Strategic Farm latest – taking time out to get a longer-term view

How AHDB Strategic Farm participant David Goodier is aiming to build on two successful years in the programme

Analysing herd data to better understand performance trends has paid dividends on Lancashire producer David Goodier’s 230-sow farrow-to-finish unit, helping to reveal the priority areas for improvement.

The farm has completed two years in AHDB’s Strategic Farms programme with a number of positives to build on, including a jump in conception rates from 79% to 90%, a drop in piglet mortality and an increase of nearly two more piglets weaned/sow/ year. Mr Goodier is also looking beyond annual performance figures and working to improve young sow retention, sow lifetime performance and herd parity profile.

Improvements and changes were influenced by discussions at open meetings with other producers and the allied industry and there has been support from David’s farm advisers, vet, AHDB and other producers along the way.

Simple changes in breeding herd have made a large initial impact, particularly around service timing and routine.

Farrowing rate has improved, on average, from 77.4 to 82.6 in the last two years – achieved through big increases in the later parities, but there are still improvements to be made in gilts and parity two sows.

The total number of pigs born alive has also increased by almost a pig, from 12.7 to 13.5, as has the total number weaned, up from 10.8 two years ago to 11.7.

“There are still ongoing challenges for gilts and second parity sows but the service timing and AI environment looks to have improved performance from the mature sows,” Mr Goodier said.

The service area layout has been changed to provide two separate artificial insemination pens. He added: “This has helped with more accurate heat detection and improved the insemination environment for both sows and staff. The new layout also provides a post-service rest area before the sow goes back to her group.”

AHDB knowledge exchange manager Angela Cliff worked closely with David to investigate the duration of oestrus and, in conjunction with on-farm support from Garth Pig Practice vets, the plan was developed to optimise the timing of insemination. It was decided to serve each sow twice, instead of three times. They also now leave a longer time between detection and first AI, so that both inseminations are contributing to optimum cover.

“The right time to inseminate varies between farms and individual sows,” Ms Cliff said. “So we used the oestrus mapping programme, PIGSIS, at David’s farm, to help ensure timing of insemination was as close to the optimum number of hours before ovulation as possible. On any unit, producers can do this by keeping records of the number of days between weaning and oestrus, the duration of oestrus and any variations in these. The key is to identify the start of standing heat accurately.

“While it’s impossible to know exactly when ovulation will happen, having a better understanding of the trends in his herd has meant David and his team have the confidence to wait until they see a proper heat before serving.”

While gilt management is still a key area to work on, Mr Goodier’s key aims are retaining more gilts from each intake and improving their lifetime performance.

“More young animals are now being retained and are moving into the productive parities of three, four and five, which is improving the parity profile,” Ms Cliff said. “However, there is still 20% of the herd in the least productive tail at the moment.

“When we looked at the gilt ‘flow’ through the system, assessing body condition, feeding and other aspects of management we found gilts’ condition score was generally too high at farrowing and too low at weaning. The feed curve was adjusted to address this, feeding less during the middle part of gestation, which encourages better appetite during lactation.”

Mr Goodier is now weighing parity one and parity two sows going in to the farrowing house and again post-weaning, in addition to taking back fat measurements. The condition of parity one sows is ‘now nearer where it should be at each stage’.

Ms Cliff added: “There have also been good improvements in young sow litter size, and young sow retention rate. However, the least productive tail of the older sows is depressing overall herd potential. It brings us back to the priority that we still need to retain more gilts and young sows to mature into parity three and beyond.”

An Opticare supplementary milk feeding system for piglets was installed in some of the farrowing pens in autumn 2017 to help improve weaning weight and litter uniformity. Initial results seem to show improved creep intake and pigs on the Opticare system have been consistently weaning at 0.75 kg more than those not receiving the supplementary milk.

With AHDB’s help, Mr Goodier reviewed the environment in the weaner accommodation, following issues with marking up at about 45 days post-weaning. Problems with green, slimy biofilm in the water pipes prompted them to test the water.

They found the quality of water entering the farm was clean but coliforms had developed by the time water reached the nipple drinkers. A deep clean carried out between batches, leaving hydrogen peroxide (EndoSan) in the pipes for 24 hours, was very beneficial and reduced the total coliforms to zero. However, they were more than 30 cfu/100ml four weeks later.

The next step, in addition to the deep clean between batches, was to use continual low-level dosing throughout the batch with EndoSan, which is stabilised solution of hydrogen peroxide formulated specifically for this purpose. The results, in the graph, below, show coliforms maintained at a much lower level for longer.

A batch of 284 pigs going through David’s new finisher building have been individually tagged and weighed at birth, weaning, transfer to finishing at 86 days and at first draw for sale at 146 days. This has given some understanding of the patterns of variation throughout the finishing period.

Ms Cliff says: “It’s no surprise that, in general, the heavier birthweight piglets had greater weaning weights and sale weights, but the differences between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of pigs are quite stark.

“Comparing the groups from the lightest birth weight piglets versus the lightest sale weight piglets, we found there were six pigs common to both groups. However, we also found that growth rate during suckling was poorest from the lightest sale weight pigs, which would indicate that it was not just the light birthweight piglets per se at risk of not performing but also those that had probably failed to thrive or had more challenges in the farrowing house.”


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