What the textbooks don’t tell you about…Do’s and don’ts around rescue decks
In Pig Progress 28.02 John Gadd zoomed in on the costs of rescue decks, making a case for their good value. In the current issue, he comes back to this issue with some practical recommendations.
First – take time to examine the cost picture
This is because many breeders I meet seem wary of what seems to them to be a high unit cost. This needs examination using the information from users who have adopted them. In terms of value for money, and as my previous calculations suggest, used correctly they come high on the list. So let us look at this.
Second – read the instruction book
The second rule I follow with any relatively new concept is to stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Even today with some of my advisory work into problem-solving on farms, my first task has been checking that the staff are doing what they are supposed to be doing, in the areas of feeding and use of equipment especially.
Basic suggestions with rescue decks
Use the right milk diet. It is not for nothing that the milk starter feed is called ‘rescue milk’. Huge strides have been made in neonatal nutrition in the past ten years – not only are some milk replacers as good as sows milk but they could even be better. I was privileged last year to be told what complexities are now built-in to milk replacers in the form of ingredients (five new ones never even considered in the days when I was a member of the feed trade) and their interrelationships with each other, their storage before use and the very delicate and careful manufacturing constraints of hygiene, blending and targeted shelf-life. Many of us think the pig nutritionist is the key factor in such diets, but with baby pig foods two colleagues are almost of equal importance these days. The buyer and the mill foreman. There is a mechanical as well as a nutritional reason for using the recommended product through a rescue deck’s cups, as the wrong powder could clog the equipment. Can you make the powder yourself? Maybe – a friendly pig nutritionist up with the times could design the specs for you. But you are very unlikely to obtain certain vital ingredients as they are already spoken-for by the baby pig food manufacturers. Generally the special milk is continued in the deck until 5 to 5.5 kg, when a highly-digestible creep mini-pellet takes over.
Installation. Get the manufacturer or his agent to visit and advise you where best to site the decks and maybe the number you will need. One per 10-12 farrowing crates has usually been sufficient. While setting up is simple enough on the small to medium farm, larger units with an 80-100 m delivery line may need a hot water system, a compressor and air drier, etc. More expensive, of course. So be it, but the REO has still been a satisfactory 8:1 and the AIV 12. (See the previous article on costs).
Hygiene. Of course we all know how important scrupulous cleanliness has always been when dealing with baby pigs. Here they are not only very baby pigs on their own at three days old, but one purpose of the rescue deck is to nourish the underprivileged piglet from the available litters, thus more likely to be weak and wobbly. When the time comes to vacate the room and ‘all-in/ all-out’ it, the decks must receive meticulous cleaning with a degreasing detergent and top-quality residue-safe virucide, then thoroughly dried. Delivery lines and cups as well – the manufacturer can take you through the procedure. Modern detergents and disinfectants have shown the same technical advances in formulation and manufacture as has been the case with baby pig food and milk replacers. Again, a reminder about following the directions for use and allowing time for them to work properly.
Getting started. Get to know the procedure/ setting-up process before you get started. If there is anything you are unsure about this is the time to talk to the manufacturer and/ or an experienced user. Listen carefully to their advice. Several good new management systems have got off to a rocky start because users ‘hadn’t the time’ – or were too proud – to ask. I’m not denigrating the manufacturers of new equipment in any way, but they are busy people and often pressed for time, which makes locating a friendly and experienced user as well as the manufacturer’s agent so important at start-up. Pig producers have the time to demonstrate procedures which enthusiasm, fellow-feeling and prior experience encourages them to do. And they are more inclined to forewarn about any pitfalls and snags!
Immune shield. Piglets must be allowed plenty of their dam’s colostrum, and moving them in after three days suckling will also give you some time to assess which are the ones most likely to benefit from the move. Three days is not a cut-off date – you can fill the deck a few days later but all at one time, see below.
Stocking the deck. Piglets must not be transferred to a deck from another farrowing room as at such a young age the piglets may not/ will not be immune to pathogens introduced from another room. Similarly, having chosen which piglets should be reared in a deck and finding some spare places nevertheless, don’t be tempted to pop in more piglets a few days later ‘to make best use of the deck’. Again, the different state of their immune status coming in later from different circumstances, maybe even in the same room, could lead to trouble. Anyway, these are likely to be the weak and wobbly ones you’ve decided need the help the rescue deck can provide.
Stockpersons. Of course they need to be patient, disciplined and dedicated. Well-managed decks are a morale and motivation booster. I have long argued – and published – some of my own findings from ‘questioning-staff’ surveys (50 farms so far) on how much time they spent on various tasks. For baby pigs – too little! Disappointingly, for baby pigs to weaning it was but 8% of 25 man-hours/sow/year. It should be twice as much. You will need to put by sufficient time to running rescue decks efficiently.
Subsequent accommodation. You could have up to 20 rescued pigs a month per 100 sows to handle – remember to have sufficient follow-on accommodation for them without being forced to overstock.