February 2016: Avoid the crowds

One of the biggest killers of efficiency in the pig production sector, outside health issues, is stocking density. We’ve been a victim of our own success here, as litter sizes and numbers being grown have increased within the same building space. Improvements in breeding efficiency have meant greater numbers of piglets weaned per sow, but have we provided the space for these extra pigs to grow?

There have been numerous studies showing the linear reduction in growth as space becomes more crowded. In the finisher accommodation, where the average weight of the pig is more than 85kg, but below 110kg, they should have 0.65 square metres per head. Occasionally this becomes challenged as breeding success supersedes physical space to house the additional progeny – but the impact is profound.

Sandra Edwards, now Professor of Agriculture at Newcastle University, conducted an elegant trial in association with ADAS, published in 1988, examining four groups of pigs, each with different levels of available space and growing from 34kg up to 85kg live weight. The least challenged group at 85kg complied with the Animal Welfare Regulations at 0.65 square metres per head. The next group down had 0.59 square metres. Here the impact on growth rate was to add 1.2 days to reaching the weight. The tightest group had 0.47 square metres and added 3.6 days.

This added time doesn’t seem too great, but remember, it’s only 51kg liveweight and the trial finished at 85kg, rather than the 100kg-plus that most producers are aiming for.

To put it in some form of context, another 3.6 days in the finisher house will add about 4.3kg of maintenance requirement, adding to the FCR burden and costing in the region of 78p/pig – nothing to do with feed density, health or environmental challenge, purely the impact of too many pigs per pen.

I referred to Canadian work published last year in previous columns that showed adding an additional drinker in the tighter pens alleviated some of the lack of growth, and could be useful in alleviating the symptoms, but it’s not the cure.

Hygiene also has a major impact on efficiency. Australian work from 1999, so again not new, showed that pigs lost 50g/day in growth rate if they were grown in unclean, continuous-flow housing, compared to a clean all-in/all-out system. Assuming a very modest 700g/day weight gain from weaning to slaughter at 100kg liveweight in the clean system, the loss of 50g/day adds 10 days to the time to reach slaughter weight – a huge amount of time, especially when you consider the maintenance requirement of the pig will be in the order of 30-40%.

Feed costs have fallen, which has helped production efficiency, but there are many more aspects than just the cost of the feed and allowing the pig to express its genetic potential.

I offer these thoughts as examples of where efficiency could be improved. Making improvements might be challenging, but with margins being squeezed, we need to extract as much from every aspect of production as possible in order to maximise efficiency.

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About The Author

Dr Phil Baynes has spent his career in pig welfare and nutrition. Based in Cheshire, he runs Baynes Nutrition and is a consultant nutritionist to Provimi.