No performance dip with loose housing

28 August 1998

No performance dip with loose housing

INVESTING up to £450/sow place in new sow accommodation is allowing one Danish unit manager to supply a UK contract, but without lower sow performance or higher labour costs feared by many producers.

Anders Andersen says sow performance hasnt slumped with the switch to loose housing as predicted by many consultants. Average performance achieves 25.5 piglets/sow/year although performance in the last three months has slipped by 0.8 piglets/litter from an average of 12.1, as he explains:

"A recent butchers strike meant cull sows stayed on the unit and these were served – 75% returned. This has meant a temporary drop in output, but it will increase again. However, we havent experienced the 1.5 piglets/sow/year drop from loose housing predicted by some consultants."

The single span portal building has three deep litter yards and uses a cafeteria-style feeding system of 62 individual feed stalls. Sows are released one yard at a time – a horn is blown once, twice or three times to alert sows to their turn and to stop fretting – and they are fed a liquid ration.

"Once in the stalls I can check sows individually – its just as quick as a conventional system. Producers here think it takes longer – labour is expensive – and itll cost more. It doesnt if you manage the time."

Sold or culled

However, Mr Andersen says sows failing to adapt to the system, particularly those which are aggressive, must be sold or culled to ensure top herd performance. "We must achieve 24 piglets/sow/year to make the system pay."

Producers are concerned about straw use. Straw commands prices of up to £70/t with competition from domestic buyers using it to power heating boilers. Good yard management limits straw requirements to just 10kg/sow/week. "Sows eat 80% of the straw. The amount used for bedding is small," adds Mr Andersen.

Sows are also now introduced to farrowing stalls a week earlier than normal. This is necessary to acclimatise sows to being tied up after the freedom of the straw yards. "Once new farrowing crates are finished it wont be necessary."

Health status across the unit is high with no lice, mange or dysentery. Sows are moved in farrowing groups through the system. The same approach is taken with grower and finishers which achieve average daily liveweight gains of 900g/pig between 40-98kg – an indication of high health status, says Mr Andersen.

All finished bacon pigs are fed a liquid ration and sent to Steff Holberg on a UK contract. When sow output recovers, about 4800 pigs/year will be produced, attracting a premium of 3p/kg deadweight – almost £10,000 extra income a year.

Concern over extra labour and housing costs are a myth. But sow output must be more than 24pigs/sow/year, says Anders Andersen to make the system pay.

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