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For Denmark, breeding doesn't stop after 2013

With the Danish show Agromek having repositioned itself to virtually coincide with EuroTier, the Danish livestock market developed a novel initiative: NutriFair. The first edition of the new, 'livestock-only' trade show was held in Fredericia, 25-26 January. As it is everywhere in Europe, breeding matters were top of the list.

Was the first edition of NutriFair a success? No doubt, it was. One of the reasons for this is the imminence of the year 2013. Well known by now – by January next year, all dry sows have to be kept in group housing for most of their gestation period in the whole of the European Union.

Even in Denmark, usually well ahead of the game when it comes to welfare and environmental issues, this law change is causing some pig breeders to tremble. In early 2012, an estimated 80-85% of the Danish pig breeders had converted to group housing. The remainder, however, still represents a considerable breeding potential. After all, Denmark is renowned for its breeding and ships millions of piglets south to Germany each year. So the search for just that system continues.
 
For some Danish breeders, however, the year 2013 signifies simply the end of the road, said Hans Aarestrup, director of the Danish Pig Producers (DPP). “Ever since the legislation was announced in the European Union, pig breeders have had the time to prepare for the changes. Many pig farmers built the stables of their dreams over the last couple of years. But for those who had planned to rebuild close to 2013, things have become increasingly difficult. Due to adverse economic circumstances, land has grown to represent less value. And it’s exactly the land that banks look at to guarantee a loan. For Danish pig breeders therefore getting access to money is a lot more difficult than it was a couple of years ago.”

No loan means no conversion, so no business? Aarestrup said, “Yes. We expect to see about 10% fewer sows in Denmark. The efficiency will rise a bit, so all in all that will not have a huge impact on the total number of piglets produced.”

No shock effect
With the majority having converted to group housing, the Danish breeding sector is light years ahead of most other (southern) European counterparts where sometimes conversion percentages of 30% or less are reported. Now what will happen if 2013 comes and legislators maintain the new directive very strictly?

Aarestrup said, “If the closure of farms leads to a small deficit of say 5% it should be fine. But imagine what would happen if half of the industry would disappear? Then the other half of the industry would have to cough that up. That would be impossible, so what you’d see is skyrocketing prices for pork and a lot of the remaining industry going down as well. We’ve seen what happened in the UK – the industry went to half its size there. In addition, people would look for alternatives – so probably the Brazilians would be interested to export – and there would be more chances for chicken, fish, etc.

It may take until 2020 until the whole of Europe has converted – Aarestrup therefore hopes for a somewhat smooth transition next year. “Maybe we will have a year in which the remaining pig farms will be urged more to consider to rebuild their pig houses. For once we should not feel too sorry about the lack of time there is usually, when it comes down to southern Europe implementing the laws made in Brussels. That might just be what is needed to give us good prices for a longer period.”

After 2013
After 2013, the Danish horizon may soon change into 2021. This year is named by both political and animal welfare groups as the desired year in which nursing sows ought to be kept in loose systems too. Although perhaps not as progressive as some Norwegian systems, where sows ought to be free all the time, and located on beds of straw, some future breeding pens for loose nursing sows were displayed at NutriFair.

Key to this approach is that sows can move freely within their farrowing pens. The method got support in a report published by the Danish Pig Research Centre (VSP), in early 2010. Systems for loose farrowing sows do not lead to extra piglet mortality, as long as the sows are kept confined during the first couple of days post-farrowing. One of the conclusions: “In pens where sows were loose before and during farrowing but in the box until day 4 or 7 after farrowing, piglet mortality was respectively 4.7 and 5.9%, while piglet mortality was 10.9% in pens where the sow was loose in this period.”

 
Danish AP Company – part of the Graakjaer Group, showcased their novel loose nursing sow concept, taking into account this knowledge. Its farrowing pen has a crate that can be widened after a couple of days. In addition, the crate itself gives extra space to the sow, through a rounder shape at the bottom, following the sow’s body. Last but not least, it can be equipped with a rubber mat, for more comfort in case sows have shoulder lesions (see top photo).

Egebjerg International’s design of a loose farrowing unit has been existing for quite some years, said product manager Carsten Rasmussen. Their design, which also comes with a crate that can be widened, was upgraded at NutriFair with a novel, enhanced feeding trough, situated in the corner, saving space (see bottom photo). Rasmussen said, “There has been some interest in the loose nursing sow systems, mainly from Sweden where welfare legislation is tighter.

 
The main problem with this design is that it requires more space than conventional farrowing crates – this could be a reason for many producers to be hesitant. About 3x2 metres is required for each farrowing crate; so it’s simply a matter of economics of scale. Think about what happens if you multiply this by 500!”

Costs
It may therefore come as no surprise that leading Danish animal welfare scientists are already trying to establish cost consequences of freedom farrowing. Senior researcher Lene Juul Pedersen, Aarhus University, Denmark, recently presented her opinion about this at a conference, saying: “There are several areas where potentials exist for dealing with the higher cost for more space in the free farrowing system. These are less cost for diseased sows, fewer stillborn piglets, and death due to hypothermia, less cost after weaning since litters are heavier with fewer runt piglets demanding less expensive weaner feed.”

She briefly touched on the option to develop farrowing pens to be used for pigs until slaughter, which would imply that the pigs would have to be moved around less, thus less time would be needed on cleaning, causing less disease, allowing for video surveillance and other one-location benefits, etc.

The topic is very much alive - and no doubt the 2013 edition of NutriFair will shed more light on opportunities for loose nursing sows – or as the Danish put it: løsgående diegivende søer.

 
NutriFair: Facts & figures
The name may suggest a nutrition focus – but the NutriFair in Messe C, Fredericia, Denmark, definitely aimed to be a show for all aspects of professional livestock production. The first edition attracted just under 5,700 visitors and about 150 exhibitors – and most praised this livestock-only approach. Both visitor and exhibitor numbers surpassed the organiser’s expectations. Peter Sunesen, the venue’s project executive, said: “I am very pleased with the turnout. But first and foremost, I am happy about the incredibly positive feedback we have received from exhibitors.” International visitors came from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Attendance was boosted by the annual meeting of the Danish Pig Producers – held at the same time in Fredericia. The show’s success prompted a repeat: A second edition will be held in January 2013.
 
 

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