The concepts of offence and defence are commonly used in sport. Yet they’re also becoming more relevant to agriculture, and particularly modern swine production. Nowadays, swine producers regularly find themselves on the defensive line but could the swine industry turn a great defence into an even better offence?
Fall is wrapping up here in the USA, and for me one of the best things about fall is American football. I may not be a diehard sports fan like my husband, but I love watching a great defence in action – there’s nothing quite like the defensive line shutting down an offence’s star quarterback, then stealing the ball to gain a few yards!
The concepts of offence and defence are commonly used in sport, and for obvious reasons. Yet they’re also becoming more and more relevant to agriculture, and particularly modern swine production. Nowadays, swine producers regularly find themselves on the defensive line, fighting to protect their ability to sustainably and profitably produce the food needed by a growing world population. And they’re up against an increasingly strong offence that can knock them back for a significant ‘loss of yards’.
Authorities implement regulations designed to protect the wider society and environment. Consumers lobby for food that’s fully traceable, antibiotic-free or organic. Neighbours complain about the stench of manure.
The burden on swine producers trying to maintain even current levels of profitability is substantial. Yet through a constant series of defensive ‘plays’ that improve efficiency, raise welfare standards and reduce waste, most have been able to hold their ground.
The strategies employed have often included advances in nutrition, and during a recent presentation at the Western Nutrition Conference in Saskatoon, Canada, I had the opportunity to reflect on the crucial role that feed additives such as enzymes continue to play in this swine production ‘game’.
If we take phytase as just one example, for over 20 years it’s helped lower both diet costs and phosphate (P) levels in manure. Many nutritionists also apply an amino acid matrix, gaining additional cost savings and even greater feed efficiency.
But sometimes the best gains are made when we grab the opportunity to turn what was initially a great defence into an even better offence.
At superdosing levels, an appropriate phytase can also allow more prudent use of zinc oxide, creating a better balance between pharmacological inclusion rates and the need to mitigate environmental concerns. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is proposing additional mineral reductions, but here’s an opportunity to make gains now and be further down the ‘field of play’ when new rules are applied.
A similar approach can be taken with amino acid matrices, formulating lower crude protein diets when superdosing, maintaining pig performance but with less ammonia and other odorous gases given off by the manure. Lower feed costs and reduced environmental impact are 2 benefits, but another is the ability to discuss with complaining neighbours the steps you’re already taking to minimise the smell of your hog manure!
Today, many industries use Life Cycle Assessments to evaluate environmental impact. But it’s also a chance to promote advances in efficiency, sustainability and welfare to a wider audience, whether that’s consumers, regulators or neighbours.
Alternatively, we could just start copying the fans of my alma mater football team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, who intimidate their opponents by loudly ‘calling the hogs’… “Wooooooo Pig-Sooie!”