Where now for breeding herd performance?

Digging a little deeper into the latest physical performance figures for English pig herds, BPEX knowledge transfer manager Angela Cliff says there have been some great successes, but there are more challenges ahead

The BPEX rolling 12-month dataset (from Agrosoft figures) has reported modest gains for the English breeding herd performance up to June 2013. This headline masks some great success stories, but the dataset also highlights some challenges ahead.

In a nutshell, the best indoor producers are still getting better, but the real success has been in the lowest performing section of the industry. The outdoor herd has also improved and, at about 25 pigs/sow/year weaned, the top 10% of outdoor producers have surpassed the average indoor producers – although, there are still big gains to be made in numbers born alive.

It’s becoming more apparent that we must talk about the indoor and outdoor herds’ performance separately, as there is now an average difference in output of 2.5 pigs/sow/year weaned (see Figure 1).

Why has the indoor sector shown the most improvement? Well, interestingly, the greatest change has come from those units in the lowest performing section of the dataset. They have been producing an extra 2.5 pigs/sow/year since September 2011, but the reasons why are difficult to identify. It’s probably a combination of improving herd health and technical skill set, and some poorer units closing.

The other success story is that the top-performing indoor units continue to improve and have averaged just over 29 pigs/sow/year weaned for the first time.

Compared with the indoor herds, performance improvements outdoors have been improving at a lower rate. The top performing units have now achieved 25 pigs/sow/year weaned, but the question is how to lift the outdoor herd performance from here. As Figure 1 shows, these herds have made little improvement in the past two years.

Differences in performance indoors and out appears to be down to the difference in total born alive per litter and per year. Between June 2012 and June 2013, the top 10% of indoor units achieved a significant improvement, with the total born alive at each farrowing increasing from 13.08 pigs to 13.53 and the total born/year increasing from 33.53 to 35.

The top outdoor units, meanwhile, have had their performance checked. The total born/year was up marginally from 29.14 to 29.5, but born alives fell from 11.85/litter in 2012 to 11.81 this year.

As both sectors are achieving a comparable pre-weaning mortality, this can only result in more pigs weaned from the indoor sector. But why was outdoor performance checked? This is possibly due to weather and health challenges in this sector of the industry during the past year, which have had an impact on sow feeding, body condition score and fertility.

For outdoor producers focused on improving numbers born alive, the areas to address could include service management, feeding, condition score, gilt and second-parity litters, parity profile and managing seasonality. It depends on the particular unit.

There must also be a threshold on how many piglets born alive per litter an outdoor system can successfully rear. This is probably not at the current level of 11.8 piglets, but will probably be between 12.00-12.5. So, the major drive for improving output from the outdoor sector will come from raising the performance from the average units.

So where to now for the breeding herds? The BPEX Breed+3 initiative aims to encourage all producers to examine their unit’s performance and identify problem areas. There will always be something that can be improved and your regional knowledge transfer manager will be happy to help you achieve the next level!

 To view all the latest physical performance data visit: www.bpex.org.uk/prices-facts-figures/costings/

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