Prudent to dispose of cull sows without delay
By Hannah Velten
CULL sows have outstayed their welcome on many units and should be sent for slaughter now prices are improving or on the welfare disposal scheme.
The average annual 40% replacement rate in breeding herds has been thrown into disarray since the swine fever and foot-and-mouth outbreaks, resulting in many old sows being retained on units.
But cull sows should be disposed of as soon as selling opportunities arise and replacements gilts bought in, says Signet consultant Derek Wells. "Sows are generally culled after their sixth parity, but many sows kept back from slaughter due to low prices are in their second extra cycle.
"This is increasing herd age and cost of producing slaughter pigs. Although older sows generally give birth to larger litters of piglets, many of these are weak and suffer high mortality. These sows produce insufficient colostrum and milk to maintain piglets through lactation, resulting in fewer weaned piglets."
Feed costs for older sows, at about £2/week, is similar to more productive sows, as are labour and vet and medicine costs. So fewer pigs weaned means an increase in cost of production, says Mr Wells.
So what options are there for disposing of cull sows? Alan Bloor, of Newbury-based AB Associates, says cull sows are starting to move now as export markets open. "Check with your marketing group or abattoir for selling opportunities," he advises.
However, there are restrictions on the number of counties able to put forward sows for the export market and some abattoirs have waiting lists for cull sows due to producer demand, says Mr Wells.
John Martin, head stockman at Easton Lodge – farmers weeklys pig unit – says it is just outside the catchment area of Allied Marketing, which sells their cull sows.
"We like to remove 15-18 sows a month from the herd, as piglets are weaned. But since F&M, we have only sold a few sows. If we could get on a cull sow scheme and the price was right, we would take out enough older sows to fill lorries and dispose of them.
"Luckily we are breeding our own replacement gilts, so have the capacity to increase the numbers we retain to 20-24/month.
Extra cull sows have been partly responsible for the recent drop in litter size at Easton Lodge from 12.28 to 11.1 piglets born alive and increase in pre-weaning mortality from 11.8% to 13.3%.
Another option for removing unprofitable sows is the welfare disposal scheme, says Mr Bloor. "Even though the welfare disposal scheme payments have been halved for culls to £15/head, it is important to maintain herd performance. Cut your losses by considering this option."
But on welfare grounds, Mr Wells believes designated cull sows should not slaughtered when they are more than six weeks in-pig. *
• Increasing herd age.
• Reducing incomes.
• Remove from herd and replace.