Not enough time spent on the baby pig?

Surveys conducted since 2006 suggest that, at present on European farms of between 350 and 1,500 sows, about 58% of man-hours per sow per year is spent on breeding to weaning, 24% on weaning to finishing and 18% on other tasks – repairs, maintenance, records and management.

While more time is being spent on the vital breeding sector, within it I suspect too little time is being spent establishing the baby pig.

Support comes from the figures published by many pig industries that show mortality of piglets born-alive to weaning has stubbornly stuck at 10 to 12% for decades (a better figure is 1.2 to 1.5 of born-alives).

Some of this stagnation is due to bigger litter sizes and, with many of my clients now averaging over 12 born-alives, two of these pigs per litter are being lost (15% if you prefer). This is about 4.5 fewer piglets per sow per year brought through to weaning (of whatever weaning age).

I suggest this accounts for the frustration of those breeders who’re unable to reach the 30 pigs/sow/year figure we hear so much about these days, despite having, they tell me, invested in better housing and equipment.

I also suggest that they have not invested in sufficient labour time in the complex skills of baby pig care from attended farrowing to secure establishment to weaning.

Looking deeper into where the time is being spent within the 58% of man-hours allocated to breeding to weaning, it seems that even with these welcome larger litters, the typical farrow-to-finish breeder is only according 6% (about 13.2 man-hours/sow/year) of his total labour force availability devoted to baby pigs.

Thirteen man-hours may sound sufficient, but results suggest it’s nowhere near enough. Six of my clients who consistently wean 28 pigs/sow/year spend 37.5 man-hours/sow/year (17%) in just looking after baby pigs. More survive those vital six hours after being born and more continue to make it to weaning. How these experts do it, and what equipment they use, is a subject I’ll address later.

Don`t get me wrong; I’m not calling for more labour, but a better redistribution of labour, leaving the less-skilled jobs to other staff, allowing the highly skilled farrowing and nursery staff more time to do what they need to do in this technically advanced age.

The car assembly, electronics and our own meat and dairy-processing industries do it by specialising/prioritising tasks – as I’ve found out from visiting them – but that’s the basis for an intriguing and longer article for Pig World.

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)