I was fortunate to visit China in October – my sixth visit in the past three years.
The investment in the pig industry and rate of progress is nothing short of remarkable. They are leaning towards European production standards, seeing these as more efficient, and American genetics and nutritional advice.
I visited a £20 million new build for a 2,000-sow Danbred multiplication unit close to the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan province.
Rooms are climate-controlled for humidity and temperature, while the walls and ceilings are lagged with stainless steel. Margins in China mean they can justify the expense, as the number of pigs born continues to improve.
According to AHDB Pork, Q2 2016 data shows that the average pigs weaned/sow/year is 26.34.
In China, the average is 19. But with the systems and technology they have, I have no doubt they will be in the mid-20s in the next three to five years. Not long after that, China will rival EU production.
How are they going to achieve this? It’s the same worldwide. It requires an understanding of the fertility process, an appreciation of the biology of the sow and reproduction hormones.
The number of eggs released is dependent on follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), released by the pituitary gland, which triggers the maturation of eggs.
As these eggs are maturing, the cells surrounding them produce oestrogen. When sufficient oestrogen is circulating in the bloodstream, luteinising hormone is released – again from the pituitary gland – which then forces the release of eggs from the ovary.
“With the systems and technology China has, I have no doubt their pigs per sow per year will be in the mid-20s in the next three to five years. Not long after that, China will rival EU production”
Sugar consumed in this period increases insulin production; further stimulating release of oestrogen from the developing egg, giving us a much stronger standing heat and behavioural expression of oestrus. This makes the timing of insemination easier to recognise.
Oestrogen also changes the quality of mucus in the cervix, easing the transit of the semen needed to fertilise the eggs.
After adding sugar, the next challenge being embraced in China is to ensure successful implantation of fertilised eggs.
We have two principles for successful implantation; one for gilts and one for sows, and this is driven by the feed curve in the first three to four weeks post-service.
By restricting feed to the gilts during this time, we maintain the level of the hormone progesterone. This prepares the uterus for implantation – essential for gilts.
Elevating the feed levels for sows during this period is critical. This provides the necessary additional nutrients required to repair the uterine environment. It is a more urgent requirement than the level of circulating progesterone.
I saw clear evidence of Chinese pig producers following these principles of sugar in the wean-to-oestrus period to increase the number of fertilised eggs, and then adopting the correct post-service feeding strategy to increase the rate of implantation.
This will help improve their efficiency dramatically – principles that should already be industry standard for us.