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A Simple Guide to Finishing Pigs

21 August 2015

Finishing pigs to the target specification requires tremendous attention to detail. Melanie Jenkins provides an overview of the different systems.

Whether you have free-range or indoor pigs, advances in management and breeding mean it is now easier to produce lean pork suitable for a variety of markets.

“Most people are pushing their liveweights up to around 115kg and look to achieve up to 85kg deadweight,” says Stephen Winfield, knowledge transfer leader at AHDB Pork. This opens up a variety of markets and provides consistency to buyers.

Indoor System

An indoor system can be high maintenance but offers benefits such as close monitoring of animal welfare and optimum conditions for growth and health.

Indoor finishing units usually have concrete, part–slatted, or fully slatted floors. Concrete flooring should be bedded up with straw and can suffer from poor drainage. Part-slatted floors offer better drainage but can lead to lesions, while fully slatted floors are easy to wash but can result in sole bruising.

According to RSPCA Assured, the stocking density should be at least 0.3m² per 30kg pig including a 0.2m² bedded area, with a 110kg pig requiring 0.8m² with 0.53m² of bedding.

There are several options for indoor feeding systems, including dry or wet and dry feed, which can improve daily live weight gain. Feeding space depends on whether the feed is restricted or ad–lib, says Mr Winfield. “Pigs between 35kg and 120kg should have 200-300mm of feed space for restricted feed and 50-75mm for ad-lib systems.”

Constant access to water is vital, with a recommended 5-6 litres of water per pig each day. “Indoor temperature needs to be regulated: The AHDB recommends 15-21°C (59-70°F) for pork finishers and 13-18°C (55-64°F) for bacon finishers.”

Farmers with indoor pigs tend to supply larger retailers or the export market.

Outdoor or free range system

The outdoor sector accounts for 40% of production in the UK, often attracting a premium through farm assurance schemes and local niche markets, says Mr Winfield. However, outdoor finishing takes longer than indoor pigs, as feed conversion efficiencies aren’t as good.

Soils should be free draining, and RSPCA Assured recommends that free range pigs should have at least 12m² of paddock space per pig where accommodation is moved to new paddocks after each batch, and at least 40m² a pig on permanent sites.

Outdoor pigs must have a windproof and waterproof shelter with adequate bedding, as avoiding issues such as sunburn and heat stress can improve finishing rates and reduce mortality.

Although outdoor systems can provide a cleaner and healthier environment for pigs with simplified waste management, it can increase the risk of disease and infectious outbreaks such as salmonella, so bio-security measures are vital.

Case Study

Andrew Freemantle started producing pigs at Kenniford Farm, Exeter, Devon, UK, 17 years ago and has since set up his own farm shop. He runs an indoor finishing system that he is now remodelling to improve efficiencies. “The current system has become expensive and inefficient to run,” he says. “Our original shed has a concrete floor which is hard to clean and uses a great deal of straw. It is basically losing us money.”

The new unit will have a part-slatted floor, complete with pig toys and a fan ventilation system to modulate the temperature. Numerous windows and a light sensor will ensure the pigs get 12 hours of daylight year-round.

“It will be a huge improvement for the pigs,” says Mr Freemantle. “The slats will keep the pigs clean and reduce straw use. And we are installing one bite drinker for every five pigs, which is double the recommendation and should encourage them to eat more and finish faster.” The ad-lib compound ration will now be fed via wet/dry feeders. “If we can improve the feed conversion ratio (FCR) by a few points then we will see costings fall and the pigs should finish faster,” he adds.

“We have 16 sows farrowing every week so we finish about 180 pigs a week.” The piglets are weaned at 28 days, then split into groups with a low stocking density of 0.75m²/pig.

Breeding is instrumental to producing long, lean and healthy pigs, and Mr Freemantle uses a Large White crossed with Landrace for optimum FCR and daily live weight gain. Selecting the most suitable boar he uses artificial insemination to get the right results.

“The new unit is a gamble for us with such a huge investment, but it should pay off if we can improve on our current system, finishing pigs faster on less feed,” he says. “We basically need to make the system as efficient as possible otherwise the business is not sustainable.”

August 2015

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