World of pigs

Background

The return of WPX: Optimism abounds

Although the World Pork Expo (WPX) was cancelled the past 2 years, first in 2019 because of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Asia and Europe and then because of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, optimism abounded during the 2021 show. Thousands of participants travelled to the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, IA, USA, 9–11 June.

While it appeared that concerns regarding Covid-19 had largely faded, one topic of discussion focused on another concern of pork producers – will “fake meat” drive down demand for real pork? “There is a lot of hype about plant-based meat alternatives, but what do the data say?” asked Jayson Lusk, PhD, distinguished professor and head of the Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue University.

He shared data that track consumers’ preferences over time, with 1,000 consumers surveyed each month. “Only 3% to 4% of consumers would choose plant-based meat alternatives,” Lusk said. “Attitudes towards conventional meat products are still very positive. People like meat. It tastes great, plus it provides protein and micronutrients.”

There was reason to smile for the delegates at WPX 2021. After 2 years, there was a show again. - Photos: Darcy Maulsby
There was reason to smile for the delegates at WPX 2021. After 2 years, there was a show again. - Photos: Darcy Maulsby

Family feeding system addresses weaning dip

Producers’ interest in better ways to raise pork efficiently was evident at the PigEasy booth at the WPX trade show. A feeding system developed by PigEasy, a company based in Templeton, IA, has caught the attention of Vereijken, a Dutch equipment company. “We have teamed up on a couple projects with Vereijken in the past few years,” said Katie Holtz, vice president of PigEasy. “They are now promoting our feeder with their farrowing set up.”

Vereijken is especially interested in the weaning dip in piglets. This is a well-known challenge among pig farmers and represents a far-reaching challenge for piglets. Not only are piglets separated from their mothers, but they also suddenly have to switch from a milk diet to one of solids and water. Between 10% and 65% of piglets will not have learned how to eat solids after four weeks, according to Vereijken. However, it’s a little-known fact that nearly all piglets will explore eating solid foods very early on and would be able to do so after just 14 days or less.

We see a lot of ‘family eating’ in our own feeder system, due to the design and the height that the feeder sits in the crate

Katie Holtz, vice president of PigEasy

Teaching piglets how to eat solids

In collaboration with Vereijken, Trouw Nutrition and 12 pig farmers, the Pig Innovation Centre at Wageningen University & Research has been exploring how piglets can be taught to eat solids and drink water in the farrowing pen. Taking inspiration from how food intake develops in nature, researchers are designing a practical farrowing system for modern pig farming that will help to avoid the weaning dip and raise healthier piglets in the process.

Project leaders hypothesised that the sow teaches the piglets how to eat, and there are additional benefits in them to learning to eat from the same feeder. “In the study, they dropped feed on the floor, which is not very sustainable for a commercial setting,” Holtz said. “However, we see a lot of ‘family eating’ in our own feeder system, due to the design and the height that the feeder sits in the crate.”

This ‘family eating’ phenomenon is influenced by the design of the PigEasy System in lactation, which was developed so that each sow has the ability to self-regulate her eating area. Part of the system includes PigEasy’s MealMeter equipment, which maximises intake without the feed and water waste that’s typically associated with feeding in farrowing. “The MealMeter is based on sows’ natural up-and-down rooting motion,” said Dave Klocke, the company’s founder and president. “They can get the feed they want, but they don’t play with the MealMeter and waste feed.”

Emma Lasco (right) of Zoetis explains the ins and outs of the Individual Sow Care programme.
Emma Lasco (right) of Zoetis explains the ins and outs of the Individual Sow Care programme.

The PigEasy System in lactation also includes the lactation water pipe and button nipple in the company’s sow feeder. That means the sow cleans up the dispensed feed with every drink. The sow feeder has a focused eating area so feed cannot build up in corners. By giving each sow the freedom to consume feed ad lib while at the same time having the water in the bowl to serve as a “regulator”, sows optimise intake without feed and water waste. “This low-tech option is the answer to daily feeding headaches in the farrowing barn,” Klocke said.

That does not mean there’s no feed for piglets to explore. The feeder is just over 15 cm (6 in) off the ground, compared to 30.5 cm (1 ft) like other companies’ equipment. “The low entry height is key,” said Klocke, who is an inventor and a pig farmer. Piglets can crawl up into the lactation bowl, where sows access feed and water, and clean up feed morsels.

“We did not realise how much piglets were benefiting from this access until we stuck a GoPro camera on a feeder,” Holtz said. Visitors to the PigEasy booth could view a 12-minute video clip of piglets eagerly consuming feed in the bowl. “We have found that piglets start getting in there to eat at one week old,” Holtz added.

That makes pigs’ transition to creep feeding much easier. “Our customers who operate swine nurseries often comment that our pigs are easier to get started on feed and have a better time transitioning to the new environment,” Holtz said.

The PigEasy booth at WPX 2021.
The PigEasy booth at WPX 2021.

Sow health through individual sow care

Pig health and performance begin with the sow. It pays to conduct health, welfare and performance assessments on every sow, on every breed group, every day, said Emma Lasco, a pork production specialist with Zoetis, who spoke at one of the business seminars during the WPX.

These efforts can help reduce sow mortality rates and culls, improve sow performance, stabilise the health status of sow farms and ensure animal well-being. “The basics of a successful herd go back to the basics of feed, water, air and individual sow care,” Lasco said.

When conducting daily observations of animals, it’s important to be prepared. As producers walk through the barn, they should carry a thermometer, medication and syringes, marking sticks or paint and sow treatment cards.

It is vital, when approaching the animals, to gently touch each sow to let her know where the caretakers are. A healthy sow can be recognised by the following signs:

  • Resting respiration of 12–30 breaths per minute;
  • Appropriate body condition score;
  • Healthy skin tone;
  • Sow rises to eat;
  • Sows have a temperature of 38.6–39.4°C. “Taking each sow’s temperature takes time, but it can save time in the long run,” Lasco said. “It can also ensure accurate health assessments and offer peace of mind.”
  • Individual teats are soft and express milk easily (for lactating sows);
  • Piglets are healthy and full-bellied (with lactating sows); and
  • Lactating sow softly grunts when nursing.

Routine checks at 3 levels

Ensuring proper sow welfare includes routine checks at three levels, Lasco said, from the barn level to the breed group level to the individual sow level.

1. Checklist for daily barn walk-throughs

  • Biosecurity measures;
  • Barn temperature and air quality;
  • General hygiene and cleanliness;
  • Manure pit levels;
  • Feed and water lines should be working properly;
  • Fans, curtains, heaters and control settings need inspection; and
  • Needed repairs around the barn should be spotted.

2. Checklist when observing breed groups

  • Need for repair to or adjustment of feeders or waterers for the specific breed group;
  • Water quality, water lines and stations to make sure things are working properly;
  • Coughing and sneezing among the animals in each group;
  • Appropriate swine size and development for the stage of gestation or lactation.

3. Checklist at the individual sow level

Lasco said it is pivotal to make time to observe each sow from head to tail for at least one to two seconds. It is good to:

  • Compare each sow to the ideal, healthy sow. Sows should be calm and alert. They should exhibit a good appetite and have soft udders with functional teats that express milk easily. Sows should also allow piglets to nurse. Sows displaying abnormal behaviour may seem agitated, have laboured “open mouth” breathing, go off feed or not allow piglets to nurse.
  • Watch the way each sow is lying and assess the overall comfort level of each sow.
  • Note which sows are slow to rise or do not move when approached.
  • Look for normal sow stools on the floor. Normal, healthy sows excrete formed, soft stools and pale to light yellow urine. Abnormal signs include diarrhoea, constipation or bloody stools; and dark, bloody or cloudy urine.

In all cases, caregivers need to be calm and sensitive to the needs of the animals. It’s imperative to follow the veterinarian’s treatment protocols and recommendations. Also, careful records should be kept, Lasco concluded.

Next year’s edition of WPX will be held 8–10 June 2022, again at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, IA, United States.

WPX misses the world

Even though the show was called “World” Pork Expo, the 2021 event unfortunately had to make do without the presence of many intercontinental travellers, who because of Covid-19 were not all in a position to travel to Des Moines. Therefore the 2021 edition was slightly smaller than the 2018 edition, when 33,000 m2 of area was available for viewing. All indoor exhibits this year fitted into the Varied Industries Building.

Biosecurity protocols had also been stepped up in comparison to previous editions. Footbaths were available at each entrance, soy products from ASF-positive countries were not allowed to be present at the show and any feed or feed ingredients shown had to be disposed of prior to leaving the fairgrounds. But the major difference compared with previous years was that there were no live animals at the show – that is, the WPX did not have a Junior Pork Show.