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Cutting FCR: the key to survival

by 5m Editor
5 October 2007, at 12:00am

If pig producers are to survive, they must quickly adapt to a demanding new challenge according to Dr Grant Walling, Director of Research and Genetics at JSR Genetics.

He believes that, with rising feed costs, pig producers must look to feed conversion ratios (FCR) to deliver long term profitability. He expands, "Successful businesses have always concentrated on those aspects of their operation that have a large affect on costs. Over the last two years, pig businesses have quite rightly concentrated on rises in mortality due to the impact of PMWS. Halving mortality from a problematic 10% to a more manageable 5% reduces the cost of production by approximately 4p/kg on an average UK unit. Now, however, rising feed prices have meant that, to stay profitable, producers must readjust their focus."

Traditionally sire lines have always been judged primarily on their growth rate - assuming an equivalent carcase. The recent reductions in mortality, achieved by changing terminal sires to Hampshire and Pietrain based sire lines, have resulted in further analysis of growth rates and carcase yields as these new genetic lines are assessed. Indeed, whilst average feed prices remained at their 2006 level, improving growth rates by 1% was more profitable than improving other traits by the same magnitude e.g. FCR (see graph 1).

COP Saving From Improving Growth And FCR On 2006 Feed Prices

Now, however, with rising feed prices, Dr Walling estimates that the cost of production for the average UK pig business has risen by 20p/kg over the last 12 months. He continues, "This means that growth alone is no longer the priority trait for business profitability. Research shows that, under current feed prices, a 1% improvement in FCR is significantly more profitable than an improvement in growth rate of the same magnitude" (see graph 2).

COP Saving From Improving Growth And FCR On 2007 Feed Prices

Based on The British Pig BPEX Yearbook's 2007 average UK FCR of 2.54 from weaning to slaughter, an achievable reduction of 0.20 to 2.34 would - at today's feed prices - reduce the cost of production by 4.9p/kg deadweight on the average UK farm. To achieve an equivalent reduction with other traits (again based on the BPEX Pig Yearbook, 2007) would require an improvement in growth of +60g/day weaning to slaughter, +0.95 pigs born alive or a reduction in post weaning mortality of 6 percentage points.

Those with the most to gain from an increased focus on FCR, according to Dr Walling, are the producers who changed to boars with higher appetite in an effort to reduce post weaning mortality and he concludes: "Higher appetite does not necessarily translate to greater feed efficiency and such lines may now be costing more to the business than they originally saved. Although the exact genetic changes that will occur to adjust for higher feed costs will vary across businesses, one change is certain - over the next 12 months every pig enterprise will be measuring FCR with greater precision.

September 2007