March 2014: New ways to make pigs grow more quickly

It’s not only the pigs that have improved during the past 60 years or so; for nearly half that time Pig World has been reporting on new ideas in how they should be produced.

We’ve featured new housing designs, new building and insulation materials, various ventilation techniques and new feed ingredients, trying to develop a better understanding of the benefits of each of them and, of course, what a pig actually requires to grow quicker than before.

Plastics have played a big part, not only with flooring but also panelling for pen divisions. And we have a number of ways of heating floors for piglets, either in covered or open creep areas. Extra milk can also be fed, if required, much more easily nowadays, and the modern range of nipple drinkers give easy access to water for piglets too. Modern feeding systems have taken the drudgery out of manual feeding.

I suppose with fatter and slower-growing pigs there was perhaps less stress on them and that kept the number of disease issues in check. Increase to 100 sows and there would be an odd cough and a bit more scour, but go to 200 and the vet made frequent visits. Today we’re hopefully getting ahead of current disease problems thanks to the magnificent work done by the vets and the pharmaceutical companies.

Back then pressure washers weren’t all the rage, so perhaps washing out wasn’t considered all that important. As the national herd grew, and units became bigger and more intensive, washing out was important so we were blessed with a number of companies that cleverly designed a range of both hot and cold machines.

Having spent hours on the end of a lance blasting water here, there and everywhere, I can think of nothing more boring. Having said that, a producer recently told me he found it therapeutic; it gave him time to think. Good job we’re not all the same.

One development that’s impressed me recently is LED lighting. I’m positive it has a huge future in our industry, and not just for the cost savings – which are considerable – but for the calming influence it has on the stock. I first saw it three years ago in Sweden and was fascinated by the system.

I recently attended a meeting to hear more about LED lighting and its benefits. One definite advantage is that the LED lights don’t give off heat and aren’t a fire risk. Strip lights, although an improvement at the time, can cause problems and can be expensive, particularly for sows that need at least 16 hours of light per day.

A producer near me has taken the plunge and installed LED lights in a finisher house; he’s currently building a new farrowing house as well, so I’m sure there’ll be more to say about LED lights when I go and see him later this year.

> Yorkshire farmer Sam Walton is a former pig producer and the founding editor of Pig World

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