DARD Management Notes: Pigs

Give gilts plenty of space
Give gilts plenty of space

Pig health and feed efficiency: In previous management notes I have written about the importance of feed efficiency.

With margins tight at the present time anything that can be done to improve feed efficiency will benefit the business. One area that is often underestimated is the effect of pig health on feed efficiency. Depending on the condition and the level present the deterioration in feed conversion could be as high as 10-12 per cent. In practical terms this means that an unhealthy growing pig could eat 25 kg more than a healthy pig!

As a pig producer in Northern Ireland (NI) you are very fortunate to receive information about the health of your pigs three times per year through the Pig Regen Herd Health Survey. The Survey provides excellent information on the type and level of conditions in your unit. If you have not looked at the report sent out recently please study it in detail. If any of the conditions are highlighted in dark orange or red, which indicates the condition is costing you money, please talk to your vet about what you can do to reduce the impact of the condition.

Milk spot

The overall health of pigs in NI has improved. The latest results from the Health Survey confirm this, with 75 per cent of pigs checked at the factory in November 2015 having no lesions. This compares to 60 per cent in 2008.

The level of most conditions has improved but unfortunately milk spot, which is caused by Acarius suum the common roundworm, remains a problem with 13 per cent of livers showing milk spot. This is very disappointing as milk spot can be controlled by a combination of management and the use of an appropriate wormer. Milk spot is one of the conditions that affects feed efficiency, with reports suggesting a 13 per cent deterioration in growing/finishing pigs due to a heavy worm burden.

If the level of milk spot, as shown on your Health Survey, is more than 10 per cent talk to your vet about a control programme for your unit. Jesús Borobia Belsué, Mossvet Ltd advises the use of an effective wormer that targets both adult worms and the larval stages. Depending on the level of infestation you may need to add wormer every six weeks to break the life cycle of the parasite. Your vet will advise you about type of wormer and frequency of use. Jesús also recommends you thoroughly wash and disinfect pens to remove as many worm eggs as possible and to use a disinfectant that kills worm eggs.

The importance of hygiene in worm control was highlighted to me recently when a producer told me that he reduced the level of milk spot on his unit from 18 per cent to zero by simply introducing the routine of thoroughly cleaning the soles of boots with a stiff brush, disinfecting the boots and changing overalls when moving from the breeding section of the unit to the finishing houses. This simple, low cost procedure reduced the spread of worms from the breeding herd to the finishers. The sows on this unit are regularly wormed with a product recommended by his vet.

Give gilts plenty of space

I regularly receive phone calls from producers asking how much space dry sows or pigs need. However, I rarely get a phone call asking how much space gilts need. The modern pig is more susceptible to overcrowding and this is particularly relevant for gilts. Research and on-farm surveys show the more space gilts have the better they perform. To get more from your gilts give them at least 1.8 square metres and preferably 2.0 square metres each. Gilts are given more space in some other European countries, for example in Denmark the first 10 gilts in a group must have 1.9 square metres each.