping one marketing group improve members
productivity. Simon Wragg reports
IMPROVEMENTS in finished pig production, directly attributable to computer recording, have shifted potential margin/pig by up to £8.86 for one member of Warks-based marketing co-op Meadow Quality.
The co-op is rolling out the use of a system called Premier Predictor Keys (PPKs) to members. And those who have put scepticism aside are seeing, that with patience, computer predictions are actually achievable on the ground.
The PPK system uses information from slaughter sheets, such as the distribution of carcass weights, average probe and numbers of over/under weights. Then it assesses how close a units output matches its contract for finished pigs, says Colin Wooldridge, IT specialist for Meadow Quality.
Meadow Quality member Paul Anderson, a partner in the Shropshire-based venture Happy Pigs, with fellow producer Roger Pinches, is one of the beneficiaries. PPKs were introduced to the business in July 2000.
"We were originally a weaner producer, but now take progeny from 650 JSR Newsham outdoor sows through to bacon weight using four contract finishers," explains Mr Anderson.
The unit was typically achieving 70kg deadweight with a 11.2mm probe from a dynamic group serving system.
But the units contract with Meadow Quality to supply Dalehead Foods offered the potential to take pigs to a maximum deadweight of 85kg on boars and 90kg on gilts, before penalties would be incurred. Extra kilos meant the prospect of extra margin – often an illusive commodity.
However, merely increasing finished weights is not practical, says Mr Wooldridge. "Once you start to push up weights you tend to get a kick in average probes – effectively the physical limit of the geneotype the unit carries. Its no good producing heavier pigs when the advantage is lost in penalties for higher backfat."
Historical information from the PPK system can help identify the physical limitation of the unit. In Mr Andersons case, increased use of Sireline AI supplied from JSR Newsham and used in a controlled service system provided a fast-track solution to improve the genetic potential of finishers. This allowed for heavier finishing weights without triggering the kick in backfat.
From a starting point in 2000, when deadweight averaged 74.6kg, the business is now achieving between 78kg and 81kg across its four finishing sites. "Pigs are grading well with probes often below 10mm, but that is subject to seasonal variation," explains Mr Anderson.
But average weight taken in isolation is of limited use, adds Mr Wooldridge. Plotting the spread of weights on a graph to illustrate the spread above and below the average illustrates how well a system is performing. A narrower spread indicates that weights can be pushed up towards the contract ceiling, while limiting the risk of too many overweights.
In Happy Pigs senario, one finisher is producing baconers across a much tighter weight range than another. "We encourage all finishers to weigh stock regularly.
"At one site we achieve an average weight of 78.1kg with a standard deviation of four. At another the average is 81kg but a spread of seven. Some pigs on the latter are tipping into overweights. Its inevitable when you push weights that the spread can increase," explains Mr Anderson.
However, these results are not necessarily cause for alarm. "The computer predictions are a guide to what can be achieved, but we also have to be aware of the practical limitations on individual units, such as space, cleaning out times and manpower," he adds.
Using the computers profile, the business has recently moved productivity from an average weight of 74.55kg deadweight with a probe of 11.29mm to 81kg with a probe of 10.46mm.
The PPK information also allows other management decisions to be taken. Records of average backfats show a gentle decrease in P2s through spring and increase during autumn. "Either we reduce the specification of the ration by tweaking the lysine level or we finish pigs to a lower weight," explains Mr Anderson.
Computer profiling has its uses, but it is no panacea, says Mr Wooldridge. "As with any system, its only as good as the information that goes in. Producers have also got to trust the software and act on information.
"For some that may mean changing breeding stock or the production system, so a willingness to adapt is essential. Practical limitations have to be taken into consideration and these vary from farm to farm," he adds.
The PPK system is now a useful addition to the in-house recording system, says Mr Anderson. "I wouldnt want to be without it and our finishers are equally as keen to see results at the end of each month as it affects their payments."
Meadow Quality hopes to have the PPK system – offered on a no-fee basis to members – rolled out to all producers within a year. *
• Can increase unit performance.
• Be aware of practical limits.
Higher output, better margins. Computer predictions have proved a valuable management tool for Paul Andersons
Happy Pigs venture.