Professional pig farming has taken a big leap in China, and often the Dutch are reeled in to help. Which help do the Chinese exactly need when constructing a new farm?
Freezing cold it is at the time of this farm visit. An unexpected blizzard has struck the entire north east of China. It is tempting to stay inside the cabin of the construction workers who are busy finalising the pig farm.
In the cabin, a heated debate is going on around the planned heating system. The farm is built on a slight slope, which leads to the question whether a heat exchange system as scheduled is sufficient, or would additional LPG gas heaters be needed to be a 100% sure the farm will be warm at all times? Phone calls are being made – often to the Netherlands – to eventually make the best decision on how to move ahead.
Chao Yang Farm, Chaoyang, China
Chao Yang Farm cost around RMB 60 million (€8.4 million) to construct. Once ready, the farm will produce 140,000 piglets per year. The pigs will be Large White x Landrace (sow line) and Duroc (sometimes Piétrain). The pigs are fed on a dry mixture of mostly local corn, soybeans and premixes. Wheat bran or DDGS can be added. Weaning will occur between 3-4 weeks, usually between days 23-25. The farm will employ roughly 25 people, the majority trained and educated.
It is just another day, in the relatively young life, of the latest addition to the pig production network of the Chinese Wens Group, one of the country’s largest swine producers. At the time of the visit, the final steps were being made to construct this new pig breeding unit near the city Chaoyang (430,000 inhabitants) in Liaoning province, about 500 km north east of Beijing. Aiming to make another step forward by bringing in fresh knowledge, the company teamed up with Dutch experts who have taken the lead in designing and developing the project.
After all, many pig farms in the Netherlands produce on average over 30 piglets per sow per year, and the average in China’s commercial production is 22 or 23 piglets per sow per year – when backyard production is also included the average is as low as 16. So if all sows are able to produce according to Dutch standards, then output could in theory be increased 50%. Worth a try, Wens Group thought.
Looking at the bigger picture, the development of enhancing efficiency fits perfectly in the long-term ambition the Chinese government has expressed in its 12th Five Year Plan (2010-2015) – and which is likely to be repeated in the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-2020): increasing self-sufficiency, making the country less dependent on imports and inviting foreign investments for modernising agriculture.
One could say it was about time as well, as China’s pig industry definitely can do with further development. Food quality scandals, relatively high import rates and a backyard farm rate of around 30% have led to relatively strong pig cycles, with price volatility overwhelmingly strong. One only needs to think of the disappearance of nearly 10 million sows during 2014-2015, according to Rabobank, to see the results of the volatility.
The corridor between gestating and farrowing sows is equipped with a sow shower.
Photo: Vincent ter Beek
Snout ventilation, built-in in the ceiling, for sows in gestation.
Photo: Vincent ter Beek
Trying to break away from the volatility cycle, the Chinese authorities have been striving to encourage the construction of modern farms and have them concentrated right there where the conditions are ideal for corn to grow – so where transportation costs for feed are low. The area north east of Beijing – i.e. Liaoning province – is ideal for this purpose. Although pigs are kept intensively all over China, and although Beijing and Tianjin metropolitan areas (a market of 40 million people) are relatively nearby, Liaoning province remarkably has never been known for being amongst the top pig producing provinces in China.
The Wens Group (see box) answered to this call and planned for the current breeding farm, which produces piglets until about one week after weaning, intended for grow-finishing. Initially, piglets will transfer to the local family farms which are in co-operation with Wens Group for its feeding fattening stage, the family farms are normally near the breeding farms of Wens, usually between 5 and 20km away.
Wens Group commissioned Veldman Guangzhou to guide the design and building process. This company has been set up by Chinese co-operating with experts from Western Europe. Although it derives its name from a construction and installation company from the Netherlands, nowadays Veldman Guangzhou is an independent entity run by Wang Wei Wei, also known as Peter Wang, age 35, working in close co-operation with his Dutch colleagues. In this role, Veldman Guangzhou can function as an intermediate between the Chinese pig industry and European professional supplying pig companies, in their attempt to eventually deliver turnkey buildings for customers.
The project near Chaoyang is a 5,000 sow complex, consisting of five major buildings. Central on one side are apartments for the 25 members of staff (often families) who will live on-site, with next door a house for roughly 100 boars. At the other end there is a gilt facility for about 600 gilts, who have to stay here for approximately ten weeks, to be inseminated for the first time when it’s their third round ‘in heat’. Gilts are not inseminated in the gilt facility but will be moved from the gilt facility to the insemination room seven days prior to the expected in-heat date. Two sow houses for 2,000 and 3,000 sows complete the project.
Essentially, Wens Group aims to achieve more efficiency in its breeding farms in three different but equally important ways, Wang explains. A higher efficiency can be achieved by improving internal environment, feeding and management. He adds: “In the beginning years, a lot of attention was directed at the American swine industry. Chinese investors now also like to look for more individual tailor-made solutions, and these are found in the Netherlands.”
There are various elements at the farm that one will not find easily elsewhere in China’s pig industry.
At centre stage in the new farm set-up there are two sow houses, as said one for 2,000 and one for 3,000 sows. Input by Dutch consultant Harry Neulen was crucial here. Neulen used to be a sow breeder in the east of the Netherlands, when a few years ago he decided to focus on becoming an international consultant. He advised to construct sow houses which both combine farrowing and gestating/inseminating units parallel to each other, for biosecurity reasons. This set-up is similar to the way he used to do it himself when he was breeding sows in the Netherlands several years ago. In both sow houses, the sections are connected by corridors, equipped with built-in sow showers. Here batches of sows can be cleaned while being moved to a different section. Although time consuming, this process is usually valued highly in China.
Farrowing crates are equipped with computer-controlled feeding systems – another relative novelty for the Chinese market. Sows can be fed on a pre-programmed daily changing feeding ratio depending on her stage in lactation. Should there be any reason for concern, there is always the possibility to temporarily adjust the rations using a mobile phone or handheld. This system was designed by Veldman Techniek in the Netherlands and helps feeding sows much more accurately to their actual needs.
Also in the farrowing pens: floor heating, with warmth generated by the central heating system, is provided for the newborn piglets.
Inside the pig buildings, many walls are made of synthetic material (PVC), rather than concrete. PVC is quick and easy to install, and is very easy to clean, which can greatly reduce the water used for the cleaning.
The boar facility also houses a novelty for China, as a boar collection stud has been made with a ‘semen collection pit’, where staff can position itself lower than the boar for easy access to the boar’s penis. Neulen says housing pre-made for boar collection purposes is rarely seen in China.
Another innovation, tying in very well with the inner environmental focus point Wang expressed, is how to improve the farm’s internal climate and environment. First of all, fairly common additions relate to the extreme climate. Winters are lengthy and bitter cold (average low -16°C/3°F in January), so it is common to have a decent heating system inside. And as summers are equally endless and often boiling (average high 30°C/86°F in July), cooling pads are applied on the outside of the farm walls. What is new, however, is a separated air channel inside the buildings, for sow refreshment purposes. In both gestation and lactation rooms, the inlets release fresh air near the sow’s heads for cooling purposes. In both cases, the air is blown down from the ceiling, i.e. in the gestation barns they can be seen clearly above the aisle.
The sows are being kept in crates during gestation and in conventional farrowing crates during farrowing and lactation. The design of the manure pits underneath, however, are fully designed to support group housing for gestating sows, should that become necessary at a certain moment in the future.
Also interesting: Breeding Danish gilts in China
Several years ago, Danish pig breeding company DanAvl decided it was time to make the jump to China and invested in several Chinese projects. A new breeding farm has been established, just as its own commercial production, and new investments are underway.
The internal environment gets a further boost by a Chinese innovation – an automatic manure scraping system underneath the sow houses. The system pushes the manure away on a daily basis, keeping the air inside the buildings relatively clean. The manure is stored on-site and separated in a thick and a thin fraction. The thin fraction is used on the land; the thick fraction is sold.
With many things being done differently than normal, new staff was invited to come to the Netherlands to get proper training. This training as well as monitoring is continuing while being in China, to ensure further progress on-farm. In case everything will run according to plan, all should cumulate into phase II: the construction of an additional, similar sow facility just adjacent to the current facility.
By the time Pig Progress saw the entire complex and darkness fell over Liaoning province, the construction staff had concluded its meeting. Several additional LPG heaters will be applied to heat the pig houses. Another lesson learnt – to ensure constructing of phase II in a few years time will just be a walk in the park.
This article has been made possible with kind co-operation of Harry Neulen, owner of Neulen Pig Bizz Solutions, the Netherlands. First gilts arrived at the farm in January 2016.
Wens Group at a glance
Wens Group is one of China’s larger agricultural conglomerates, taking prominent roles in both the country’s pork and poultry meat production. The group aims for 600,000 sows in total and the production of 15 million finisher pigs per year. Since the Wens Group also owns feed mills, producing close to 10 million metric tonnes of feed per year, the group is one of the largest buyers of soybeans and corn in China. The group also provides farm equipment and produces a range of dairy products, as well as cooked and chilled foods for consumers. Wens Group was founded in 1983 by seven farmers in the southern Chinese province Guangdong. Apart from agriculture, it is also active in research and development, food processing, bio-pharmaceuticals, real estate development, industrial investment and other activities relating to the agricultural sector. The group has around 170 subsidiaries, employs over 40,000 people and is active in 23 Chinese provinces.
Don’t miss Pig Progress’ special photo report, revealing more angles and information about this sow farm.