Save 40% on your weaning to slaughter feed costs

21-07-2009 | |
John Gadd Topic: Pig Management

I have recently been studying what my best producers do compared to the average results I come across. The difference is a staggering 40% variation in performance costs from weaning to slaughter. At the risk of this being a rather long item I think it worthwhile to summarise what can lead to this difference.

The difference in income before tax for the average European slaughter pig producer compared to the top 10% came from 56 kg less saleable lean meat/pig for every 1 tonne of grower/ finisher food fed. (Technically described as MTF – saleable lean Meat per Tonne of Food fed).

This can be as much as a huge 40% equivalent reduction in the cost of your grower/ finisher feed cost/ tonne. Impossible? Definitely not, as my best clients have achieved this improvement across several years.

Attaining the improvement

How is this 56 kg MTF improvement attained? Several clients who have reached this across several years suggest that the split is roughly as follows:

* Better genetics: 15 kg

* Correct nutrient intake and balance: 19 kg

* Comfort – correct temperature and less stress: 12 kg

* Disease averaged-out as given below on these excellently-run farms – but its effect was very variable in degree and time, so please read what most people did about ©fighting disease at the end of this blog. This allowed them to claim the relatively low proportion of: 10 kg

* Total: 56 kg

To close off, I will include some comments on management and terminology as well.


* Use modern genetics based on scienceand computerised mathematics and not on ‘past breeding experience’ which while valuable, can never compete with the sheer number-crunching that genetic development needs. Tens of thousands of calculations and dozens of performance tests are required to develop just one gene line.

* Keep an open mind. Buy a few examples of the best genes (boars or semen) available from the world market and compare them under your conditions to what is available locally.

Nutrient intake

*©Work with a good pig nutritionist

* Check ingredient analyses constantly. There is huge variation in ingredients even in todays market – my investigations suggest 35% of farmers are not feeding the nutrient intake levels they thought they were.

* Keep abreast of new/ updated feeding techniques (computerised wet feeding; phase feeding, and its development blend feeding, where 50 phases can be made from just three bins of basic feeds, and finally challenge feeding – this latter to more closely match nutrient intake to immune demand, etc).

* Regular ad-lib feed hopper supervision/ adjustment is worth 9 kg more lean/tonne of feed.


* Correct stocking density compared to overstocking by 15% pays back 4.7 times the extra cost of having to provide 15% more space in reverting to the accepted guidelines.

* Temperature. Learn about LCT, ECT and UCT and how to check on them. 3°C below LCT for one third of each day costs €0.58/ growing pig/ week.

* Ventilation must be correctly installed by a professional, then constantly monitored by you and adjusted if needed and maintained on a regular basis.©Even slightly incorrect ventilation costs about 6 kg MTF, some of the worst cases nearer 10 kg.

* Stress is a major drag on performance – floors, competition, aggression, anxiety, draughts, gases and atmosphere, pain, heat, water, hunger, disturbance to routine etc. Do a periodic stress audit. A good idea is to have another experienced farmer do it with you and your head stockperson. They see things you don’t.

Disease – Viruses

Viruses are changing fast – now interacting with each other making correct diagnosis, prevention and control very complex. So correct veterinary diagnosis is vital. Any serious pig producer not using a pig specialist veterinarian risks jeopardising his future profit. But experienced pig specialist vets are often too far away to be of practical use.

Or are they? A solution islong distance advice by e-mail, including sending photos. ©This enables producers to get expert supervision of their disease strategy from a highly experienced pig professional veterinarian, if suitable local pig specialist veterinary supervision is not possible.

Only an (annual?) farm visit by the long-distance specialist vet is then needed. The local vet. (working with yourself and him) is available for emergencies/ drug prescriptions/ lab diagnosis. The cost of such a dual service is perhaps 33% more than a monthly visit by a local vet, but the payback in lowered disease costs has been between 8 and 17 times more: a revolution in veterinary use.

Disease – Immunity

Do everything you can to establish natural immunity so as to reduce the need for the growing pig to protect itself by diverting nutrients into forming a strong immune defence. For example the more highly-challenged growing pig needs about 3 g more lysine/ day (and some other nutrients) in his diet to supply this need without damaging his genetic capacity for lean growth which you have paid for, and this raises the food cost by 11%. Not to do so reduces lean meat deposition to the tune of 13 kg less lean laid down per tonne of food fed which is much more expensive in eventual reduced income.

Thus the lower the immune defence the pig needs to build, the more profitable will he be. This is quite different to the sow, where as high an immune barrier as possible is needed as she lives so much longer and has to provide maternal antibodies to protect her vulnerable young.

Disease – Total biosecurity

The main line of defence helping any pig to boost its immune shield – high or low. Total biosecurity has moved up several notches to what is commonly done today, which is not nearly good enough to deal with these ‘new©interactive viruses’. You must re-examine what you are doing or eventually you will be forced to exit the industry.

Listen to what the better biosecurity firms and pig specialist veterinarians are telling you – and do it! It will cost more but the payback has varied from 3 to 1 to 12 to 1.©©


* Stockpeople – look after them.©Motivate them. Use the cusum graph idea to do this – it works. Train them. Daily briefings as a group. Weekly discussion ‘where did we get to this week’ meetings.

* Bonuses: Performance attainment bonuses work very well if correctly designed on a group sharing basis agreed as fair by the workers themselves.

* Records: Essential but don’t overdo it. Monitor your progress of individual parameters with cusum graphs and overall using the ‘Profit Box system’.

* Targets should be set downwards from your performance/ profit ambitions to meet your satisfactory standard of living/ return on capital/ borrowing needs etc, not upwards from individual performance benchmarks considered attainable by the industry, and often erroneously over-featured in several benchmark meetings I have attended.


A whole new set of performance terms based not only on physical performance is being adopted ©but also based on profit eg MTF (Meat per Tonne of Food), REO (Return on Extra Outlay), AIV (Annual Investment Value) etc.

These are replacing the outdated terms such as FCR (Food conversion Ratio) ADG (Average daily Gain) etc. Keep abreast of the new terminology so as to make better commercial decisions and to evaluate what you are being told by over-enthusiastic sellers.