High Productivity on a Breeding Farm in Belgium

Wouter Seynaeve, a young Belgian pig farmer, described his very successful breeding unit at the latest JSR Technical Conference. Editor of ThePigSite, Jackie Linden, reports on the secrets of his unit's success.
calendar icon 27 February 2009
clock icon 6 minute read

Wouter Seynaeve comes from a pig farming family. He studied for three years in general technical agriculture. This was followed by four years experience on a pig farm for a Belgium integrator, for which he was promoted to farm manager. He did this job for four years.

In 2004, he started to build his own unit for 480 sows. At the beginning of 2005, his first high health animals were delivered from JSR in the UK.

He achieves excellent results from his herd, and he shared some of the secrets of his success at the 2008 JSR Technical Conference.

Wouter Seynaeve

Mr Seynaeve started with some background information about the pig industry in Belgium. With a human population of 11 million, Belgium has 6900 pig farms with a total of 6.3 million pigs, including 480,000 sows. They rear, on average, 23 pigs per year. Average daily gain from 23 kg is 680 grammes. Thanks to a high proportion of Pietrain boars - around 90 per cent of terminal sires - lean meat percentage averages 60-61.

The Pali Group Pig Unit

The virtual tour of the farm started with the quarantine unit, which has places for 60 gilts. The aim is for the gilts to become familiar with the gestation feeding system over the 6 to 14-week period that they stay in quarantine.

Biosecurity is given a high priority on the farm. At the entrance to the unit are a shower and facilities for a complete change of clothing. The cool room for semen storage is also in this area.

The serving area has 111 stalls with automatic feeders and a front corridor for the teaser boar. For maximum stimulation, the lighting level is intense and the lactation diet is fed at a high level.

During gestation, the sows and gilts are moved to one of four pregnancy units with 360 places. There is a self-feeding system, operated by electronic ear tags, according to one of eight or ten different feeding curves. The sows were pregnancy-tested twice during this period to ensure they are in pig.

In the two farrowing houses have a total of 90 places (80 in the main room and 10 in smaller room nearby). There is under floor heating, automatic feeding and an option ventilation system that sows can operate for themselves.

The farm has three weaner compartments – one with 250 places and another two with 1000 places each. There is an automatic feeding system using up to three different feeds. There are facilities for heating to 30 or 31°C. The high temperature is required because the piglets are weaned early.

Other facilities at the site are heating, feeding, office with computer control, climate control and a weighing area.

Management System

One of the first of its type in Belgium, the whole farm is based on a four-week cycle: week 1, serving; week 2, farrowing; week 3, delivering piglets and week 4, weaning. The herd is effectively split in five groups: three in lactation, one in the serving area and one in the farrowing department. Weeks 1, 2 and 4 have a higher demand for labour, while week 3 has a lower work load. This enables the whole farm to be managed by just Mr Seynaeve himself, with some help from his father, who also manages the fattening unit.

The main advantage of the system, says Mr Seynaeve, is that it is easy to organise the labour force, while giving the opportunity to bring in less skilled workers for jobs such as cleaning. At just 0.5 hours per piglet, labor use is highly efficient. By weaning at 21 days, the farrowing index is high.

The working system also allows close concentration on each task, which is an important advantage. The four-week cycle makes it easier to achieve and maintain a high health status in the herd. "If the weaners are healthy, the whole unit is healthy," says Mr Seynaeve.

Finally, construction costs are kept to a minimum by this system. It is particularly important to get maximum use from the farrowing area, which is the most expensive to construct.

The greatest disadvantage of the system identified by Mr Seynaeve is the requirement for high husbandry skills to manage a unit weaning at just three weeks of age. Furthermore, peak labour demand can be very high, especially carrying out 100 servings or farrowing 90 litters within a few days. As Mr Seynaeve says, inseminating the last five sows in the group requires the same level of attention as the first five.

To show just how efficient his system is, Mr Seynaeve presented some data comparing the costs and returns of a system with a one-week cycle and his with 4 weeks.

Comparison of efficiency of using farrowing crates in a one- and four-week systems
One-week cycle Four-week cycle
No. of farrowing crate required in theory 75 60
Litter per crate per year 10.4 13.0
Percentage occupancy 90 98
Piglets weaned per litter 10.5 10.5
Piglets produced per year 7371 8026
Cost per crate per piglet per year, € 3.56 2.62

Mr Seynaeve summarised the advantages of his system in these words, "Higher efficiency, lower costs, higher production level - and more fun." He presented production data from his unit to support the first three of these points.

Production data
Parameter Level
No. of sows 460
Piglets born per litter 13.4
Piglets born alive per litter 12.5
Farrowing index 2.46
Piglets weaned per litter 10.89
Sow replacement rate, % 41
Average daily gain by weaners (5.5-25.5 kg), g 380
Mortality of weaners, % 1.6
Medication cost per piglet, € 0.28
Piglets sold per year 11,607
Liveweight at slaughter, kg 119
Feed conversion 2.8
No. of sows 460
Mortality, % 3.2

Finally, Mr Seynaeve stated his ambitions to continue with the system for another two years and then close the unit!

February 2009

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