The target of 30 pigs weaned per sow is now starting to become a reality in some parts of the world, notably Denmark and France, where highly prolific sows have been developed. In North America, only a few producers consistently achieve this level of breeding herd performance and, for most, it has taken a long time to get there.
By Bernard Peet
To reach 30 pigs per sow from a standing start in just 12 months seems nothing short of impossible; but that is
exactly what Martin Waldner and his team have done at Hartland Hutterite Colony, near Bashaw, Alberta, Canada, where a new 800-sow farrow operation was set up in 2008. The first gilts were bred at the end of February 2008 and by January 2009, the herd records showed that the 30 pigs per sow milestone had been reached.
Unlike most new barns, the unit was designed for high performance from the start. “We based everything on 12 pigs weaned per sow and the nursery and finisher rooms were sized accordingly,” explains Martin Waldner. Not only that, but the new facility is equipped with the latest technology in feed manufacturing, feeding, environment and pig care. So, what was the route to such an impressive achievement?The starting point for such high performance is the gilt, Waldner believes. Hartland breeds its own F1 gilts from pure Landrace females mated to a Large White boar, while the initial stocking and some subsequent replacement was done with F1 gilts.
All breeding stock is supplied by Fast Genetics, a company based in Saskatchewan, which has highly prolific females as a result of infusing French AI into their maternal lines. “Our home-bred gilts are moved out of the finishing barn at 55-60 kg and into a dedicated isolation unit away from the unit, Waldner explains. “They are housed in part slatted pens to help develop strong legs and fed a gilt developer diet. We want to have good bone strength and so we don't push them too hard.” Any heats observed in isolation are recorded and gilts are later moved to the breeding area, where they are mated at their third heat and at a minimum of 220 days. This attention to detail is reflected in the first litter size – which was 13.3 total born in 2009 – and the extremely low drop-out rate of gilts and first parity females.
In the breeding area, gilts are housed in groups of four to five animals and weaned sows are placed in single pens opposite a row of boar pens. Breeding is natural, using pure Duroc boars, and the regime is simple and effective. “All gilts and sows are bred twice, with a 24-hour interval,” notes Waldner. Immediately after service, females are moved into the gestation stalls. Sows receive 2.7 kg of feed for the first week and then are fed to regain any condition lost during lactation. “Sows may get up to 4.5 kg per day if necessary, but we check sow condition weekly and adjust the feed level downwards as sows regain condition,” he says. “From day 56 up until day 84, all sows receive 2.7 kg per day and then feed is increased again until just before farrowing.”
Once in the farrowing pens, care is taken not to overfeed as this can cause udder problems and reduce lactation feed intake. Sows farrow naturally, but are carefully observed whenever possible to minimise stillbirths and to make sure piglets receive adequate colostrum. With such a high litter size, fostering is a key aspect of management and a lot of emphasis is placed on matching the number of piglets to the sows' udder capacity. Also, a supplementary rearing system is used to rear surplus piglets. Each farrowing room contains two rows of nine crates and at the end of each row is an additional creep area with a heated mat, which is used to rear the surplus piglets. “We take a litter of large piglets at seven days of age and put them in this area,” explains Waldner. “They have access to milk in trays and creep feed when they go in, then the milk is removed seven days before the room of sows is weaned at 24 days.” Piglets that are too small may be moved back to the previous room and weaned a week later. The sow that has had the piglets removed is used as a foster mother and given surplus newborn piglets. “It's important to use a sow that is very calm tand has good teats,” he stresses.
The farrowing pens are 2.4 m long and 2.0 m wide in order to accommodate large litters of big piglets. Sow feeding is geared to maximising milk supply, with sows starting on 1.8 kg/ day at farrowing and increasing by 0.5 kg per day during the first week, then by 1.8 kg per day after that until their intake limit is reached. “Once sows are eating 5.5 kg of feed per day, we start feeding three times per day, at 8.00 am, 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm,” notes Waldner. “Sows will typically reach an intake of about 11 kg per day and sometimes up to 13 kg, while gilts eat about 9 kg. Such high feed intake not only ensures that sows are weaned in good condition, but that they wean heavy piglets. Average weaning weight is around 8.5 kg at 25 days of age. After weaning, the objective is to get these pigs eating and growing as quickly as possible. To do this, says Waldner, there are five key points to address – good hygiene, an adequate supply of clean water, high quality feeds, a suitable environment and careful management.
The unit has eight nursery rooms, each with two pens of 200 pigs. At the end of each batch, rooms are washed and left to dry for at least 24 hours. “It's really important that the pens are clean and dry before pigs are brought in and we always ensure that the room temperature is at least 27˚C,” comments Waldner.
Days after weaning
The first few days after weaning are critical, he believes. “We monitor the pigs very closely for the first day, making sure there is feed and water in the bottom of all the feeder pans. Rooms get checked by walking through at least three times a day.” In a system with large groups of pigs, it's essential that sick or disadvantaged pigs are removed promptly, he emphasises.
Waldner is convinced that water intake is the most critical aspect of getting pigs off to a good start. The 12 wet/dry feeders in each room have two nipple drinkers each over a water trough each side of the feed tray. In addition, there are 12 hanging water nipples per room. “It is very important during the first two or three days to make sure that pigs know where the water is,” he stresses. We provide additional water troughs for the first three days until the pigs find that there is water at the feeder too.” Hanging water nipples are adjusted once a week with a hand winch so the height is at the shoulder level of the smallest pig in pen. The equipment used for feeding allows a series of four diets to be delivered through the same feed line. “There is an air valve on the line above each feeder, which opens up to deliver the correct feed for the age of pigs in the pen,” Waldner explains. “When all the feeders are full and feed starts coming back through the feed line, the feed line is automatically emptied and the next diet is fed.”
Performance of pigs in the nursery is impressive. During the seven-week growth period, pigs average 630 g/ day, reaching a weight of 39 kg at removal, with a death loss of less than 2%. Prior to the finishing stage, pigs are housed in a pre-grower room where they are trained to use an auto-sort weighing system in order to access a feeding area. When they reach 45 kg, the scale selects them and diverts them into the first pen in the finisher room. As they grow, they move automatically from pen to pen down the barn based on weight.
There are two rows of six pens, each 27 m deep, of which 6 m is a feed court with five circular wet/dry feeders. The first pen in each row is 8.5 m wide and each successive pen is bigger to accommodate pigs as they grow, with the final pen before selection for slaughter being 16 m wide. Gilts are housed in one row of pens and castrates in the other. On one day each week, the scales in each pen in the barn are set to select pigs at a pre-determined weight and divert them into the next pen. “We typically find that 200 pigs move from one pen to the next,” Waldner notes. “The weights that we set for the scales are done by trial and error and are changed regularly in order to ensure the correct number of pigs in each pen.”
At the end of each row of pens is a 5.5 m wide shipping pen for selected slaughter pigs over 115 kg. Pigs are diverted into this pen the afternoon prior to shipping and have access to water but not feed until they are shipped the following morning.
The finishing system challenges conventional thinking on mixing pigs, or rather not mixing pigs, yet there is no doubt that it works extremely well. The most surprising thing is that there seems to be no aggressive behaviour or indication of injuries due to fighting. “When you see pigs that don't know each other interacting, they seem to just peck at each other, then one backs off and they go their separate ways,” Waldner notes. The impressive performance at all stages of production in the unit is clearly achieved through the hard work and dedication of Martin Waldner and his five-man team, only two of whom had previously worked with pigs. Their success is well deserved.
The Hutterites or Hutterian Brethren, are a communal people living in colonies throughout the prairies in North America. They emerged as a distinct culture and religious group in the early 16th century and first settled in North America in 1874. Each Hutterite colony has between 60 and 160 people and is primarily involved in farming. All members of the colony are provided for equally and nothing is kept for personal gain.
Source: Pig Progress magazine Volume 26.6