Progressing weaned pig performance

Water and ventilation have been under scrutiny to help improve weaned pig performance at AHDB’s pilot Strategic Farm, host producer David Goodier’s 230-sow unit in Lancashire.

At the first open meeting with fellow producers and the allied industry, attendees discussed the problem of ‘marking up’ of weaners – scratching, often caused by agitation in the pigs – which was happening at about 45 days post-weaning. Water and ventilation were highlighted as possible contributing factors, so a buildings review was organised to look at both in more detail and identify areas for improvement.
AHDB Pork environment and buildings officer Emma Slater was involved in the review of the building, which is a typical ARM weaner house, built in 2012.

Simple changes to ventilation
Ms Slater recommended some practical improvements, most of which were about maintenance, relatively simple to make and typical of what she often discusses with producers. She said: “It’s worth all producers doing a quick, regular check of their buildings and ventilation systems.

“On David’s unit, we suggested using seals around the door, as there were large openings. When draughts cause pigs to get cold it can reduce performance, increase feed intake and contribute to an increase of vice.

“There were also some broken pulleys and cords controlling the inlets. The inlet size varied by as much as 75mm, causing a difference of air speed entering the room of 4m/s in some cases. They needed replacing and calibrating so they opened in unison.
“There are baffles on the fans because of the strong wind from the coast, but their position at the top of the fan shaft makes them difficult to clean, which reduces the efficiency of the fans.

“While not easy to fix, at least we have a better understanding of why, even at maximum ventilation, the system was not able to run at 100%.”
Some 12 months later improvements had been seen, but marking up had not been eradicated. So, to dig deeper, an on-farm DICAM environmental controller and BarnReport now produces a daily overview of temperature, ventilation and water use.

An evaluation of air patterns and speed revealed some inconsistencies, while operational temperatures were within the right parameters for all batches, except in the summer, when the temperature lift was within the expected range of 3-5°C for the majority of the time, suggesting the unit’s ventilation capacity is sufficient.
Maintenance is ongoing and regular monitoring continues in order to spot any further changes that may need to be made.

Become a new Strategic Farm host

AHDB's Kate Mellor

AHDB’s Kate Mellor

AHDB Pork is on the look out for more pig producers who are keen to become new Strategic Farm hosts, trialling new ideas to improve pig performance.
Senior knowledge exchange manager Kate Mellor said: “We’re ready to build on the success of the pilot initiative at David Goodier’s unit, adding more pig farmers to AHDB’s network of Strategic Farms in 2018.
“David and his family have provided pig producers and the allied industry with a great opportunity to share ideas, with a real-farm situation to have a good look at and discuss. Many minds are often better than one, and David Goodier saw a unique opportunity to learn and improve his 230-sow unit through taking part in AHDB’s pilot Strategic Farm.”
Mr Goodier said: “I’ve benefited from the pooling of ideas from other producers and industry advisors, with plenty of practical suggestions on what I could change to help improve pig performance.”

Apply now
AHDB Pork is looking for four Strategic Farm hosts to work with other producers and the industry on two key areas to help improve performance:
* Water quality and delivery
* Practical farm hygiene
Plus, each host will choose two further areas to focus on, specific to their business.
The scope for these is wide and possible examples include: establishing weaned pigs for better growth, skills management, staff retention and reducing tail biting.
For more information and an application form visit: or contact your knowledge exchange manager.
The deadline for applications is Wednesday, February 14.
AHDB Strategic Farms use farmer-to-farmer learning to accelerate the uptake of knowledge and provide a platform for farmers to explore the potential for best practice to have an impact on their business. Strategic Farms form one of AHDB’s Farm Excellence activities, designed to inspire the industry to improve performance and succeed through knowledge exchange.

Water testing

Water testing

Mr Goodier said: “Because we were seeing green slimy biofilm in the pipes in the weaner-grower accommodation, we put hydrogen peroxide in pipes in between batches, leaving it in for 24 hours.

“So, the water was tested to see how effective this cleaning process was and to find out if there were any water quality issues.”
The solution is stabilised hydrogen peroxide and applied in line with the supplier’s instructions. Water samples were tested for a number of aspects, including minerals, Ph and nitrites; plus e.coli, coliforms and total viable count (TVC).

Samples were taken at several points: from the borehole, the water’s entrance to the farm; in weaner rooms; from a point in the line after leaving header tanks and then at the nipple.

Ms Slater said: “The water entering the farm is clean and of recommended quality. However, after the header tank and at the nipple, the quality had dropped significantly. There wasn’t an issue with mineral levels but there were high TVC levels in the tank and nipple samples. This is about measuring the levels of living bacteria present in the water system being provided to pigs.

“Contamination can be bacterial but can also include fungi, moulds, viruses and parasites. The issue with microbiology contamination is that it can stimulate the immune response and exposure is known to decrease appetite and reduce feed conversion efficiency in pigs. Thus, it’s expensive, as a proportion of the food the pig is eating is going towards maintaining an activated immune system.

“On top of that, bacteria ingested in the water are using energy provided by the food – all of which combines to reduce growth.”
One of the concerns raised regarding Mr Goodier’s unit was whether using acid to treat his water might be increasing the level of biofilm, as it was a source of energy for bugs within it.

So the next steps will be to examine whether TVC can be controlled using a combination of acid and an extremely dilute disinfectant.
More information

* More detailed results and analysis will be discussed at the Strategic Farm open meeting on January 15 in Wetherby. Further details are available at or by emailing [email protected]
* A video on Good ventilation for pig farming, filmed on Mr Goodier’s unit, can be found on AHDB Pork’s YouTube channel:
* Water sample SOPs can be viewed online at:

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