Eighteen years supporting sustainable pig production in Northern Ireland

Dr Elizabeth Magowan (Pig Research Project Leader, AFBI), Sam Smyth, (Business Development Manager, John Thompson & Sons), Dr Violet Beattie (Research & Technical Service Manager, Devenish)
Dr Elizabeth Magowan (Pig Research Project Leader, AFBI), Sam Smyth, (Business Development Manager, John Thompson & Sons), Dr Violet Beattie (Research & Technical Service Manager, Devenish)

Sustainability usually refers to the environment, resource management and energy demand.

However John Thompson and Sons Ltd, Devenish and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute also believe sustainability should address the long term ability of pig producers to be profitable and stay in business.

This is why these three organisations formed a research consortium 18 years ago and why it’s still going strong today.

With co-funding from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and industrial support from the pig producer group, PCM, the key focus of the group has been to investigate environmental, nutritional and managerial strategies to support the long term growth and profitability of local producers. Over the coming weeks a series of articles will overview the key findings from the research of the consortium and how it has impacted on today’s industry and how it can also influence into the future.

In its early years the work of the consortium focused on the nitrogen and phosphorus requirements of pigs, as well as the use of phytase in pig diets. The main aim was to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia being excreted into the local ecosystem from pig production. The work of the consortium showed that with a correctly balanced formulation, the crude protein content and total phosphorus of the diet could be reduced with no detrimental effect on performance. Most critically these dietary changes reduce the environmental impact of local pig production. Maximising the potential of local production without negatively impacting on the environment was one of the very first areas that the consortium worked on 18 years ago and it remains a key and very important area for future work. The group believes that research in this area is fundamental to assisting pig producers to comply with the current Nitrates Action Plan and IPPC legislation and also to plan for growth into the future.

The group also has investigated the use of various alternative raw materials to supply energy and protein in diets. Early work looked at non-cereal energy sources for finisher pigs and highlighted the pros and cons of reducing or replacing cereals when cereal costs are high. More recent work in this area has focused on alternative protein sources such as rapeseed meal and dried distillers’ grains with solubles (DDGS).

In recent years the group have undertaken two large ‘on farm’ trials to quantity the normal variation in growth rate and feed efficiency of pigs both within and between farms. This work has found that variation in growth rate and FCR within and between farms is inconsistent, large and ultimately leads to big differences in profitability from batch to batch and from farm to farm. Over the years optimising feed use efficiency and the cost of production has been a key target of the group. A unique research facility at AFBI, which measures the individual intake of pigs in a group situation, has greatly aided the identification of aspects of management, feeding behaviour and nutrition which have the biggest impact on feed efficiency.

Over the coming weeks, a series of articles will report the new knowledge and findings arising from the work of the consortium but you are encouraged to contact your local Thompsons or Devenish representative for more information.