DARD Management Notes: Pigs

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Environmental enrichment: In the October management notes I wrote about research on tail biting carried out by Marijntje Speijer. Marijntje and many others strongly believe that environmental enrichment plays an important role in reducing tail biting. As part of her research Marijntje visited Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark to investigate the types of enrichment used by producers in these countries.

In Switzerland blocks made from compressed straw or a mixture of straw and waste products from feed mills are popular for growers and finishers. The blocks, which are held in metal holders, last from ten to 60 days depending on the density of the block.

A range of enrichment materials are used in the Netherlands with wooden ‘chew’ posts (untreated pine wood) common. The ‘chew’ posts hang from a chain for weaners and are held by metal brackets or in a spiral holder for older pigs.

Wooden blocks/posts are quite popular in Denmark with some farms using both wooden blocks/posts and natural rope. On one of the farms visited rope was hung from the ceiling (coiled in a bucket) and pulled to the floor once per week. Knots are tied in the rope to make it last longer. Each pen also had wooden posts in spiral holders at a ratio of one post per nine pigs.

Messages from the Teagasc Pig Farmers Conference

A range of topical issues were discussed at the recent Teagasc Pig Farmers Conference. Two papers of particular interest were increasing birth weight and grading pigs.

Increasing birth weight – litter size in Northern Ireland continues to increase with the latest WinPig figures showing an average born alive of 13.5 with the top 10% averaging 15.7. The downside of more pigs born is a decrease in average birth weight, more light weight pigs born and a greater variation in birth weight. Although it is difficult to increase birth weight there are things you can do including:

More precise feeding of sows during pregnancy. The requirement for energy, lysine and phosphorus changes during pregnancy and is influenced by parity, weight at service and weight gain during pregnancy. The sow’s requirement also changes at day 90 due to the increasing demand of the developing foetuses and mammary glands. Meeting the nutrient requirements of sows of all parities at all stages of pregnancy should help increase birth weight and produce more uniform pigs. The suggestion from the conference was to feed two diets during pregnancy; one up to day 90 and the other from day 90 to farrowing.

Feeding 150g per day dextrose (glucose) from weaning to service produces more uniform pigs and fewer pigs born weighing less than 1.0 kg.

Feeding a lactation diet from weaning to service could increase average birth weight by 55g.

Grading pigs - most pig farmers spend a lot of time grading pigs. But is grading and sorting pigs worthwhile? The conclusion from the Conference was that grading is only worthwhile if the lighter pigs are fed a higher specification diet. Other suggestions from the speaker were:

Only grade piglets in the farrowing house once, between 24 and 48 hours and do not move them again unless sick or hungry. Group all the lightest pigs together so that you can keep a close eye on them. Continuous grading of pigs after the first 48 hours reduces the growth of the heaviest pigs in the litter which the pigs are moved to.

At weaning only separate the lightest 10 per cent of pigs and those from gilt litters, feeding them a higher specification ration or creep and link for a longer time. Include pigs from gilt litters as they have a lower lifetime growth rate. This is because gilts produce less milk and poorer quality colostrum leading to lower immune levels and weaning weights.

Business Development Groups

You can now apply to join a pig Business Development Group (BDG). This is an excellent opportunity to meet other pig producers and discuss issues of common interest that will help you develop your business. There is more information on BDGs in the dairy notes.