UK - Banning sow stalls could be costing the UK pig industry one piglet per litter, a BPEX conference was told this week, reports Editor, Michael Priestley.
Aggression and stress seen in yarded systems in the first 30 days of pregnancy could be one of the factors holding back UK litter numbers, according to ACMC managing director, Matthew Curtis.
Speaking at the levy board’s Breed +3 event in Wetherby, Yorkshire, Mr Curtis said that Europe’s system of housing sows in stalls for up to 30 days post-service was a production advantage.
He suggested that, were the UK to operate under a partial sow stall ban, the ‘relatively low’ average piglet output per UK sow per year would be higher up the European chart.
“We have a different situation when we compare ourselves with Europe,” said Mr Curtis. “I personally believe that if we had a system that was very similar to that of Europe we would be much higher up the list. This is because of the reduction in stress when mixing sows after service.”
To overcome this setback, he said farmers had to operate within the legislative framework, suggesting selecting for temperament may help to avoid problems at gestation.
He added that preparing gilts for a life on the farm was also critical in ensuring high litters and good lifetime performance.
Mr Curtis underlined the Meidam breed as a sensible option. These pigs offer docile characteristics by combining Meishan with predominantly Landrace genetics, he explained.
But, it is not just temperament in breeding stock that is important, productive life span is too.
He said ensuring gilts are fed a bespoke gilt ration could be the answer to making sure the animal is set up for breeding.
“Some farmers feed gilt rearer diets right through to parturition in the belief that gilts are set up for life,” added Mr Curtis.
He also advocated the introduction of sentinels at the 35-kg stage to get new stock introduced to particular farm viruses.
Any measures to prepare the gilt for a long and productive life are important, said John Richardson of Production Performance Services Limited.
His message was that farm data taken from Agrosoft and Easycare showed how UK replacement rates were higher in the UK than the major Dutch and Danish rivals, but also when compared Spain and France.
“Farmers are not cherishing their gilts,” explained Mr Richardson, suggesting it could be a problem related to management or also simply having the wrong type of gilt on some farms.
Using data sets, he showed how around a third of sows are culled before the third litter and that over 80 per cent of sows on most farms have burnt out before parity six.
The reasons for this are varied. However, backs and legs are primary concerns, as is infertility, both indicating the case for increasing attention to good gilt management early on, he said.
“The data is showing too many sows are first and second parity sows, with many enough making third or fourth parity,” said Mr Richardson. “Data can be helpful in determining where you are going wrong but it is important not to set your targets too high.”
While specific problems will hamper sow longevity on different farms, Mr Richardson advised producers target the retention of young sows as an overreaching goal.