Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), the levy board for the meat sector North of the Border, operates a monitor-farm system to provide a platform for production trials and to stimulate debate among producers at regular meetings. Graeme Kirk sat in at the May meeting of the Scottish Pig Monitor Farm Project at Inverurie to hear the latest developments
Aberdeenshire farmer Danny Skinner is clearly getting used to public speaking. His Lazyfold unit, which was named QMS’ latest pig sector monitor farm at the end of 2012, now comes under regular scrutiny at project meetings that open with him updating fellow producers on recent performance.
It’s a spotlight that few pig farmers would relish, as at each meeting his quarterly figures are set out for all to see – the good and the bad. Although as far as Lazyfold, which Danny runs with his father, Dan, is concerned, it’s mostly good.
When the unit became monitor farm, it ran about 400 sows that were averaging 11.6 pigs born alive and was rearing 27.8 pigs/sow/year. The family’s targets at the time were to improve pig growth and weight gain. The figures revealed at Inverurie, for the three months to the end of March, showed sow numbers temporarily up to 445 to support a repop, born alives and numbers weaned 14.04 pigs/litter and 12.39 pigs/litter respectively – both records for Lazyfold – and pigs/sow/year at 28.56 (which isn’t far off the farm’s best performance of 29.05 achieved in April to June 2013.
Unfortunately, the finishing side has suffered in recent months and although FCR at 2.36 and feed cost/kg liveweight gain is an admirable 64p, daily liveweight gain is 665g/day (compared to 711g in the previous quarter and 688g nine months ago). Feeding days have also crept up to 158 (they were as low as 146 in the summer of 2013).
The Skinners are due to address this issue with a repop later this year, and a new grower building is also in the planning stages.
Elsewhere on the unit, Mr Skinner reported that he had been trialing the use of shredded paper in the farrowing pens for piglets. The key to this was using old carpet as a base – which the family had managed to secure a large supply of – to prevent the paper just falling through the slats. The only additional cost was for one-and-a-half bales of paper each week; the carpet was free!
A trial that compared five consecutive farrowings in five rooms using paper in every other farrowing crate found that only 20 piglets (out of 589 born) were crushed in the crates using the shredded paper, while 38 (out of 599 born) were crushed in those that didn’t use it. With the paper costing £700/year, the potential return on investment was £7,000.
Lazyfold had also moved from teeth clipping to teeth grinding, which Mr Skinner said didn’t take any longer than the old method. This led to a discussion with the group where the relative merits of wired and rechargeable grinders were argued, as well as a reminder from a previous trial that not clipping the smallest piglet in the group significantly benefited its growth rate by 50g/day.
The meeting revealed that Biomass boilers appear to be taking the Scottish pig industry by storm, with three of the units at the Inverurie meeting alone – including Lazyfold – having either installed or in the process of installing a system.
Mr Skinner reported that his installation had been up and running for seven months and had now produced 129mW of heat; 122mW had been used, making the system 94.9% efficient. But he acknowledged that he should, in fact, have put in a larger set-up.
“We were advised to install a 60kW system, which matches our requirements but limits the amount of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments we receive,” he explained. “The system will pay for itself in a little over 2.8 years, but if we had gone for a 120kW system, the higher income from RHI payments would have brought the payback period down to 2.55 years.”
Another interesting discussion at the meeting was on the relative performance of runts versus “poor doers”. Jamie Robertson of Aberdeen University, who facilitated the Inverurie meeting with Jim Booth of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, presented results of a study revealed at a recent Aberdeen Pig Group meeting that compared these two groups of piglets.
He said that the poor doers showed very little potential for economic production with an average FCR of 5.34 and a feeding cost of 134p/kg, while runts performed a bit better with an average FCR of 3.96 and a feeding cost of 99p/kg.
Mr Robertson said the conclusion was that there was little point even trying to take the poor doers to finished weight, and while finishing the runts was potentially profitable, in reality it would be more cost-effective to clear them out at lower weights and take any contract penalties.
“By clearing the finishing rooms earlier and leaving them empty to wash and dry effectively, there’s the opportunity for significant increases in performance of the next batch of pigs that come through the system,” he added.