Duncan Berkshire is one of the lead vets within the five-vet pig team at Bishopton Veterinary Group, based in Yorkshire
We are near the end of the year with so many things still to be sorted: we have had political excitement, trade challenges, the severely late (and still-awaited) introduction of the new Welfare Codes, activists on farm and a domestic market that has not responded to how it was expected in light of the huge ASF problems in China.
Where are we meant to focus our attention when there is so much else going on?
Most important at all times must be the pigs on farm. We have seen some enormous changes in those pigs over the last couple of years, and the way we work with them to give them the best life, and also get the best from them, has to be fluid in order for us to achieve that aim.
Now is the time to make sure we are questioning and addressing all these areas that can have an effect. If you have changed your genetics, sire-line or dam-line, then you may have even more reason to review these. Have you spoken to your nutritionist about looking at raw materials and whether your rations are designed for your animals?
There is evidence coming through that how they grow is significantly different to what we are used to, and so we need to feed them accordingly – if we get this wrong then we can end up compromising our pigs hugely from where we should be.
When was the last time that you had your building controls serviced? Or, indeed, checked that your huts and tents are weatherproof for the upcoming months? The response of our pigs to fluctuating temperatures, and particularly airflow at their height, has altered and this can result in vice, along with increasing the likelihood of us seeing clinical disease.
Have you sat down with your vet to review any health challenges that you have seen within your pigs? Regardless of any changes you may have made elsewhere within your unit, this is the time of year when the weather changes and we see increased viral circulation.
This can set off a chain reaction with everything else that may otherwise be stable on farm, creating more clinical problems than we have been used to over the last few months. Couple this with not providing the optimum nutrition and/ or environment and we could end up with a set of pigs that are not reaching their potential, and also costing us money.
Despite all the external challenges currently presenting themselves to us, we would do well to make sure that we have covered off the parts of the system within our control – that is on our unit, with our pigs.
This will not only ensure we are upholding the welfare of those animals in our care, but also that we are being as efficient as we can, so setting us up well for the future challenges of 2020 and beyond.