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I Want it all... and want it now... Eight ball plan could show you how

by 5m Editor
7 December 2007, at 12:00am

By Sue Corning, PIC UK. This is a challenging time for the pig industry and indeed the whole supply chain. There are decisions you can make today that will make a difference, or checks that can help confirm and tweak the decisions you have made to optimise efficiency. Your choice of sireline is one of them.

Can you can answer ‘Yes’ to the following eight questions:

1. Is the sireline compatible with the female line?

It is important to review three key points:

  • Does the Damline programme still give a reasonable weighting on characteristics of finishing pig performance: such as growth, feed efficiency and carcase quality? This is not always the case, although the Damline will contribute 50 per cent of the final slaughter pig. Changes in genetic selection can take three to five years to reach commercial level. Look for products where the genetic focus over the last 20 to 30 years has included finishing efficiency traits within the Damline selection.

  • Check the weightings of different traits within the Damline selection index with the genetics supplier. For example, in some continental breeding programmes litter size has been the main focus. If the selection for one trait is heavily weighted it may make more progress in that trait compared to a more balanced breeding programme. However, there may be a need to check that other characteristics of economic value are also improving, for example, piglet survival. If other characteristics are not improving as quickly, choose a sireline that will balance the equation to deliver what you need.

  • If there is any coloured breed within the Damline then the recommendation would be not to use a coloured sireline, so negating any potential problems with coloured progeny. It is critically important that the choice of a suitable sireline should complement the Damline, and so balancing the equation to give the best overall economic results for your business.

2. Can the best boars be accessed without compromising bio-security?

A high percentage of the industry now uses AI drawn from a range of studs, and in the UK most are BPEX approved, quality assured and offer full traceability. Access to the top genetics is not an issue, but by choosing a high health breeding company producers should be choosing a high health stud. Discussions with the herd's vet are useful to check the health monitoring programmes and bio-security controls operated by AI suppliers.

3. Are the progeny robust to encourage high survival rates?

Most breeding herds access high index genetics, such as the PIC337 terminal sire, from approved AI studs

This has rightly been a key focus for the industry. The challenge for the piglets produced will vary between units. Herds with a health challenge will benefit from using breeds that have a track record for robustness – piglets with good vigour at birth and high appetites to support good growth are what's required.

PCV2 issues
Would the introduction of the PCV2 vaccine change the need to use specific sirelines to deliver vigorous pigs? Experience from the US would suggest extra robustness is still worthwhile, even if a vaccination policy is in place, so the selection of sirelines is still based on delivering the best all round economic value. If the performance is right now, why risk a change? Unless it will deliver clear, measurable and worthwhile benefits to the business

4. Will the progeny have the potential to achieve the target growth rate at maximum efficiency to make best use of my finishing accommodation?

The number of finishing places is the most limiting factor for a production enterprise. The value of an extra lifetime gram of growth per day may be between a penny and five pence depending on a unit's characteristics, so to optimise output per finishing place, a sireline that will deliver high growth efficiently is the best option. If you are getting high growth and low P2 with good lean meat yield then the pigs will be converting efficiently – that’s what a sireline needs to deliver especially when feed prices are high, as is currently the case.

5. Have the nutritional requirements of the progeny being finished been analysed by a nutritionist?

When feed prices are high producers' cannot afford to limit the genetic potential – pigs will be most efficient when they are expressing thier full potential. This objective should be central to the business at all times, not only when input costs are rising.

Equally, nutrients should be used, and not wasted by over specifying the diet. Match the diet to the pig’s potential and don’t let pigs stall at any stage. Check the diet specification with a nutritionist and they can liaise with the breeding company to get the relevant genetic potential information they need. Remember the progeny you are finishing now are from the sireline you were using to serve sows at least six months ago!

6. Will it deliver product that my outlet wants – optimising sale weight on a specific contract?

There are many modelling systems available to identify target sale weights – it is useful to check regularly as circumstances will change. If feed is say £180/t and food conversion efficiency (FCE) in the final finishing stage is say 3:1, than the cost of adding an extra 5kg to your sale weight (3.75kg deadweight) will be £2.70.

If this is a marginal value, and all other costs are covered, at a market price of say 105p/kg a 78.75kg carcase will deliver an £3.94/pig advantage compared with a carcase finished to 75kg. Alternatively, the extra slaughter value can spread fixed costs over more weight to reduce the impact of costs per kg. Cash flow may be an issue to fund the extra growth, but the value is still there and if the pig is achieving the heavier weight in the same time then the cash impact should be minimal.

However, if you want to target a carcase weight above 75kg it is important that you make sure your sireline has been selected to maintain high growth rates above 100kg liveweight. Piétrain breeds traditionally slow down markedly above 100kg liveweight, so finishing at 75kg deadweight may be the most efficient target for progeny of these sirelines.

7. Is there the flexibility to deliver improved conformation or improved meat quality in the future as part of a dedicated supply chain?

Changes within the industry are encouraging closer links between producers and processors. Value throughout the chain will become more important. It is favourable to have the potential to further tailor sirelines if lean meat yield becomes more important in the future.

Equally, differentiation of pork based on eating quality may offer real opportunities.Improvements in meat quality do not necessarily mean any deterioration in carcase quality. Make sure the business has the flexibility to respond to potential future options. No one else in Europe is selecting for improved meat quality on a national basis – so perhaps the UK should take the lead? And if so, sirelines will need the potential to deliver improving meat quality.

8. Value for money?

Look for a track record – establish what performance can be achieved, realistically. Genetics is perhaps three per cent of costs, of which perhaps up to a half will be sireline genetics. So, if the cost of production is say 120p/kg, then the sireline genetic cost per pig at 75kg deadweight is about £1.35p. An extra 50g growth per day is likely to be worth £1.50/pig and an improvement of 0.08 in FCE could be worth £1.30/pig.

When times are hard make the genetics work - it may not be one of the largest costs, but producers should ensure that they are earning the most value from it. The cost of genetics is unlikely to make the difference between a business sinking or swimming, but the right genetics certainly can. Think carefully before making a change.

It is not possible within a genetic selection programme to make changes instantaneously. So if you want it all... and you want it now... then look for established sirelines with a proven record that are delivering now, yet have further potential for the future.

December 2007