TALES FROM THE FIELDS: Pig men advised to look at their methods

Mr W A Abercrombie, left, BOCM, pig food sales manager, showing some visitors roudn the breeding farm.
Mr W A Abercrombie, left, BOCM, pig food sales manager, showing some visitors roudn the breeding farm.

The smaller Northern Ireland pig producer was advised this week in 1968 that if he wanted to stay in business and retain his share of the export trade to England that he must think “more deeply” about his pigs and methods of managemement.

This advice was given by Mr Alan Abercrombie, BOCM’s chief pig adviser in Northern Ireland when speaking at the premiere of the company’s latest film, “Over to Coleworth”, which emphasised the scale and depth at the research behind the development of new BOCM pig feeds and feeding systems.

Meticulous records were kept at the Templepatrick unit. Pictured weighing a piglet shortly after birth is farm foreman Mr Jim Burns.

Meticulous records were kept at the Templepatrick unit. Pictured weighing a piglet shortly after birth is farm foreman Mr Jim Burns.

“Our pig industry is worth £30 million,” he said, “and eight out of every 10 pigs we produce must be exported to the highly competitive market in England.

“We must maintain and increase our share of this market and to do this our pig farmers must be encouraged to think deeper about pigs.

“They must be persuaded to keep records to find out where they are going wrong.

“They must realise that cost per lb of liveweight gained can make all the difference between profit and loss.”

“Today’s pigs are more efficient than ever before. In fact, if modern pigs were fed on 1950 standards they would require about 15 per cent more feed to reach bacon weight.”

Mr Alan Abercrombie, BOCM’s chief pig adviser in Northern Ireland in 1968

Mr Abercrombie continued: “Unless we can encourage this type of thinking, the small farmer - who is the backbone of our industry in Ulster - will be forced out of business.”

Mr Abercrombie pointed out that one of the reasons for making the new film was the great advance made in pig nutrition during the previous decade.

He noted that: “Today’s pigs are more efficient than ever before. In fact, if modern pigs were fed on 1950 standards they would require about 15 per cent more feed to reach bacon weight.”

He pointed out that pigs were being improved under schemes such as BOCM’s special breeding programme and that the pigs involved in this work at Templepatrick were eating a special ration with which the majority of pigs in Northern Ireland could not cope with.

As an example Mr Abercrombie gave details of a Templepatrick litter of nine pigs which had averaged 52 1/2 lbs at eight weeks. Their average weight on leaving the farm was 196lb at which stage they had consumed 427lb of food giving a food conversion of 3:1. The first two pigs had reached bacon weight in the 132 days from birth with the average time for the litter being 143 days compared with the Northern Ireland average of 180 days.

Mr J McGregor Black, BOCM’s general manager in Northern Ireland, also stressed the vital importance of food conversion efficiency.

“Food conversion is talked about pretty widely now in livestock circles but I still wonder if farmers generally realise even yet that this is possibly the most vital item in the financial success of pig production,” said Mr Black.

“For instance, in present economic conditions, the difference in finishing a bacon pig that converts at 4:1 as compared with one converting at 3:1 is the difference between a six per cent return on capital and 30 per cent return on capital respectively.”

Mr Black explained that BOCM research into improved food utilisation in pigs covered both feeding and breeding aspects. Originally research into pig nutrition had been carried out at Colworth House in Bedfordshire and, as the establishment was not normally open to visitors, it had been decided to make a film featuring the pig section of the Animal Research Division. It was the first time the film had been shown in Northern Ireland.

Colworth House was the main Unilever Research Centre and the largest of its kind in the world at that time. All the basic research behind BOCM feeds was carried out there.

The centre extended to more than 1,200 acres and there was a staff of more than 1,000 scientists and research technicians. In the pig section there was a breeding herd of over 200 sows and at any one time, with more than 1,600 pigs involved in investigations into the fundamentals of pig nutrition.

The computered results were then tested on a wide scale under commercial farm conditions by BOCM before final products were made available to the pig farmer.