‘Bounce back’ ability of pig farmers praised

Pig producers in Northern Ireland have demonstrated their bounceback ability
Pig producers in Northern Ireland have demonstrated their bounceback ability

The Northern Ireland pig industry has been through many tough times over the years. However it continues to thrive due to its determination, commitment, enthusiasm and ‘bounce back’ ability.

This ‘bounce back’ ability is illustrated by the continuing increase in herd performance and output.

Much of the improvement is due to the implementation of new technologies, many of which CAFRE Pig Advisers have investigated and encouraged farmers to adopt. These include the use of more prolific genetics, methods for increasing lactating sow feed intake, improved housing design and management techniques for increasing piglet survival rates.

Improvement in performance

As part of a CAFRE technology project, the breeding herd performance of pig farms has been monitored over recent years using computerised recording programmes. Analysis of the figures show that over the past five years there has been a 14% increase in litter size and a 11.5% increase in pigs weaned per sow per year. In 2013 the average born alive for sows and gilts was 12.6, average gilt litter size was 12.0 and pigs weaned per sow per year were 26.0. The equivalent figures today are 14.4, 13.6 and an impressive 29.0 pigs weaned per sow per year. Of the farms participating in the CAFRE technology project, 14 are now weaning over 30 pigs per sow per year.

The improvement in breeding herd performance, however, is only half the story. Over the same period the average live weight of pigs at slaughter has also increased. The average deadweight of pigs slaughtered is now almost 89kg. The combined effect of more pigs sold per sow per year and higher sale weights is a 350kg increase in the kilogrammes of pigmeat produced per sow per year. In practice this means the ‘average’ 250 sow birth to bacon unit is now producing 88t per year more pigmeat today than it did five years ago

Overcoming challenges

The increase in output however comes with its challenges, the main one being the management of large litters. As litter size increase more small pigs are born and there is also a greater variation in the birth weight of pigs in a litter. This variation is due to overcrowding and the position of pigs in the uterus, with some pigs receiving more nutrients than others, resulting in the birth of some very large pigs.

Several techniques, investigated by CAFRE, can help with the management of large litters. These include the use of nurse sows, with both the ‘one step’ and ‘cascade’ systems now widely used. The use of nurse sows is successful as the pigs moved to the nurse sow do not have to compete for a teat as all her pigs have been weaned.

Although cross fostering has always been used to even up litter size more pigs are now fostered due to larger litters. The general rules for cross fostering are that it should only take place between litters that are 12 to 24 hours old and, as far as possible, pigs should only be fostered once. However. this is not the case on some farms where pigs are fostered in the second and third weeks of lactation and even some moved several times.

‘Bounce back’ ability

With ‘bounce back’ ability and a willingness to adopt new technologies the NI pig industry continues to thrive and meet its overall aims of improved output and reduced cost of production per kilogramme of pigmeat.