Merial: Performance Data Drives Improvement

UK - A willingness to try new techniques is integral to Kevin Gilbert’s approach to improving pig production at Womblehill, Aberdeenshire. A recent visit to the unit demonstrated Kevin’s willingness to trial new tools, evaluate performance and then either adopt or discard them based on careful measurement of results. This approach can be seen from the farrowing house to the fattening and finishing barns.
calendar icon 14 August 2009
clock icon 5 minute read

Photo Caption: Q-Scan technology provides 24/7 visual monitoring of the herd

Womblehill is a 450 indoor sow unit with all progeny finished on site. Kevin’s target is to farrow 20 sows per week and wean 11 pigs per sow. The farrowing house consists of three sections allowing 21 sows to farrow per week. The old pig unit was sold in 2000 to make way for new improved housing, allowing Mr Gilbert to improve the layout and re-locate the feed mill and slurry store. He uses split suckling and cross fostering to ensure good intake of colostrum and maximise farrowing house performance. The farrowing houses all have isles running both in front of and behind the farrowing crates to allow easy access to new born piglets without disturbing the sows or gilts. While this increased the cost of the build, Kevin feels that this has more than paid for itself in increased pigs weaned over the years.

According to Mr Gilbert, "Apart from a bought-in diet for the 8 – 12kg weaners, everything else is home mixed. Dry sows are fed on Microware ESFs and lactating sows are hand fed. A drive to improve daily weight gain led me to try liquid feeding from 12kg onwards and I now use Hampshire Phase Feeding which I’m convinced has given me a 100g a day extra growth." Mr Gilbert uses a PIC Hampshire boar for hybrid vigour and growth, crossing with Large White and Landrace. He has not bought in any pigs since 2002 which means he has been better able to control the level of disease on the unit and to select the best animals for breeding.

Since mid 2007 Mr Gilbert has been using Circovac® PCV2 sow vaccine. As piglets came through the system from vaccinated sows he began to see improvements in mortality rates and increased daily weight gains in the feeding herd. Vitality of piglets has been observed to improve and weaning weights have also increased. However, never one to stand still, he wondered if a piglet vaccine might produce even better improvements in the feeding herd so decided to trial it side by side with the sow vaccine. Having carefully measured the results the data showed little difference between the two, although Circovac resulted in slightly better overall results by the end of the trial (See Table 1: Average Daily Weight Gain and Table 2: Live Weight Comparison). "It was only by measuring the performance that I could accurately see whether there was any difference - mortality-wise, there was no difference between the sow and piglet vaccinated groups at all," said Mr Gilbert. "Given the ease of using a sow vaccine as compared to a piglet vaccine, and the cost-effectiveness of the vaccine, the choice for me is obvious." Use of the piglet vaccine has now ceased on the unit.

One of Mr Gilbert’s most recent additions to the set-up is the introduction of Q-Scan technology from his feed supplier Harbro Farm Sales. The tool provides 24/7 visual monitoring of the herd from non-intrusive cameras sited above the drinkers. The data captured is processed in seconds and uploaded into a web-reporting tool. The scans are translated into weight distribution graphs of the pigs in the pen, so he can evaluate and compare growth rates between and within pens and then implement changes in diet and management to improve performance in real time rather than analysing performance post slaughter.

Mr Gilbert’s attention to detail is also reflected in the layout of the unit. Piglets are moved easily and quickly from the farrowing house to the weaning sheds and then later on to the finishing sheds The design of the farrowing crates ensures piglets get better access to the sows’ teats and hence colostrum in the first few hours of life. All the more important as live born numbers continue to improve.

"It is easy to stand still and just carry on doing things the way they’ve always been done, especially if you are not aware of how your unit is performing," says Mr Gilbert. "Recording and measuring may seem a chore but it is the only way to gain an accurate picture of how profitable your business is. It also highlights where there are problems and where changes need to be made."

Mr Gilbert admits that sometimes the changes he makes are not always right, so he’ll try something different until it is right. Ultimately, collecting data on performance helps him make the right decisions on the type and quantity of feed, the right vaccines to use and gives him an accurate picture of the return on his investment.

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