21/11/2011 - Genetics, health, nutrition and management

The switch to JSR Genepacker genetics, a management shake-up and technical back-up from the JSR production, nutritional and veterinary team has transformed the physical and financial performance of the 570-sow pig unit at Westerfolds Farm, Elgin.

The herd is managed by John Forbes on behalf of the family feed company, East Coast Viners Animal Nutrition, and utilises buildings and the poorer land on David Forbes’ largely arable farm. Weaners are reared to 20kg when they are moved to ECV Pigs’ finishing unit near the company’s feed mill at Drumlithie, Stonehaven.

“The pig herd was not performing well because of a combination of health and staffing problems,” says Mr Forbes. “We just couldn’t get pig numbers born alive up to an acceptable level.

Transformed

“However, performance has been transformed following the appointment of Mike Custer as unit manager, Paul Wright as production consultant and John Barber as feed consultant. Their combined advice, enthusiasm and dedication has turned the job round.”

The key change has been the adoption of new genetics with the phased introduction over the past two years of JSR’s Genepacker 120 gilts which have been specifically bred for outdoor conditions, combining the highly prolific Landrace dam line with Duroc genetics in the Genepacker 5 line.

Health Monitoring

The gradual switch to new genetics has been achieved with the adoption of a health monitoring programme agreed between the unit vet and JSR vets to ensure the safe integration of bought-in gilts with the existing sow herd.

The robust and hardy Genepacker female line has been shown to dramatically boost productivity with the capability to produce at least two more piglets per sow per year compared with the average outdoor sow, as a result of improved fertility and more live pigs born per litter.

“We’ve had three parities from the first Genepacker gilts so far and we’re getting an extra pig and a half per litter as well as more litters per service,” says Mr Forbes.

The success rate of 92.7% to first service is exceptional with 24 farrowings on average being achieved from the 27 females served each week. Six gilts are introduced into the herd every week to meet the strict production programme which drawn up by Mr Wright to ensure a steady flow of weaned pigs into the feeding unit.

All gilts are served strictly according to age at 240 days – which JSR say from their own research data is the critical factor in achieving high conception rates rather than the traditional weight or backfat formula – and 48 gilts of different ages are delivered to the unit at eight-week intervals to make this possible.

Programmed

Sows and gilts are programmed to come into heat simultaneously with the use of Regumate to control ovulation and have daily contact with boars to further encourage heat. Semen is delivered using the JSR Cool Link courier service and insemination takes place three times over two days.

“It works like clockwork to text book perfection and farrowing rate has jumped to 2.4 litters per sow per year,” says Mr Custer. “We use only fresh semen and ensure insemination takes place at exactly the right time in the cycle. These are two vital management factors to achieve good results.”

Gilts are trained to feed from the electronic feeders for four weeks after service and are pregnancy diagnosed before being transferred to strawbedded yards until three weeks before farrowing when they are turned out to paddocks to harden off.

Farrowing takes place in traditional pig arks which, Mr Forbes points out, is a cheaper alternative indoor farrowing.

Healthier Outdoors

“The sows are healthier outdoors and it is more profitable than investing in indoor farrowing,” he says. “The arks are moved to fresh ground on a regular basis to reduce the risk of any disease build-up.”

After weaning at four weeks, piglets move to a Trobridge mono-pitch kennel with a slatted dunging area followed by two weeks in a strawbedded yard which takes them up to 20kg.

“Our contract with the processing factory is 220 pigs per week so we have to work everything back from that to ensure the finishing unit is supplied with 220 weaners every week,” Mr Forbes explains.

Nutrition Vital

Nutrition obviously plays a vital role in the success of the management regime and the feed spec has been upped and specifically formulated to get the best from JSR genetics. Gilts start on ECV Gilt Rearer rolls before moving on to ECV Dry Sow pellets and ECV Lac Sow pellets after farrowing.

A feature of the feeds is the absence of rape meal which makes for a more expensive ration but the performance of the pigs more than justifies the extra cost. Fish oil is included in the sow feeds to help fertility and reduce preweaning mortality and the lactating pellets have a particularly high specification which not only meets the amino acid requirements of the sow but produces a digestible energy (DE) value of 14.3.

But the real key to the success of the whole operation is the back-up from his technical advisers – what Mr Forbes describes as his “A team” – who monitor performance, exchange management information on a regular basis and advise on genetics, nutrition and health.

“You’ve got to have the right genetics, healthy pigs and the right feeding regime to achieve high performance,” he says. “These factors are all related and inter-dependent so it is important that our advisory team work together with our unit manager and not in isolation. Two heads are better than one and we share knowledge all the time to make sure we come up with the right solution for any problem which arises.”

Weaners are performing well in the finishing unit, achieving a daily liveweight gain of 880-900g from 50 to 110kg and a feed conversion ratio of 2.78:1. This high level of performance is attributed to the Geneconverter 700 sire line which has been shown in trials to achieve superior liveweight gain and feed conversion efficiency, with more muscling and reduced backfat.

Average carcase weight over the past six months has worked out at 80.8kg, with a backfat depth at P2 of 10.8mm. Pigs are marketed to Vion at Broxburn for the ASDA pork scheme which offers a more stable price. JSR’s Yorkshire-based sales manager, Giles Christie, who hails from the North-east, is delighted with the performance achieved at Westerfolds and wants to see his customers grow and invest.

Reaping Benefits

“We are not in the business of simply selling breeding stock but provide a complete consultancy package to help our customers achieve a high level of physical performance and a profitable pig enterprise,” he says. “John Forbes has taken advantage of the service we offer and is reaping the benefits.”

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