Danish pig management pointers

The second day of October’s Herning Pig Congress featured a series of presentations in English about how to best look after Danish-bred stock. Graeme Kirk looks at some of the trial work highlights discussed during the meetings

Best practice in the farrowing house

Flemming Thorup and Lisbeth Brogaard Petersen of the Danish Pig Research Centre tackled the subject of farrowing and presented a lively mix of practical advice and recent research findings.

Mr Thorup said that Danish sows tended to be slow to get started at farrowing time and that the first four piglets could arrive as much as two hours apart; with an hour between the rest. If any piglet was taking longer than this, intervention was advised.

He added that if you did needed to assist a sow, it was important not to let the glove touch anything except the inside of the sow.
“Make sure the stall is open and ready so you don’t need to use that hand to open it, and don’t even use your other hand to spread lubricant on the glove – just apply it straight onto the glove,” he said. “If you make sure you don’t touch anything, you won’t get a discharge after intervention.”

Ms Petersen discussed a research project where piglets had been given access to ad-lib milk by putting Rescue Deck cups in the farrowing pens from birth. She reported that the trial had cut lactation mortality from 10% to 5% compared to a control group. The daily weight gain of the piglets was the same in both the trail and control group, but as the trial weaned more piglets, the overall weight of the weaned pigs was greater.

“This isn’t yet best practice as it’s quite expensive,” she said, “but we’re continuing with trials to try and identify which litters this system could be used for.”

It’s common practice to wean piglets at 6kg in Denmark, and also common to keep any pigs that are lighter than that on the sow for an extra week to help them catch up.

However, Mr Thorup reported on a trial where all the pigs were weaned at the same time.

“We found that keeping the smaller piglets on the sow made no difference to their final performance,” he said. “But there were big advantages for the producer as weaning all the pigs at once was less complicated as all the sows were ready to breed at the same time, and it was more hygienic as you had an all-in/all-out system.”

Best practice in growers and finishers

Kristian Jensen, an adviser with Midtjysk Svinerådgivning, began his presentation by reinforcing the importance of drying out your pig accommodation thoroughly before housing a new batch.

“Every surface will be the same temperature if it is dry,” he said. “If the pigs have to dry out the pen their only fuel to produce heat is feed; that will mean extra cost to you and less growth for the pigs.”

Mr Jensen also discussed the importance of milling feedstuffs sufficiently for efficient feed conversion. Trial work in growers compared feeding a finely ground ration (where all particles were less than 2.5mm and 70% were less than 1mm in size) to a coarse ration (all particles less than 5.5mm).

While the feed intake of both groups was the same, the daily liveweight gain in the group fed the finer ration was 18g higher at 561g/day and the feed conversion ratio was 0.05 lower at 1.76. The difference was worth 35p/pig, even allowing for the extra energy put into milling.

Mr Jensen went on to suggest that bought-in pelleted rations from compounders tended to give a better FCR than home-mix rations simply because the industrial pelleting process tended to use a finer milling process.

Gilt unit best practice

Gunner Sørensen of the Pig Research Centre discussed the use of Altresyn, a treatment containing the hormone progesterone, that had been approved for use in Denmark last year for delaying the onset of oestrus. If used properly, this could be used to synchronise heats and maintain even batches at farrowing.

To use Altresyn in gilts, the pig must have been in oestrus at least one; the treatment had to be given every day for 18 days; and the dose had to be given at the same time every day (+/-15 minutes).

The dose was 5ml/day, given orally, and it had to be administered when the gilt wasn’t under stess. Mr Sørensen advised feeding the pig a little apple juice for three days before starting the treatment to get her used to the idea.

When the Altresyn treatment was stopped, the gilt could be served six to eight days later.

The treatment cost about £9/head, but to put that in context, the cost of delayed mating in gilts had been calculated at £4.50/week in feed alone.

Best practice in the service house

Marie Louise Pederson, a project manager at the Danish Agriculture and Food Council’s Pig Research Centre, discussed best practice in the service unit at the Herning Pig Congress.

Her presentation concentrated on oestrus detection, and in particular recent research that suggested in some circumstances the Danish pig Industry’s Five-Point Plan for detecting heat (below) didn’t need to be followed to the letter.


  • Apply pressure with a fist to the flank.
  • Grab and lift the inguinal fold.
  • Apply pressure with a fist under the genital opening.
  • Massage the corners of the sow’s hips.
  • Sit on the sow (back pressure test).

In one trial, sows were split into two groups where one group was tested for oestrus using the full Five-Point Plan, while only the back-pressure test was used on the second group. The results showed no difference in farrowing rate or litter size.

In a second trial, two groups were inseminated with either the inseminator sitting on the sow’s back – which had become the usual practice in Denmark – or with the insemination bag attached by elastic. Again, there was no difference in farrowing rate between the two groups.

Ms Pederson said it was clear that it wasn’t necessary to follow the full Five-Point Plan, although she advised that the reduced-plan approach only be used in normal sows in herds with farrowing rates more than 90% and where the staff was experienced.

She added that it wasn’t worth sitting on the sows’ backs either as it took up too much time and would free staff for other tasks. But she warned that on many units, insemination had become a cosy social event, almost like a small-scale meeting, where the farm staff would discuss all sorts of things. If this social opportunity was lost, a separate staff meeting should be arranged at another time.

Discussing oestrus detection in gilts, Ms Pederson said checking for heat once a day was sufficient if it was done properly, and that meant giving them access to a boar and using the back-pressure test. If only visual checks were made, two, three and even four checks might be required.

The best time for heat detection was when the pigs were calm and there was no disturbance, although it was important to make sure there was time to inseminate the whole batch if necessary.

Look, think, act

You may have heard of the Horse Whisperer, but Dutchman Kees Scheepens is well-known throughout the Continent as the Pig Whisperer. His longstanding career as a pig vet, and as a pig farmer in his own right, has helped him to develop the Pig Signals concept, that he has now written about in four books.

According to Mr Scheepens, too many stockmen suffer from what he calls “farm blindness”. This is where they get stuck in a routine that means they miss the subtle signs that pigs give off to indicate their state of happiness, or stress.

By following the Pig Signals concept of “look, think, act”, however, stockmen can learn to focus on their pigs’ behaviour, really see what they’re telling them, and use that knowledge to help improve the performance of the herd.

The starting point for Pig Signals is how pig species behave in the wild. In an ideal situation, pigs in farmed situations will be seen to act in the same way.

For example, when a pig curls its tail, it’s a sign that it’s content; and pigs making a barking sound like a dog is also a sign of contentment. A hanging tail, however, means that there’s something worrying the pig, and naturally a scream is a sound made under stress.

While a pig sitting like a dog may look happy enough, it’s not a natural position for the animal and usually indicates something is wrong. A pig with an arched back is another sign that the stockman should investigate further.

Truly content pigs will lie stretched out like they’re sunbathing, and stress-free pigs should sleep for 18-20 hours/day. If they’re stressed, however, they’ll tend to be more active and waste food on moving around rather than growing. Studies have shown that stress can also affect how pigs perceive their environment, which can affect their feeding behaviour and reduce intakes.

Mr Scheepens also said that pigs have the same sense of taste as humans: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami; and bitter was the only one they didn’t like. Unfortunately, the fact they like umami can be a problem as its present in blood. The pigs that get a taste for it are more likely to be tail biters.

Two other pointers from Mr Scheepens included the fact that pigs will never get used to cold air, and draughts will result in them running around. Typically 70% of pigs will be active where cold air is an issue, which can result in head knocks and wounds.
Also, pigs won’t walk any further than 10m to defecate. If the dunging area is too far, the pigs will defecate before they get there, encouraging their pen-mates to do the same.

Some of the Herning Pig Congress presentations can be found online at: http://goo.gl/jvTvd8 (numbers 33, 55, 61 and 68 are in English).

Get Our E-Newsletter - Pig World's best stories in your in-box twice a week
Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

About The Author