August 2014: Bright outlook, but guard against complacency

Pig producers can feel reasonably content with input and output prices at the moment, but they mustn’t slip into feeling complacent. Raw material costs are coming down and cereal quality looks good, but this scenario always leads me to be concerned about complacency – a perennial disorder and, in my experience, a major problem with many units across the UK.

I’ll share a few management tips to avoid this situation shortly, but first let’s reflect on the situation in 2012. If you were considering the July purchase price for November wheat futures then, you’d have been looking at £186/t. And this increased to about £205/t by September 2012. The pig price was 150.4p/kg in July 2012, so the margin over feed was much tighter.

The situation is reversed for wheat in 2014, with the November futures price starting some £54/t cheaper and the possibility that come September it may have dropped further. And the current DAPP is 162.87p/kg, so the margin over feed comes in at a more manageable level.

In 2012 health and hygiene inputs were more rigorously pursued than currently. Key feed additives were being used – particularly mycotoxin binders, organic acids and essential oils – as we were trying to eke every last bit of potential from the pigs in the face of poor, potentially contaminated feed ingredients. In the past 12 months, however, feed ingredient quality, combined with pig price, has meant that a more lax attitude has been taken.

Even though feed prices will be attractive for next season, with ample global supply for the demand, we have to consider the longer view. Arable producers are on the back foot currently, which could affect acres planted this autumn. And who knows what climate change oddities we may face in the 2015/16 season; we need to make hay while the sun shines.

So, here are a few areas to keep in tip-top shape. Stocking and building ventilation rates are critical. Both space allowance and respiratory disease have a massive impact on growth. Overstocking will immediately reduce growth rates by 50g/day, which could then add another 10 days to slaughter. Considering between 30% and 40% of feed is utilised for maintenance, that’s another 10kg/pig.

Alongside the basics of housing and health comes the use of additives. I would recommend using a mycotoxin binder in the breeding herd, no matter what the quality of cereals, as a belt-and-braces approach to reproduction.

For gut health, a combination of acidification and essential oils, on top of correct formulation particularly in the younger animals, will again improve cost-effective growth. A £10/t investment in the earlier diets on tried-and-tested additives may only cost 40p/pig, but knock days off to slaughter. If we assume finisher feed will be £200/t this November (2014) then you only need to reduce time to slaughter by two days to break even on this investment, and I would expect much, much better performance than this.

Remember, this isn’t time to rest on our laurels, but an opportunity to wisely sandbag our future.

> Born in Essex, schooled in Suffolk and a graduate of Reading University, Dr Phil Baynes has spent his career in pig welfare and nutrition. Now based in Cheshire, he runs Baynes Nutrition and is a consultant nutritionist to Provimi

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