Professional attitude to health and investment will yield profits

By Jane Jordan, ThePigSite editor. Disease, health and efficiency are interlinked and bugs spread because they take advantage of our mismanagement and failings. This was the stark message from vet David Chennels MRCVS, at the NPA's spring conference.
calendar icon 25 June 2007
clock icon 9 minute read
Banker Martin Redfearn took a different line, but agreed that investment and a more professional attitude to the way UK pig businesses reared their stock was vital if the industry was to regain efficiency and return to profit.

David Chennels of the Acorn House veterinary practice, Bedford, had a simple formular: Growth was dependent on feed intake, feed intake was dependent on water intake and that depended on many factors including stocking rate, stress and pen layouts. However, being healthy and vigorous was probably the biggest factor of all, because without this pigs often can't be bothered to go for a drink and that's when the problems start. He said that this was a rather simplistic view, but it had merit.

"Disease is the absence of health and when you look at it from this angle the picture looks slightly different and a lot more dramatic," he added. "Productivity, performance and efficiency is limited by health. Poor health, stops growth; so stop that and you'll stop inefficiency."

Mr Chennels said producers needed to consider the subclinical effects of infection and why common 'production diseases' were acceptable. "We tolerate disease in our pigs far too easily. If such disease levels were present in the human race, some would be considered to be of epidemic proportions, so why do we accept it in our pigs?" he asked.

Mr Chennels said that if a group of pigs has two per cent mortality - as a result of a one disease - then it is highly likely that 50 per cent of the pigs in that group are also fighting the same infection.

"We must consider the subclinical effects and how that is pulling down performance. For example, 30 per cent of a pig's energy intake can be used to fight disease and poor-health - so subclinical, often undetected levels of infection are probably having a greater effect on productivity and efficiency than the death rate," he explained.

Drain on resources

As he said, once a pig has died it is not draining resources, whereas those with subclinical disease, can rapidly rack up costs without any reasonable pay back. "You have to look at how well these pigs recover after treatment. How do they grow afterwards, is it efficient growth or are they just pulling down performance," said Mr Chennels. Pigs that do respond well to treatment will usually return to efficient performance, quite quickly. However, pigs that don't respond well are usually the ones that linger on, with high morbidity and never really thrive. These are the ones that pull down growth rates and can act as a reservoir of infection.

"Efficient disease control means swift observations. Recognise disease in the early stages, deal with it fast and don't wait for more deaths to occur. Act immediately, stop the spread of infection as soon as you can," advised Mr Chennels.

He said producers should take tough line on promoting good health in their herds. The best health policy was to strive for the absence of disease at all levels. The expertise, medicines and control strategies were available to control infections and it was not that difficult - providing you were willing to communicate, share knowledge and invest some time and resources. Eliminating disease could often be achieved strategically using proactive control measures and improved hygiene and biosecurity throughout the unit.

Primary objectives/considerations are:
  • Not all disease was infectious, but those that were can be prevented.
  • Eradication is possible for some disease, but economics and the ability to sustain health status may not make it possible long term or viable
  • Vaccination was viable with most herds and should be used
  • Strategies to control infection and live with the challenge do work, but require routine and thorough management
  • Strict, stringent biosecurity is the base of good health management
Mr Chennels said that depopulation/restocking with high-health stock was often regarded as the best option, but producers must determine what high-health is. "Should production diseases like EP, PRRS and enteritis be accepted as normal? I don't think so. Keeping it out is the best policy and it can be achieved," he said. His other 'bug-bear' was scrape-through systems - convenient for stockmen, but perfect for spreading all manner of disease, especially salmonella. "We really need to address this if we are going to control Salmonella in our herds and meet EU demands. But how we do this when so many farms are built around these systems, I just don't know," said Mr Chennels.

Common problems

He felt that as an industry, many of the problems were common and a result of zero investment in accommodation and new technology during the past 20 years. He believed that the reason places like Denmark had been able to make headway in terms of health and efficiency was because theory industries had continued to invest and refurbish their systems. "You need to look closely at what you do, hygiene is an integral factor and few of us actually achieve satisfactory levels all the time," he added. The UK was at a standstill and the systems we relied on - many straw-based - did not support the high-health, high efficiency demanded by the current market place.

"My views may seem idealistic, but I do feel we compromise where health is concerned. Pigs are compromised at every stage in the production cycle, which is why they cannot reach their genetic potential. And the UK must harness the potential we already have at our disposal if we are going to compete globally and survive as an industry," said Mr Chennels.

Breeding companies offer genotypes that are capable of growth rates excess of 1000g a day. But achieving this under the conditions and systems used on many farms is near impossible. "You just have to look at how these pigs survive in such adverse conditions - just think what they could do if we put them in a clean, healthy environment, "he added.

Banker's best advice: Investment equals savings and makes financial sense

Pig production is a specialist business so why do so many producers use inadequate, inefficient systems, said Martin Redfearn, National Agriculture Specialist with Barclays Bank.

He agreed with David Chennels that the UK industry was struggling against a tide of prolonged financial hardship, tough market conditions and increasing legislation - all demanded investment, but offered no guaranteed return.

However, from a cost base, Mr Redfearn said that most pig businesses had opportunity to improve their revenues if they invested in new buildings. "Achieving targets requires top management and a good job. Making it easy, by providing the best, labour saving, up to date technology can make a huge difference and be more economic in the long term. It can be justified," he said.

Labour is a huge cost to any business and pig producers need to understand that the efficient use of resources here can make a significant difference to the bottom line. "It's a matter of deciding whether press and go, or shovel and shift is the better option," said Mr Redfearn.

He said investing in modern, innovative technology and using the right buildings that are capable of providing the best environment and efficient production is the only sensible option for any pig business. It can be done economically with a significant return on investment.

For example, a 2000-pig rearing facility, to take pigs from 35kg live weight to 75kg deadweight, would costs £150 per pig place or £300,000. That's around £44,700 a year, for 10 years on an eight per cent interest, repayment mortgage.

The benefits

  • Improved growth rate of say 25g/day is worth £1.32 per pig place. This lifts average daily gain from 750g to 950g, which is worth £10.56 or £21,120 on 2000 places.
  • A one per cent improvement to mortality on 8000 places is worth £3,600
  • A one millimetre reduction in P2 would be worth £1.60 per pig or £12,800 on 8000 pigs
  • A 0.25 improvement in FCR, from say 2.75:1 to 2.45:1, on a ration @ £145/tonne, would be valued around £3.48 per pig or £27,840 on 8000 pigs.
And the sums do add up...

Cost benefits (£)
15,000 (assume new build cuts man hours by 50%)
Fertiliser value
12,000 (£1.50/pig?)
Total 92,360

Pay back on the loan is £44,700, which leaves an apparent margin of £47,660 .

However, margin for error and risk factors must also be taken into account - such as build time, construction costs and a realistic achievement of all targets. "Risks are real and what looks good on paper is never that simple," said Mr Redfearn.

He also noted that an improvement to overall pig performance should allow for increased throughput, annually. And, that a new system was likely to offer savings in other areas, such as veterinary and medicine inputs.

Mr Redfearn urged producers to consider investment because it can pay dividends and it was fundable. However, transparency and demonstration was essential and farmers must understand all the associated risks. His best advice: think ahead when planning and consider future uses for the buildings.

A low-cost option was outdoor finishing, which he believed was viable in some areas. The climate and topography of coastal East Anglia was particularly suitable and premium markets are there for this kind of product. "Differentiation using low-cost, low-input systems can work well, and money can be made. If it's viable, and you have the resources it should be considered," he said.

June 2007

Sponsored Article


© 2000 - 2023 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.