October 2013 – Turning targets into reality

The nights may be drawing in, but as we’re now coming into a period of better-quality raw materials, there’s no better time to focus on key targets and make sure the rearing performance is up to scratch. If it’s not, then there are some questions to answer and an investigation into the support structure behind the production system to carry out.

Every aspect of pig production is well documented and recording mechanisms are available to enable comparisons to be made. These will show up where the targets should be and if they need reviewing.

I’ll focus on the rearing herd, for economic reasons. It’s well recognised that the key to successful pig rearing remains pre-weaning management and getting the piglet as heavy as possible at weaning with an educated gut.

The sow only has physical capacity to produce up to 14 litres of milk during peak lactation, so if spread (unrealistically) evenly over 12 teats, this equates to 1.17 litres/teat. With milk at 19% dry matter, this provides 222g/day during peak lactation. Sadly this will not ‘fuel’ the full genetic potential for the growth of a suckling piglet, particularly in week four of lactation. The only solution, if the target is to optimise weaning weight, is to provide additional nutrition during this phase.

Whether this be creep feeding by pellet, meal, micrumb, porridge or supplemental milk feeding systems, they all have a place and should be regarded seriously as a way to improve performance.

At weaning, the piglet should be at least 7kg liveweight on average. BPEX figures show that the top 10% of farms wean a 7.31kg piglet at 26 days of age. But this is only one of the key targets. By 56 days old piglets should be 15kg liveweight, which is a modest 267g/day from weaning. However, data shows that this is achievable by day 38. But to achieve this, the piglet would have to reach a weaning weight of more than 9kg and a growth rate of just under 500g/day.

We then have the key milestones of 30kg (the old standard) and 12 weeks (maximum age for higher levels of copper in the diet). The old adage of 30kg at 10 weeks generally still stands, which would require a growth rate of 523g/day from weaning. However, a heavier piglet at weaning can achieve this magical 30kg 10 days earlier and with growth rates of more than 650g/day.

Based on 30kg in 10 weeks, by 12 weeks the pig should have reached 40kg, but if weaning weight is higher and the bar is raised, then the pig could reach 50kg by 12 weeks.

Finally, 100kg should be reached by at least day 169, which gives the growth rate of 650g/day from weaning. But there’s data supporting this being achievable by day 132, relying again on a higher weaning weight in order to achieve a growth rate of 875g/day from weaning.

I have laid out some achievable targets, as well as some aspirations. It’s worth asking if these targets are being achieved and if not, why not? Maybe there’s the opportunity to make some improvements and reach these new goals?

> 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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