German pig producers used to be crazy about producing meaty pigs. However, as the competition on the German market increases, an growing number of German breeders are looking abroad for alternatives, to improve their output. German pig producer Wilfried Gerdes is one of them and discovered there was much to gain.
By Vincent ter Beek
Of all the countries in Europe, Denmark is one of the most organised when it comes to the pig industry. More than 90% of domestically slaughtered pigs are processed by the cooperative Danish Crown, and a similar percentage applies to genetic origination with the vast majority of Danish pig producers obtaining their genetics from DanBred. Competition from abroad might be really difficult in a market like this, but in Denmark, this concentration has led to the emergence of well-structured and focused organisations, ready to face tomorrow’s challenges.
Going south, to Germany, a completely different, and more fragmented picture can be painted. Throughout the country there exists a diversity of larger and smaller slaughterhouses, among which Tönnies and Westfleisch are perhaps the most well-known. In terms of genetics, there is also large diversity. In the end of last year, a touch of consolidation could be noted when Hypor took over the German breeders of BHZP.
In this fragmented German market, foreign companies have gradually entered, among them the breeder, DanBred. The company, active since 1972 across the Danish border operates internationally under the name of DanBred International. The company usually emphasises their sows’ fertility and also their good results in production. Recently, their technical results were even hailed by the ninth ‘Warentest’ from the agricultural association of North Rhine Westphalia, published in June 2008. In this independent test, results from gilts from ‘DanZucht’ (German name) scored better than pigs from competing genetic backgrounds (see box).
Making the move
One of the more recent pig producers that made the move from local, German genetics to Danish genetics is Wilfried Gerdes, 29, based in Lorup, Niedersachsen, Germany. His farrow-to-finish farm houses 200 sows, and his farm has 1,200 finishing places. Adjacent to the farmhouse is about 35 ha land on which silage maize and grains are being grown for sale; his pigs are served compound feeds. Before 2006, he had Hülsenberger genetics, with which his results were not always optimal. “Now I see, I did not have my health issues under control,” he admits.
Oddly, Gerdes did not initially move to Danish genetics because he wanted to improve his breeding results. “I wanted to change as I wasn’t completely happy with the results I had in finishing,” he says. “I had high veterinary costs. There was mycoplasma, PRRS in the pig herd, which cost me €3 per pig. If there was also Lawsonia (PPE, VtB), this could be as much as €5.
Wilfried Gerdes:Losses in fattening were about 5%… Something needed to happen.”
Word of mouth paved the way for the introduction of genetics from Denmark, Gerdes remarks. “From people in the neighbourhood, I had heard about the Danish animals. They were said to be robust although they might perhaps give slightly less meat.” Since the meat percentage is a much venerated criteria in Germany, Gerdes had to think twice, but he decided to give it a try anyway.
His decision left him happy, Gerdes explains. “Nowadays, losses are below 3% in fattening and we don’t have to vaccinate the piglets anymore. We even have good results without vaccinating for PRRS and Mycoplasma.”
Figure 1. Gerdes farm details.
– Electronic Sow Feeding was introduced in 2003, with Mannebeck feeding stations. The sows are kept in groups of 90 – At about 25-28 kg, the weaners go to the fattening. About half of the poplulation is finished on-site, the rest is sold. – There are plans for the addition of a new fattening house, int he direct neighbourhood about 1 km away. This is planned to be ready over the next two years. – At the moment, a Piétrain-Duroc crossbred boar is used. In the near future, a Danish Duroc will be introduced. This will lead to high growth percentages and bital piglets, but a slightly reduced meat percentage.
Welcome phenomenon For the Danish breeders, the expansion in Germany is a welcome phenomenon. In total, the company sells its genetics to 25 different countries, with Russia, Belgium and Germany topping the list, says Thomas Muurmann Henriksen, managing director at DanBred International. This year, the company will export 40,000 gilts. He acknowledges that Germany is one of the most important markets for the company – and is becoming even more important. “There is a consolidation towards bigger and more professional herds,” he says. The result of the Warentest (see box) helped a lot in this sense, he admits. His company’s success is dependent on a focus on full value, he says: “One uniform and disciplined breeding scheme with focus on the value in the full value chain – not sub-optimising, looking at many different things at the same time.”
Wilfred Gerdes might be in a position to agree. His biggest surprise after the switch to Danish genetics was improved results in breeding as well as in farrowing, as can be seen in Table 1. The year 2007 served as a year in-between, as replacement happened in stages. Every eight weeks, 15-18 new Landrace x Yorkshire gilts (180 days of age) would arrive at the farm, after which they were kept in quarantine for about 6-7 weeks.
The gilts had the highest health status possible, Gerdes explains, as the animals had been vaccinated for PRRS, parvovirus, mycoplasma, erysipelas and they had also been dewormed. The result? The number of piglets sold per sow per year increased by six.
Is there nothing but happiness? Gerdes shakes his head as there is space for improvement, he says, as he notices his presence is required increasingly. “Sometimes, we have to give assistance during farrowing. We cannot, however, stay in the pig house the whole night. And we have to learn to deal with these large amounts of piglets. Regularly, we have to make foster sows now.”
Haus Düsse trials to genetic efficacy
The German research institute of Haus Düsse is well-known for its so-called ‘Warentests’ in which the achievements of several different agricultural products are usually compared. In this case, seven different genetic lines were compared for their results in fattening. Animals from PIC, Topigs, BHZP, Hülsenberger, JSR and LRS (Landesverband Rheinischer Schweinezüchter) were chosen to participate. To make sure that the sire line did not make any difference, in all cases the same Piétrain boar was provided. In the case of DanBred pigs, a cross between Landrace and Yorkshire was used. From all genetic sources, 104 animals were taken (50% castrated males and 50% females). DanBred scored best with an average daily gain in fattening of 942 g/day. Feed conversion ratio also scored best with 2.43. Also in numbers of live born piglets, DanBred scored first. Only in meat percentage, were results average.