DARD Management Notes: Pigs

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Tail biting: Tail biting in pigs is one of those problems that causes a lot of people in the industry, including producers, vets, researchers and advisers, to scratch their heads.

When an outbreak occurs on a unit it is often very difficult to pinpoint the cause, and what works on one unit to ease the problem does not necessarily work on another. It is such a complex area that a lot of research has been carried out on the causes and possible solutions in Northern Ireland and across Europe. Dr Marijntje Speijers, a Researcher based at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) at Hillsborough recently completed a report on ‘Practical solutions to reduce tail biting in Northern Ireland pig herds’. The report covers many aspects of tail biting, including the risk factors that lead to it. Marijntje lists the following as some of the main risk factors involved in a tail biting outbreak:

Insufficient or incorrect environmental enrichment – ‘lack of something to do’ by the pigs often contributes to the problem.

Inadequate feeding space – competition at the feeder can cause pigs to tail bite.

High stocking rate – overcrowded pigs are more likely to tail bite, as are older and heavier pigs.

Environment – variation in temperature, inadequate ventilation and draughts are often the cause.

Pig health – reports suggest that herds with poorer health have more problems with tail biting.

Nutrition – nutrient deficiencies and dissatisfaction with the feed are also associated with outbreaks.

Gender – entire males are more likely to show evidence of tail lesions than females.

Marijntje and many others strongly believe that providing environmental enrichment plays an important role in reducing tail biting. As part of her research she visited Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands to investigate the types of enrichment used by pig producers in these countries. I will cover her findings in the December Management Notes, but if you can’t wait until then details of her findings are available to download at: http://www.afbini.gov.uk/environmental_enrichment_for_pigs.pdf.

Antibiotic usage

This time last year I wrote about changes to the Quality Assurance Scheme which included the introduction of new standards and the upgrading and revision of others. Collating antibiotic usage, including in-feed, injectables and water soluble products, on a unit over a 12 month period was one of the new standards. Reviewing antibiotic usage with your vet each year also forms part of this standard. Although the standard was introduced last October it will only be audited from October this year. This means if you get a Quality Assurance inspection from 1st October 2015 onwards the Inspector will check if you have a record of antibiotic usage for a 12 month period and if this has been reviewed by your vet. You can collate antibiotic usage in whatever format you and your vet find most useful and for any 12 month period.

Soya – to grind or not!

Although the price of feed has come back recently this is no reason to take your ‘eye off the ball’ about improving feed efficiency. Many factors affect feed efficiency including pig health, genetics, diet specification, stocking rate, slaughter weight, feeder type and feeding space per pig. Ration grist or particle size also has an affect with fine grist preferable for growing and finishing pigs.

Home mixers tell me that the coarseness of soya varies greatly, with some loads, depending on source, a lot coarser than others. It is for this reason that some home mixers grind soya. But what percentage actually grind soya? A quick phone survey of 21 home mixers indicates that approximately two thirds grind soya, with 12 grinding soya for all the rations, seven not grinding soya at all and two only grinding it for the smaller pigs. If you are one of the one third of home mixers that doesn’t grind soya it is something worth thinking about.

Timely reminder

As the days shorten don’t forget to check that time clocks are set correctly to provide sows with 16 hours daylight. If you don’t have time clocks in your dry sow houses it is worth investing in them as they help ensure sows receive light for 16 hours.