by KATE PROCTER
Pork producers around the world have encountered an unprecedented period of low prices for pigs and high input costs. Dr. Tim Loula suggests that as North American producers fight for position, they have a global advantage because of relatively inexpensive grain but need to think differently about raising pigs.
“It’s about survival. We’re in a global game of chicken,” Loula told producers at the 2008 Shakespeare Seminar. Expensive feed makes pigs more valuable. Producers should stop thinking about cutting costs and start thinking about investing in better production, he said.
With over 450,000 sows in his Swine Vet Center in Saint Peter, Minnesota, Loula has a good idea of what makes a successful operation. The following have made his “Top 10” list of mistakes that producers should avoid.
1. Not focusing on giving pigs a good start in the nursery. “People forget how scared they were to move pigs” when multi-site operations began in the early 1990’s, Loula pointed out. Producers need to really pay attention to the animals in the first two weeks after weaning. Adequate space, zone heat, gruel bowls, high feed quality and early treatment when animals first get sick are vital.
2. Not focusing on cost of production. Maximizing the animal’s genetic potential means giving them space to grow. “This is not the time to crowd. Utilize facilities as they were designed to be utilized,” Loula said.
3. Allowing poor production to go on for too long. “Top farms still have problems … they just fix them sooner.”
4. Keeping pigs around that should be euthanized before they eat their weight in feed. “Don’t feed pigs that are just eating maintenance feed.”
5. Vaccination decisions on poor or unhealthy pigs, especially at weaning. Is it worth injecting $2 worth of vaccine in a pig that is not going to survive?
6. Not using automatic lactation feeders. Loula said three years ago, none of his clients used lactation feeders, now 70 to 80 per cent use them. “The sow knows how to feed herself better than the people do.” Not only did these feeders prevent wasted feed and save on labour, they also increased sow feed consumption by almost 1 kg per day. This in turn increased weaning weights, improved wean to first service interval, decreased non-productive sow days and increased the number bred by seven days. Subsequent farrowing rate and total born were also improved.
7. Not using fibre in sow diets. Increasing the fibre in sow diets made more contented sows, increased lactation feed consumption, increased total born and born alive, decreased the number of stillbirths, increased the birth weights and decreased sow deaths.
8. Keeping cull animals too long. Often producers are slow to make a definite decision on these animals. “Production goes up if they go off the farm.”
9. Average weaning age less than 17 days. Watch the breeding target – breeding too many sows puts pressure on farrowing crates and leads to weaning piglets too young. Loula recommended weaning at 20 to 21 days – both for improved piglet health and sow performance.
10. Keeping freeloader sows around. Every day a sow sits open, she still eats. Keep an eye on sows weaned but not served, gilts entered but not served and sows found not pregnant. Get them bred or cull them. BF