Swine production today is far from what it was 20 years ago, writes Enrike Maree, monogastric technical advisor at Meadow Feeds. She tells us how pig farmers can get the best out of their swine genetics.
One of the greatest advances that have been made in the past two decades is the progress in swine genetics. The average size of pig farms has drastically increased with the majority of pig farmers making use of artificial insemination instead of natural mating.
When properly managed, artificial insemination, which makes use of semen from genetic companies within South Africa, results in improved genetic progress and therefore performance of the farm.
South Africa is fortunate to have some of the leading global genetic companies available. These companies spend millions every year to ensure the most desirable traits and continuous genetic improvements – such as the number of piglets born per sow, growth rate, and feed conversion – are achieved in their customer’s piggeries.
What does this mean for commercial and small-scale swine producers?
Farmers need to keep abreast with and adapt to the changes. The best management practices, nutrition, feeding regimes, and environment for pigs are all continuously changing, along with the genetic progress being made.
Today, farmers spend large amounts of money on getting the best genetics on their farms. However, for those pigs to achieve their genetic potential, they require the correct environmental and managerial input.
Key environmental factors producers can control to get the best out of their pig genetics:
Ensure that the environment is comfortable, safe, and as stress-free as possible. Generally, pigs do best when they are protected from the sun and kept dry and clean.
Bacterial growth can be reduced by cleaning the pens out regularly through a wet or dry clean. To ensure pigs grow according to their genetic capability and remain healthy, it is important to avoid any form of cold or heat stress. The housing should assist with this. Cleaning and disinfection of houses or pens should be done correctly between each new group of pigs, following a programme specifically designed for the farm.
The housing should be well-ventilated to decrease the risk of respiratory infections. High concentrations of ammonia, carbon dioxide, and airborne microorganism can cause coughing, prolapse, diarrhea, or a variety of respiratory infections when there is insufficient ventilation.
Sufficient ventilation can be achieved by negative or positive air-pressure systems, where air enters the house to force contaminated air out, or where the air is removed from the house to force clean air in.
Depending on the external environment and wind flow, this can be attained naturally with sail curtains or artificially with fans. Regardless of the method, be careful to ensure the pigs’ comfort when planning airflow.
Most importantly, the housing and equipment should allow the pigs sufficient space to eat and drink, with access to clean water and sufficient feed as per the feeding schedule. Most nipple drinkers allow space for 20 pigs to drink, and automatic feeders between 10 to 15 pigs per feeder.
Some genetic lines prefer more feeding space than others or tend to be more competitive in large groups, in which case smaller groupings with an additional feeder may be beneficial. For this reason, it is important to discuss the genetic requirements of your pigs with the genetic supplier.
Although handling is necessary for most farming operations, it should be kept to a minimum and done as quickly and carefully as possible. Stress from handling or frequent disturbance can harm performance. Certain genetic lines are more tolerant of handling than others.
Keeping a farm disease-free and the pigs healthy remains a difficult, yet crucial task on swine farms. Some of the greatest losses on pig farms have been due to sub-clinical or clinical diseases entering a farm. Sub-clinical illness can result in losses to the farm through a low production performance of the pigs, whereas clinical illness can result in direct losses through a higher mortality rate.
Consulting a veterinarian on biosecurity protocols, a vaccination programme, and the in-feed medication should be routine, regardless of a farm’s size.
It is important to routinely monitor the health status of the pigs and report any concerning signs such as diarrhea, coughing, or unexplained loss in production to your farm consultant.
To measure is to know! By collecting data and analysing it, farmers can identify on-farm issues before it becomes an economic loss. For example, a drop in growth rate during a specific period may indicate the presence of a health challenge that can be timeously treated.
Record-keeping may also be used to assess the current on-farm practices and identify strategic changes that should be made to benefit the farm. The more that is practically measured on a farm, the greater the accuracy will be when making decisions on feeding regimes, type of feed, feeder space, application of medication, management changes, genetic progress, sow selection, and running costs to name a few.
The farm records can be compared against the genetic breeding standards to indicate whether the pigs are performing according to their genetic target.
All about feed
Feed costs account for up to 70% of a farm’s running cost making feed one of the greatest influencers on the profitability of a pig farm. It is extremely important to get a feeding schedule from your feed mill nutritionist that is specifically designed for your farm’s requirements. The correct feed should be formulated according to the pig’s age, weight, or physiological state.
When feed prices increase, the tendency is to feed cheaper feed. However, the consequences of this could be lower animal performance, increased feed intake, and lighter slaughter weights which negatively affect farm profit. The farmer should consult their mill nutritionist to assist them in optimising their feed, most cost-effectively.
An additional point to consider is the type of feed that is used. Research shows that pelleted, as opposed to mash-fed feeds, increases the number of available nutrients to the animal, creates less dust and feed wastage, and promotes better feed conversion in growing pigs.
Feeding troughs should always be kept clean, free from manure or mold, and in good working conditions. Lastly, it is important to ensure that raw material quality analyses are being routinely done by your feed company to ensure each batch of feed is consistent in quality for optimal pig performance.
The final factor which is key to getting the best pig performance is farm management. Ensuring the pigs are managed correctly, according to their genetic requirements and feed recommendations, can make a big difference in farm profitability and sustainability. The best genetics, feed, and medication will be irrelevant if they are incorrectly applied or poorly managed.
Farmers are urged to keep up to date with the latest research and build a good team of consultants around them to help determine which practices are best suited to their farm. When managing a pig farm, attention to detail can go a long way to ensuring pigs perform to their genetic capability.
In conclusion, extracting the genetic potential of pigs requires more than simply choosing the right genetics. The management, housing and environment, feed, health, and the correct use of record-keeping are extremely important in optimising the genetic potential of the pigs.
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