Everything in pig production is interconnected. In the previous issue, the question how to optimise weaning capacity was answered; now it is time to zoom in on optimising the finishing capacity.
By Gregory Simpson, swine nutritionist, Hypor
Optimising finishing capacity means finishing strong. That is the conviction of Ernie Meyer, manager of production and technical services, Hypor USA. He says, “By improving cost efficiency, choosing ‘user-friendly’ stock, and ensuring throughput efficiency, producers can finish high-quality weaned pigs efficiently, consistently and quickly, to maximise total system profitability.”
Improved cost efficiency
Cost efficiency can be improved in many ways. Increasing the proportion of feed efficient, full potential and low maintenance pigs in a system have a significant positive impact on total system profitability.
Feed efficient pigs
Feed costs account for approximately 70% of production expenses and are increasing daily. Improving feed efficiency can significantly reduce costs. The challenge is to breed pigs that are better at converting feed into food.
How efficiently a pig converts feed into meat is determined by factors, such as genetics, health, environment, management, space, feed and equipment. Some lines are genetically more efficient than others at converting feed into muscle (meat). Differences between breeds are often less distinct, because of intra-breed variation.
Feed intake must also be measured to determine each individual animal’s feed efficiency and its potential value in the genetic improvement programme. Hypor has electronic feeding stations that monitor intake in all its global breeding nuclei. Combined with serial weight measurements, it is possible to generate precise breeding values for feed conversion efficiency. Residual Feed Intake (RFI) – the difference between actual feed intake and the animal’s predicted required intake – is also calculated.
This is more effective than selecting on standard feed intake and lean growth measurements alone. Animals with low RFI scores are most beneficial in the breeding programme.
Hypor has Combined Crossbred Purebred Selection (CCPS) test herds in Europe and Canada, where terminal cross pigs are tested in the same way as its purebred terminal lines.
Full potential pigs
Maximising the performance of each individual pig helps cost efficiency. The variation between pigs arriving at the growers is a challenge for finishing managers.
Pig growth is naturally a variable process, but much can be done to ensure uniformity genetically. It requires a thorough understanding of production targets, optimal production conditions, stocking with maximal numbers of pigs at profit-maximising weight and quality, and minimising genetic and environmentally-caused variations within the herd.
Many aspects of good breeding programmes should increase uniformity, and improve the percentage of full potential pigs. A focus on purebred terminal lines significantly reduces the genetic variation more typical of crossbred sires, minimising variations in growth, feed efficiency and overall quality.
The Balanced Breeding approach emphasises characteristics on the maternal side to produce uniform litters of high quality pigs. CCPS links finisher performance back to the breeding programme to ensure continuous focus on uniformity.
“Improving the percentage of full potential pigs in your system is possible when you follow precision production principles,” says John Williams, account manager, Hypor USA. ”With a clear understanding of the end goal, decisions that maximise the number of pigs meeting the profit-maximising weight and quality, and minimal genetic and environmental variations, cost efficiency can be significantly enhanced.”
Low maintenance pigs
Low maintenance pigs are easy-to-manage, functional and durable, and achieve a profit-optimising weight quickly, with little or no intervention. They have a major positive impact on cost efficiency.
Many factors influence maintenance. Nurturing high herd-health, according to a carefully monitored, preventative strategy and following strict biosecurity protocols helps. Providing a safe and comfortable environment with optimal temperature, air- and water quality, rich, dense diet and appropriate, phased feeding programmes can also help accurately meet individual pig needs. Efficient, effective staff are also an asset.
If pigs are raised in a low-challenge environment with modern facilities, good health strategy and management, genetic choices are relatively straightforward. However, challenges exist for most producers, so the right genetics can enable pigs to adapt or thrive in a particular environment.
Intervention in the finishing phase requires labour and expertise, which costs time and money. Finishing low intervention pigs – healthier animals that are easy to work with and require less medication and management – reduces the need for labour, expertise and veterinary attention. It improves welfare and enables producers to meet increasing consumer demands for ‘naturally-produced’ pork.
Antibiotic use is a key issue in pig health care. They are used to treat, prevent and control bacterial diseases and for growth promotion. Used for the latter, antibiotics are administered as feed additives at low concentrations for extended periods of time to improve daily weight gain and feed efficiency through alterations in digestion and disease suppression.
Studies have shown that they increase meat production by up to approximately 15% each year and also improve feed efficiency.
However, antibiotic resistance, affecting not only animals, but also humans is a key issue. Societal pressure to reduce their use is significant. Consumers are increasingly interested in ‘natural’ pork produced without the use of antibiotics. However, this can present risks for the entire pork chain in health and production issues, and weight variability.
Reduction in antibiotic use is, however, possible by intensifying biosecurity. Gerjan van Alst, director of operations and general manager Hypor Europe, points to closed-herd programmes for having real merit in reducing the introduction of new pathogens. He says, “Minimised environmental stressors, good stockmanship that includes observing animals, monitoring and controlling pig flow, creating uniform groups of pigs and organising adequate facilities to isolate sick or injured pigs fast, are all critically important.
The periodic re-evaluation of antibiotic programmes to ensure they are optimised for the animals’ needs is also critical.”
Robustness ensures vigour against varying and challenging environmental conditions, nutrition and health. The impact of robustness is economically significant.
The company has developed a portfolio of four distinct terminal lines to meet the needs of different production systems and target markets: Pietrain terminal sire lines for European production, and Duroc terminal sire lines for North American systems. The CCPS programme generates important commercial field data in target markets. Using the terminal cross pigs’ pedigree, valuable information is produced on how well the offspring of individual herd sires perform under a wide range of commercial environments and commercial diets. This information is used in the breeding programme alongside each boar’s individual performance to improve robustness along with other important performance traits like growth rate, feed efficiency and carcass quality. “Genetic robustness is an important factor to consider when designing a system and selecting breeding stock,” says Peter Gerrits, the company’s international technical specialist in Central and Eastern Europe. “Carefully evaluating your requirements at the outset can save a lot in labour, veterinary costs, feed and facilities.”
The industry’s emphasis on producing high numbers of lean piglets with good weaning potential favours the production of heavier sows and piglets. Target carcass weight increases year after year. In the USA, the average carcass weighs 95 kg (129 kg live weight), with some slaughterhouses offering premiums for 115 kg carcasses. However, improving the protein deposition potential of modern finishers to higher weights can compromise the durability of finisher pigs. An animal able to grow efficiently to these heavier weights can be physiologically challenged and prone to lameness, kyphosis/lordosis producing ‘hunchbacked pigs’, or abdominal issues. Higher feed intakes are often associated with higher incidences of hernias, prolapses and abdominal issues. Solving the increased incidence of these defects in populations selected for high intake is extremely challenging and requires a major investment in very intense phenotyping.
“Investing in major phenotyping for traits like genetic defects, morphology and causes of losses through comprehensive CCPS programmes, will deliver an animal better suited to show superior performance in commercial conditions, offering higher efficiency to the total pig value chain and more user-friendly pork production,” says Jordi Mora Franques, global production manager, Hypor.
Fast, uniform growth with predictable performance means high performance and efficiency, throughput efficient pigs help optimise pig flow and maximise facility turnover.
Optimum growth rate, uniformity and predictability are the key in throughput efficiency that enables total system profitability to be achieved.
Good growth rate is key to get the biggest yield per square meter possible. Measured by Average Daily Gain (ADG), it is a particularly relevant figure for young animals. ADG is moderately heritable (0.29). Linked to Daily Feed Intake Capacity (DFI) and Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR). It is the best indicator of carcass yield per square meter of building, including constructing improved building rotation and/ or a crawl space between large batches.
Growth, feed conversion, and intake capacity were the only selection criteria that were actually measured and taken into account for a long time. ADG was also only measured for terminal boars, but increasingly it is becoming a major criterion for all breeds (male and female). “Growth rate is a classic criterion useful in total system profitability, which is still highly relevant,” remarked Florence Ytournel, geneticist, Hypor Netherlands. “Nevertheless, it is increasingly important to supplement this with new traits.”
Homogenous piglet production helps maximise potential in later stages and reduce production costs. The use of pure terminal sire lines also contributes to a higher homogeneity of piglets. As well as genetics, physiological differences, such as age and gender, play a role in uniformity, with males growing faster than females, for example. In addition, good management, nutrition, environment and minimal stress levels contribute.
Finishing capacity can be optimised with repeatable high standard finishing. This repeatability and the capacity of predicting the finishing ability are partially heritable. Different traits have a different predictability. The repeatability of traits that are evaluated in slaughterhouses (backfat thickness, meat percentage, etc.) can also be evaluated on farms. All these traits have quite high heritability which means the performance of pigs is predictable and repeatable. This evaluation provides assurance in the quality of the forthcoming batches. “We believe that selecting for an increased and repeatable finishing capacity is an important part of a complete system that profits our clients from farrowing to slaughter,” says Ytournel.
Gregory Simpson, Hypor: “Cost efficiency in finishing can be improved in many ways.”