No half measures for pig producers

If you don’t measure it, you can’t control it was one of the key messages to come out of the 2014 BPEX Innovation Conference.

The theme of the event, held at Stoneleigh Park, was the future of pig feeding and performance data interpretation, and in his presentation Hugh Crabtree of Farmex said producing data was easy, but it was worth nothing if it couldn’t be interpreted.

“Data should be turned into knowledge then used to generate profit,” he said. “Even the most experienced can learn something when they start measuring.”

Mr Crabtree added there was no need to measure everything, but the key elements were temperature, water, energy, feed and growth.

“The data must be used to get more things more right more of the time,” he said. “Do that and the pigs’ biology will respond. It’s mostly what we do to the pigs that gets in the way, which means ongoing monitoring and ongoing training.”

Mr Crabtree’s presentation was followed by two from producers who had put the mantra into practice and benefited from it.

Harry Heath, farm manager at Whitely Manor Farm in Shropshire, has a 550 sow breeder/finisher unit and 500 acres of cereals.

He said they unit had had a problem with poor growth in the nursery/grower unit following a restock and started making changes, but didn’t know which of the changes, if any, were having an effect.

“Performance was being measured subjectively and we needed to change to it being based on objectivity,” Mr Heath said. “We wanted all the information stored in a single place so we produced a batch card.

“From that we developed a farm dashboard to check performance against the past 12 months and relayed the information to both the vet and the nutritionist. The net result was a 6kg increase in weight going into finishing.”

For the future, Mr Heath said his aim was automated data capture to spend less time inputting and more time analysing.

The second producer presentation was from Tom Allen of DC & RJ Allen, a family pig and arable business based near Wallingford, Oxfordshire.

He said they already gathered data, but the finishers were performing badly and they couldn’t see why. An in-pen weighing platform was purchased which provided a huge amount of data including the number of pigs weighed, the heaviest the lightest and much more.

“Half way through the finisher stage, growth was tailing off and we were able to see dips in growth in real time,” he added. “We adjusted the feed curve which resulted in an improvement of 60g a day.

“The scales also showed how poor was my selection for slaughte war! This forced me into weighing individually every week for the three weeks leading up to slaughter, which has resulted in increased sale weight and reduced overweight pigs.

“Although the scales were costly, they helped solve the problem and paid for themselves very quickly.”

Videos of the presentations from this year’s conference can be watched at: http://www.bpex.org.uk/events/conferences/innovation/

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