Wild King: High-Welfare Pork from China

Cross-breeding and a high welfare approach are providing a workable alternative to intensive pork production in China, according to a Model Farm Project by Farm Animal Initiative (FAI).
calendar icon 9 August 2012
clock icon 7 minute read

Intensive pork production in China is associated with a variety of problems.

“The main issues in terms of animal welfare are high stocking density, tail docking, tooth clipping and – for breeding pigs – confinement in farrowing pens or sow stalls,” explains Dr Ashleigh Bright of the Model Farm Project (MFP).

As well as affecting the animals concerned, these are a becoming a growing issue for those buying the pork.

“Poor animal welfare, use of antibiotics, contamination of feed and the environmental impact of animal waste are all of concern to consumers,” says Dr Bright. “Traceability is a big one, too.”

"I believe that good animal welfare and a happy, healthy environment will produce good pork."

Consumer concern is just one reason why pork farmer Bob Wang of Wild Pork Kingdom has developed a higher welfare approach.

He said: “I believe that good animal welfare and a happy, healthy environment will produce good pork. If your environment has too much pressure and is overpopulated, it’s easy to be stressed. Like people, pigs will also be affected by stress in an overcrowded situation. It isn’t necessary to tooth clip or dock the tails of my pigs and I believe this is because they live in a stress-free environment.”

Table 1. Pork production at Wild Pork Kingdom – approach and benefits
Wild Pork Kingdom: the approach Benefits
If it is sow’s first litter or sow is >50% wild blood, farrowing crate is used (L:1.82–2.08 metres, W:0.6 metres, H:0.83–1.04 metres). Experienced sows placed in pens (L:3.42 metres, W:1.84 metres, H:2.5 metres) with concrete floor and one to two inches of hay during winter. Piglet mortality in first litters is reduced as sows are prevented from rolling onto piglets. Mr Wang is also looking at other ways to reduce piglet mortality.

Concrete floor helps sows keep cool in summer and sows can use hay to build nests and keep warm in winter when temperatures can reach -18°C.
Sow and piglets moved to seven- to eight-square metre pen with concrete floor, access to 14– to 16-square metre yard and one to two inches of hay during winter. Piglets can access outdoor area and play with other piglets.
Piglets weaned at four to five weeks and moved to pens in groups of 20 to 40, remaining there for for weeks. Pens have concrete floor with one to two inches of hay. Piglets typically in outdoor yards (400 square metres per pen) during daytime with access to shade.

Sows moved to deep litter pens (L: 35 metres, W: 3.5 metres) or to around 32-square metre dry pens with access to outdoors.
Straw provides manipulable material and outdoor yard enables pigs to root in soil and create wallows.

Deep litter pits provide warmth and waste from the pits is given to neighbouring farmers to fertilise crops, in exchange for use of land and feed. Dry pens are cooler in summer.
At 15–20kg, piglets moved into grazing paddocks (800–2,000 square metres) with 80 pigs per paddock. Five grazing paddocks used in rotation. Pearle Kings remain here for four to five months and Wild Pearles for six to 10 months. Both finished at around 80kg. One area rested while others used.
Pigs fed corn, wheat and alfalfa twice daily, quantities varied according to life stage. All feed grown on site or sourced from neighbouring farms. Vitamins, minerals and trace elements (selenium, zinc and copper) provided while sows feeding piglets. Water provided via farm’s 370-metre deep well. Sows can chew and are therefore kept occupied. Sourcing locally reduces feed miles and means farmer and consumers know where and how feed was grown.

The Farm

Wild Pork Kingdom is an 8.3-hectare pork farm in Cangzhou City in Hebei Province, China, where Mr Wang has bred Beijing Black pigs (Wild Pearle) and Changbai Mountain and wild pig cross (Pearle King) sows since 2007.

The farm also grows alfalfa, planted four to five times per year and used as feed along with locally sourced corn and wheat, all grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers.

Raised in this stress-free environment, pigs are healthier, with strong immune systems where antibiotics are only used therapeutically.

The Wild Pearle is classed as a ‘fat’ breed and the Pearle King is a ‘lean’ meat breed, so when the two are crossed, it gives us a good quality meat,” explains Mr Wang.

Hardiness is another big plus.

“Once Wild Pearle and Pearle King piglets reach 20–25kg, they are able to handle very cold temperatures – in winter, temperatures can reach -18 degrees,” explains Mr Wang. “No commercial pigs can handle this.”

Mr Wang uses an ‘open grazing’ approach, incorporating different types of pen suited to varying life stages. Deep litter pits are also integrated into the system.

The Results

"I also hope to sell direct to schools and to teach kids about animal welfare."
Bob Wang, Wild Pork Kingdom

While there is no formal monitoring, Mr Wang has observed low levels of tail biting (see Table 2).

“There is absolutely no docking but there are always one or two naughty pigs in the paddock that will bite each other’s tails,” he says. “Only the piglets of the sows placed in birthing cages have their teeth clipped.”

Piglet mortality is higher than may be expected in a typical intensive system due to free farrowing, i.e. more piglets are getting crushed by the sow. This is an issue Mr Wang is working to address by selecting his replacement sows from mothers which do not crush their piglets and have piglets with a low mortality rate.

Mr Wang has also employed an on-farm veterinarian to assist with health planning for the production cycle.

Table 2. Outcome measures at Wild Pork Kingdom (annual averages)
Outcome measure WPK data
% of animals tail docked 0%
% of tail biting incidents ~1%
% of animals tooth clipped <10%
Mortality of pigs born alive ~15–20%
Adult mortality ~1–2%

A total of 12 staff currently work on the farm and are provided with free accommodation, meals, uniforms and education regarding animal welfare.

Mr Wang is pleased with the approach – and final product. “Anybody who tries my pork will say it is delicious,” he says.

Potential for Growth

Demand for pork is high and Mr Wang has plans for expansion. In 2012, he will finish around 1,000 pigs and began selling to a ‘high level’ supermarket in May.

But Mr Wang intends to build on this; he aims to be finishing up to 4,000 pigs in 2012 and up to 8,000 in 2013, selling direct to customers, agents and companies.

“I also hope to sell direct to schools and to teach kids about animal welfare,” says Mr Wang.

He plans to increase the number of grazing paddocks for piglets from five to 11, at 4,082 square metres each, with pigs kept at the same stocking density. The farm will trial birthing arks this spring, which allow the sows to perform more natural birthing behaviours such as nest-building and provide an enclosed sheltered space for farrowing.

Mr Wang also hopes to improve the slaughter process.

“According to Chinese law, we can’t kill pigs on our farm but transportation causes stress,” he explains. “So I hope we can work with organisations such as FAI and WSPA and research animal welfare issues at the slaughtering stage.”

August 2012

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