March 2016: Valuable tips on reducing pig production costs

We often look to The Continent for hints and tips on how to increase the efficiency of UK pig production, but AHDB Pork’s recent webinar, Coping with Low Prices, showed there’s some very good advice available from closer to home.

The highlight for me was the head of the pig development department at Teagasc (the Republic of Ireland’s agricultural advisory service), Ciarán Caroll, who gave a presentation full of practical cost-saving pointers.

Mr Caroll began by saying that with no control over market conditions or the future supply of feed ingredients, producers had to focus on what they did have influence over, and that was factors inside the farm gate.

Reducing feed wastage was a natural place to start, especially in the finisher house where 60% of feed costs were spent. He said fixing or replacing broken feeders, adjusting them properly and ensuring proper stocking rates, could all add up to a 4% reduction in food wastage worth £1.55/head, or £19,000 for a 500-sow herd.

And, anyone not already using at least two finisher rations should change to that system, Mr Caroll said. A high energy density diet fed from 32kg could be replaced by a lower density diet costing about £12/t less at 60kg. The saving here could amount to as much as £8,000 annually for a 500-sow herd.

Where possible under producer contracts, going to higher carcase weights was another strategy for greater profits. Changing from finishing at 95kg liveweight to 105kg would cost an extra 95p/kg, Mr Caroll said, but at a pig price of 109p/kg that could be worth an extra £1.23/pig or £16,000 per year for a 500-sow herd.

Split-sex selling was also a good way to cut costs, he suggested, as it had been established that while gilts and boars had a similar feed conversion efficiency (FCE) up to about 85kg liveweight, the figure for gilts dropped off significantly at higher weights. Aiming at an average sale weight of 104kg (taking gilts to 99kg and boars to 109kg), the overall improvement in FCE would be worth £19,000 annually for 500 sows.

Feeding expensive weaner diets for too long was another expensive mistake some producers were making, Mr Caroll said. The switch to the first-stage finisher ration could be made at 32kg, which could save up to £19,000 a year for a 500-sow herd.

His final suggestion on feeding strategies was to switch to formulating rations using digestible energy rather than net energy. Especially useful for diets with high-fibre ingredients, this switch could bring potential savings of £1.55/t or £5,500 annually.

Mr Caroll also made the point that keeping excess gilts could be an expensive exercise. The target gilt pool should be 12% of the herd size, he said, but as a gilt will eat about 210kg of feed until it farrows, the cost of culling excess gilts was about £47/head.

The full webinar can be found online by CLICKING HERE.

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About The Author

Graeme Kirk has been editor of Pig World since March 2013. Born into a farming family in South-west Scotland, he’s spent his career in agricultural journalism.