Lessons from the Dutch about using data to reduce losses

It’s been pretty full on since I last wrote. Can I point out that completing a triathlon with ‘zero hours’ training is not to be recommended? Although a half-mile sea swim, followed by a flat tyre, certainly makes you focus and forget about lung lesions and pig health (I was not last!).

Things do tend to come to a head at the same time and focus is all important. So this past month or so, I find myself focused on abattoir assessments of pig health.

BPHS (pig health scheme) was top of my list. Purchasing and securing suppliers is not a new process for me. As you would expect AHDB has robust protocols, tied to European regulations, stipulating how we make purchases and award the contracts that use your levy. Thus we found ourselves obliged to tender for the BPHS work.

I have to say the incumbent, Vetscore, is to be commended and thanked for all the work done over the last 10 years, but just like the ‘bake-off’, change happens and a new supplier has taken it on. Focus on consistency and minimal disruption is now our top priority.

At the same time, we are nearing the final stages of a project to improve CCIR data, the health and carcase conditions which abattoirs have to report on. Steps are being taken to improve the reliability and consistency of this information.

The two projects will provide producers with robust information to share with vets and advisers to find ways to reduce losses. Deductions and penalties on the carcase are easy to see, but those relating to production, sub-optimal health or welfare are more difficult.

The scale of these costs was brought home to me when talking to our processor board members. Rectification lines in the UK are sadly much busier than those in Holland. Over the last 15 years, the percentage of carcasses going into rectification in Holland has been cut to low single figures.

I challenge you to look at your own kill sheets to see how you compare. The average UK figures amount to a serious loss to producers and processors.

Fast forward to my visit to Holland, to Vion, which operates CCIR- and BPHS-type systems.What are they doing differently?

Individual pig identification on the line is one key difference. The other was the effort spent by the producer to understand fully what it was costing. It’s much easier to focus the mind on what can be improved, when your kill sheet shows defects are costing you 4 euro cents per kilo on a 200-pig load!

It is clear we have access to much the same data that they do, so we now need to pay more attention to using it, focusing and getting value (sign up to BPHS if you haven’t already).

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About The Author

Editor of Pig World and contributor to LBM’s other farming publications. Also National Pig Association webmaster. Formerly political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years. Enjoy a bit of media punditry. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm. Work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Under-9 football coach and big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.