At present on European farms of between 350 and 1500 sows, about 58% of man-hours per sow per year is spent on breeding to weaning, 24% on weaning to finishing and 18% on other tasks – repairs, maintenance, records and management.( From surveys since 2006).
While more time is being spent on the vital breeding sector, within it I suspect too little time is being spent establishing the baby pig. Support comes from the figures published by many pig industries which show that mortality of piglets born-alive has stubbornly stuck at 10 to 12% for decades (a better figure is 1.2 to 1.5 of born-alives).
Some of this stagnation is due to bigger litter sizes and with many of my clients now averaging over 12 born-alives, 2 of these pigs per litter are being lost – 15 % if you prefer. This is about 4.5 fewer piglets per sow per year brought through to weaning (of whatever weaning age). I suggest this accounts for the frustration of those breeders who are unable to reach the 30 pigs/sow/year figure we hear so much about these days, despite having, they tell me, invested in better housing and equipment.
I also suggest that they have not invested in sufficient labour time in the complex skills of baby pig care from attended farrowing to secure establishment to weaning. Looking deeper into where the time is being spent within the 58% of man-hours allocated to breeding to weaning, it seems that even with these welcome larger litters, the typical farrow-to-finish breeder is only according 6% (about 13.2 man-hours/sow/ year) of his total labour force availability. 13 man-hours may sound sufficient, but results suggest it is nowhere near enough, as six of my clients who consistently wean 28 pigs/sow/ year spend 37.5 man-hours/sow/year (17%) in just looking after baby pigs.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not calling for more labour, but a better redistribution of labour, leaving the less skilled jobs to other staff allowing the highly-skilled farrowing and nursery staff more time to do what they need to do in this technically advanced age. The car assembly, electronics and our own meat and dairy-processing industries do it, as I have found out from visiting them – but that’s an intriguing article for my Pig Progress column!