Optimising the environment in which pigs are reared and finished is important for maximising health and productivity. However, with profit margins tight for many producers, investment in pig housing isn’t always top of the agenda. For this reason, BPEX has run a couple of study tours – to Belgium and Ireland – for English producers, aiming to present them with different options for ventilation and slurry management systems
Ventilation and slurry management systems could help enhance English pig productivity and, at the same time, reduce ammonia emissions and their impact on the environment. That’s the message from recent study tours within the EU to look at these issues.
BPEX’s building and environment business support, Thomas Burling, says that, to date, the study tours have provided really valuable information for the development of the industry.
“They’ve given producers and industry experts the chance to see, first-hand, systems that are less commonly seen in England, which producers could introduce to boost production.
“A well-ventilated building can help reduce the outbreak and spread of disease. It’s therefore beneficial for our producers to be aware of the latest technologies available, particularly with regard to ventilation systems and also the impact of new regulations placed on ammonia emissions,” he adds.
As environmental legislation tightens, and pressure from industry stakeholders to reduce pollution in the UK increases, BPEX took a study trip to Flanders, a region in Northern Belgium where tight environmental legislation already exists, and pollution targets are in operation.
“Despite being pig dense, it’s an area that, until now, we’ve had little interaction with,” Mr Burling says. “For some reason, we tend to look to Denmark when looking to advance our own systems, but in this instance we wanted to explore Belgium.”
One of the study tour attendees, ABN’s national pig account manager Keith Grimsay, explains that the group visited two farms while in Flanders, both of which had complied with stringent housing regulations in order to meet the tight environmental controls in place.
“Since 2004, all new buildings have been subject to emission controls,” he says. “Buildings have to reduce ammonia emissions either within the building design, subject to strict technical data, or by putting all air leaving the buildings through air scrubbers. The scrubbers have significant capital and operational costs and, for this reason, there’s been significant investment in specialist slurry systems.
“On the farms visited, the pigs were encouraged to dung and lie in distinct areas of each house. This was stimulated by the choice of slats used. Cold, metal slats were used in the dunging area and plastic slats in the lying area. Further to this, the introduction of slats in the wall created cool spots in the dunging area that, again, encouraged pigs to lie on the curved solid lying areas.
“The dung then feeds directly into deep, narrow “V” channels, comparable to those advocated in the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) manual,” Mr Grimsay adds. “The “V” channels are the start of an extensive gutter flush system that allows the slurry to be flushed away at the opening of a sluice gate. This means that solid slurry is flushed out effectively, ensuring that the housing systems remain as clean and odour-free as possible, significantly reducing ammonia levels.
“Interestingly, not only do these systems reduce ammonia levels, they advantageously boost production.”
BPEX knowledge transfer manager Stephen Winfield, accompanied the tours.
“Although there’s no scientific evidence, I believe that the housing systems, and reduced levels of ammonia, were almost certainly a contributing factor to the resounding production figures that we saw,” he says.
“One of the units was averaging 33 pigs weaned per sow. Compare that to the top 10% of British farmers who are averaging 29 pigs weaned per sow. This really is a significant difference.”
Mr Winfield considers that the trip proved a useful insight into alternative ways of operating from which the English pig industry could learn significantly. He acknowledges that further research may need to be considered for straw-based units, but clearly slurry management needs to be a consideration.
Continuing on the theme of best practice and lessons we can learn from our EU counterparts, a study tour to Ireland saw English producers and BPEX team members investigate how the pig industry there has developed during the past 20 years and, in particular, how producers have adopted building technologies to improve ventilation.
“During the tour, we visited two specialist pig units to get a better understanding of the systems they were using,” Mr Burling says. “Both had innovative ventilation systems that had reportedly improved building efficiency and pig performance.”
One site that the group visited had invested in automatically controlled natural ventilation (ACNV) with a controlled ridge to make the most of natural air.
“The producer told us that this was a relatively cost-effective system to implement but, if not maintained properly, it did have the ability to go wrong electronically,” he adds.
“Surprisingly, this system is seen frequently in Ireland, but has little presence in England. I believe that it has plenty of potential for English housing systems because of its extremely low running costs and related advantageous production figures. It’s definitely an option for English producers to consider when looking to improve ventilation in housing.”
Another unit visited was using under-floor ventilation through central passageways. “A fresh supply of air would enter the building via a tunnel under the passageway and eventually make its way over the barrier at the front of the pen, where the pigs were located, leaving dedicated areas within the pen for lying as well as dunging,” Mr Burling adds.
“The instalment of a fan in the roof meant there was a continuous cycle of fresh air in the building. What’s more, it would, to a certain extent, continue circulating even if the fan was to break down.”
“The fan ensures a constant fresh environment for the pigs,” Mr Winfield agrees. “This was particularly important in the loose house when sows were transferred to this building after being scanned in-pig, a particularly pertinent stage where a fresh, clean environment is essential. This was reflected by high gilt litters, averaging 13.4 born alive and an overall farm average of 28.5 pigs sold per sow.
“I’m aware that these systems require a large amount of initial investment but, given the production figures seen and the general good health of the animals, they do offer a great rate of return.
“Some of the producers who attended the trip are now looking to implement the systems seen on their own units which is great news,” Mr Winfield adds. “I believe that, as an industry, to achieve the targets set by BPEX of an average 0.1 reduction in FCR and extra 50g daily liveweight gain, we need to invest in high-quality buildings, both for efficiency and for good health and welfare.”