Pork Has Good Environmental Potential

UK - Over 120 farmers attended a special spring conference organised by international pig-breeding company, ACMC, at their headquarters at Beeford, East Yorkshire. The conference looked at the role of pig production in meeting future food demand with the emphasis on improving efficiency for both financial and environmental reasons.
calendar icon 29 March 2010
clock icon 8 minute read
L-R: Dr Phil Baynes, commercial technical manager of SCA Nutec; Mr Hugh Crabtree, managing director, Farmex; Mr Ed Sutcliffe, technical director, ACMC; Mr Matthew Curtis, managing director, ACMC; Dr Steven McOrist, associate professor at Nottingham University and Mr Stephen Curtis, chairman, ACMC.

The environmental impact of livestock production over the forthcoming decades cannot be dismissed. But the good news is that the pork is favourably positioned within the livestock industry, said Ed Sutcliffe, technical director of ACMC Ltd.

In terms of the least GWP (Global Warming Potential) a measure of environmental impact, pork comes second only to poultry. If poultry is given a rating of 1.0 then pork weighs in at 1.36, beef at 4.26 and sheep at 4.58.

Feed efficiency and reproductive efficiency would be the main drivers in further lowering the industry’s carbon footprint. Feed was still the major cost of pig production and would remain so for both economic and environmental reasons, he pointed out. “Feed price is set to rise in the medium term and, in the short-to-long term, there will be increasing pressure to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. The most efficient pigs, with the best feed conversion ratio will have a distinct advantage in terms of market appeal.“

Genetic programmes which focus on improving feed efficiency will also reduce the GWP of the pork produced. Improved genetics for feed efficiency is greatly helped by measuring feed intake on individual animals for selection purposes. “For breeders, accurate feed recording will be increasingly important and, as gene technologies develop and improve, measuring differences in phenotypes will become more, not less significant,“ he explained.

There were still considerable differences between breed types – for example Large White types offered low feed intake, good carcase composition and good feed conversion while a Hampshire type offered rapid growth from a high feed intake, but a poorer feed conversion. The current demand for a Hampshire-type product may therefore be at odds with future market requirements.

Globally, livestock gross production was worth more than 3400billion in 2007 but a conservative estimate of the gain from annual breeding improvements in Europe alone was worth nearly 31.6 billion each year.

With the world population predicted to increase from 6.8 billion to over 9 billion by 2050, there would be no return to cheap food.

Market influences were anticipated to be favourable towards the British pig industry, he believed. These included better-informed consumers, locally-sourced food (lower food miles), country-of-origin labelling and the welfare of animals. Surveys had shown that healthy, locally-grown foods had a big influence on public attitudes which indicates consumer awareness of environmental issues of transporting food long distances.

Mr Sutcliffe pointed out that, beyond the farm gate, 65 per cent of the much-talked about food waste was avoidable. “UK households throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food annually — costing 312 billion nationally or 3480 per household. However, meat made up only seven per cent of the waste.

Colossal cost of feed wastage

The “colossal cost“ of getting any aspect of feed management wrong was outlined by Dr Phil Baynes, commercial technical manager of SCA Nutec. He said that the current cost of rearing a pig using seven diets, carefully formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of each stage of the rearing and finishing period, was 348.37. But over- or under-supply of nutrients — such as digestible protein and amino acids - could have a huge influence on that, due to poorer-than-expected growth rates.

As an example, the use of an inappropriate density in the first-stage diet – due to its perceived cost — could add two days two slaughter. Pigs staying two extra days in the finishing house would eat 2.7 kg of feed per day. At 3160 per tonne this would cost 86p per pig, allowing also for the extra Stage1 diet. This would amount to 39,460 per year on a 500-sow unit selling 22 pigs per sow annually. “That would by a 2004 Jaguar S-Type 2.7 V6 diesel saloon!“ pointed out Dr Baynes.

Over-supply of protein, for example 1.1 per cent extra lysine — equivalent to 30 kg more Hipro soya could be even more costly — amounting to 312,650 for the same sized herd.

However, formulation and ration density were not the complete story. The cost of wastage was enormous. This commonly was found between batches of pigs, around leaking bulk bins and feed hoppers as well as loss down slats, spillages and waste due to spoilage in storage.

In addition, loss to vermin had to be considered. Dr Baynes pointed out that seeing a single rat could mean 50 unseen. Rats breed rather faster than pigs — they average 8-10 per litter and produce 5-6 litters a year. A pair of rats could produce 70 adults per year and 100 rats would eat half a tonne of feed annually.

Another pest — starlings — could also have a significant effect on feed usage. A thousand starlings could eat 10 tonnes a year amounting to 31,710 in a rearing herd with an average diet cost of 3171 per tonne!

Managing these losses is in the hands of the producer and feed supply company, said Dr Baynes. He suggested producers ask their feed supplier what they could do to improve the producer’s business. But one of the most powerful tools in the producer’s tool box was bench-marking. “If you are not reaching the targets, ask yourself why not,“ he advised.

Data-logging for energy savings

“Modern, fully-slatted pig buildings can reduce the carbon footprint of pigmeat production and monitoring of piggeries will enable the industry to demonstrate its green credentials to buyers and consumers,“ said Hugh Crabtree, managing director of Reading-based energy control specialists Farmex.

PIVIT, Pig Improvement Via Information Technology, a new and unique collaborative industry initiative, aims to achieve comprehensive production monitoring of the majority of the UK’s professional production sites within 10 years. This could see the UK industry once again leading the world – this time in precision livestock farming. PIVIT involves collaboration between BPEX, NPA, Newcastle University and commercial companies. One of the key components, the Barn Report monitoring system, is currently used on over 50 UK sites.

The recent incorporation of data-loggers in new buildings had seen a rapid move towards more general production monitoring and this could lead to important efficiency improvements. For instance, recent BPEX research indicated that energy waste was commonplace but monitoring had shown that huge savings could be made by better management of control systems.

A farm in East Anglia had saved 38,877 in annual heating costs — 86p per pig produced — though monitoring a 1,200 place piglet nursery, at the same time reducing CO2 output by 55 tonnes a year.

Mr Crabtree said that data capture and display was an important part of monitoring. “Actually seeing energy consumption taking place immediately influences behaviour,“ he commented. Data-logging has also shown that the system operator “has the most profound“ influence on environmental control so on-farm training is a key to getting the best out of it.

As well as saving energy, an important spin-off from data-logging is that it will enable the industry to demonstrate welfare, health and quality compliance in 2008.

Health and efficiency

Health is considered the most important factor in efficient pig production since this is a major limiting factor, said Dr Steven McOrist, associate professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, Nottingham University,

Between 1980 and 2005 improvements in pig-breeding had been worth €1.50 per pig, but to get the full benefits of these gains in efficiency, producers had to actively manage the health of their herds.

Great progress had been made through schemes such as the Yorkshire and Humberside Health scheme, particularly through bio-security monitoring and management. The gold standard in this scheme is where breeding pigs come from a known source and of a known health status where there is communication between the herds’ vets before shipment of replacements. This also applied to other pigs, such as weaners and finishers. Major health investments in this scheme included mapping and documenting the bio-security status of herds.

Main aims were to control diseases such as PRRS, mycoplasma pneumonia, mange and swine dysentery. Mycoplasma pneumonia and mange were easily controlled by vaccination and eradication respectively, but PRRS was a tough problem and there were over 1,500 strains of the virus. Vaccines had to be given a long time before infection occurred but many farmers were not vaccinating production pigs.

No vaccines were likely for swine dysentery and there were few effective medications due to resistance to certain drugs. Eradication was a better approach, but total depopulation was costly. Swine-dysentery-negative replacements could be considered and partial depopulation could be cheaper and quicker. Such programmes needed a big effort and it was important for producers to compare potential benefits with the costs of carrying them out. Good planning was essential for success as were the correct bio-security practices, together with monitoring and vigilance.

Commenting on weaner health and efficiency Dr McOrist said that producers should pay attention to good management practices such as ensuring correct temperatures, avoiding draughts and providing bedding.

He said that actions to improve weaner gut health such as providing the correct diets and additives would lead to lifetime benefits in average daily gain and feed conversion ratios.

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