Small changes in reproductive performance in piggeries can translate into big economic gains, according to Hilduard Swarts, global marketing director, Global Swine Business Unit, Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health.
Netherlands-based and an specialist in the application of breeding technologies on pigs farms, Swarts addressed about 200 producers and industry stakeholders in all mainland Australian states last week on manipulating reproduction in pigs.
"For example, if a producer manages to improve sow output from 21 to 22 piglets a year, profits may double, despite a change in piglets numbers of only about 5%," he said.
His presentations covered batch farrowing, manipulating heat cycles, fixed time insemination and the importance of production parameters on financial impact.
Swarts told producers that a good start to improving sow productivity and therefore piggery profitability was to induce heat on schedule by using specific hormonal treatments to initiate cycling.
"Synchronising heats gives you the best use of housing and easier batch farrowing of piglets by age, allowing you to move them all to the one place at the one time," he said.
Swarts said that batch farrowing was very popular in Europe, especially in France, where producers enjoyed its many management benefits, including a change in mindset to "I don't have individual sows, but, rather, I have 20 batches."
Synchronising heat in cycling gilts and sows, by using the company's oral progesterone-like product to inhibit the hormones that promote development of egg folicles within the ovaries, was simply a matter of feeding the medication for 18 consecutive days and then stopping. This removed the inhibitory effects of progesterone, allowing normal oestrus cycling to return.
"Ovulation induction then allows you to better manage artificial insemination, including using less semen and you can generally manage your staff and piggery breeding unit more efficiently and more profitably," Mr Swarts said.
"Staff rostering improves and the need for highly skilled and expensive labour lessens."
Another advantage of ovulation induction, using the company's technology, was that oestrus detection was no longer necessary, but simply needed to be confirmed.
"The oral progestagen treatment is a very flexible tool for planning the onset of follicular development and can especially improve productivity in gilts," he said.
Several studies in a number of countries also showed an increase of about 0.7 piglets born alive per litter, when the treatment was used.
"While this particularly applied to parity one and early weaned sows, it was also observed in gilts," Swarts said.
He explained that feeding the progestagen for nine days after weaning allowed parity one sows more time for endocrine and uterine recovery and a greater parity two litter size.
New South Wales-based Amanda Vardanega, national swine manager with the animal health company, hosted the Victorian, NSW, Queensland, SA and WA seminars. She said the feedback from producers was that they welcomed his international perspective on how best to maximise pig reproductive performance.
"While Australia's pork production sector has access to reasonable genetics, quality feed and a relatively skilled workforce, there's always room for improvement."
• Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health