Pigs taking a bath in Vietnamese heat

14-05-2013 | | |
Finishing pigs relaxing around the water basin at Ngo farm.
Finishing pigs relaxing around the water basin at Ngo farm.

Vietnam is one of Asia’s most pork-loving countries – so many pig farms can be found around Ho Chi Minh City. Meet pork ?production, Vietnamese style – combined with cashew nut ?production and a special way to keep the pigs cool in the ?tropical heat.

There is the sound of laughter from inside the farm house. About six men are playing cards, hiding away from the sweltering afternoon heat in Vietnam. A guard dog barks, chickens stroll around, a cat briefly pops into view, and Mr Ngo Duy Dung Tri, age 42, displays several yellow and orange fruits on the floor. Hand-picked from trees known as Anacardium occidentale , surrounding the farm house. It’s not so much their fruit what’s interesting – what really matters is what hangs directly underneath: Cashew nuts. Ngo removes thefruit, disappears for a while and comes back with a plate of blackened objects. An outer shells that could be peeled off; and inside, delicious cashew nuts.

The Ngo family own 1.6 hectares of land in Thong Nhat district of Dong Nai province – roughly a two-hour drive east of Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. This is where the family have been producing cashew nuts since 1992, as well as banana cultivation. Nuts and fruit alone, however, do not always generate sufficient profits to get by. Pig production proved profitable in the 90s – and like many more people, in 1998, Ngo and his wife decided to move into swine production as well. They started small – at a different location, with 15 sows.

Ngo went, as he was trained as a tailor, not a swine farmer. He took animal science lectures from teachers attached to a college in the city of Bao Loc. In the mean time, the family set up a new pig farm in the midst of their cashew nut orchard, in 2002. First a building for finishing pigs was built – this was followed by one for sows in 2004 and another one for finishing pigs in 2009. Today, the farm is a 60 sow farrow-to-finish facility, offering places for 400 finishers. About 0.2 hectare of Ngo’s land is now dedicated to swine production.

Market conditions

The good market conditions from the initial years, which attracted many more people to go into swine production, were not there to stay, Ngo says. Nowadays pig markets have proved to be very volatile – with both highs and lows.

The year 2011-12 most successful for the farm, Ngo says, having generated a profit of around 800 million Vietnamese dong (almost US$40,000). On the other hand, prices in early 2013 have not been overly fantastic. “We lost between US$5 and US$10 per pig in the first months of 2013. Prices have been very unstable,” says Ngo. In March, prices varied between US$1.60-US$1.80 per kg deadweight.

A part of the price volatility can be explained by disease outbreaks like Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) or highly pathogenic PRRS are, capable of causing acute shortages in the Vietnamese market. In addition, market demand varies from time to time, and processing companies and traders play a large part with the determinating the prices. The Vietnamese government does not interfere.

No such thing as government subsidies exist either, so there is no other option for the Ngo family but to put further expansion on hold for a while. Should the market stabilise for the long term, only then is he willing to think about expanding his swine business. Ideally, the family would like to build more sections, but just not at this moment.

Farm set-up

Due to its size, the farm buildings have a combined set-up: The first building houses lactating as well as gestating sows also weaners, in a naturally ventilated house. The 50 gestating sows, kept in crates, require a lot of manual work. Their manure needs scraping into a central slatted aisle, also feeding which is done by hand. Towards the back of this pig house, the floor moves up; here there are spaces for ten farrowing sows and about 120 growing pigs. They are housed on elevated slatted floors, where manure is caught underneath.

The second and third barn, also naturally ventilated, are used for finishers, 200 are kept in each house. It is here that a remarkable feature can be seen – built-in water basins for the finishers, in each pen housing which holds about 15 pigs. The pigs clearly love to cool down it as the majority of pools are filled with porcine visitors, stepping in and out of the bath, which is filled until the rim. “It is not an unusual feature on farms in this area,” explains Ngo. “In these tropical heats you want to provide facilities for the pigs to keep them cool.”

Since this set-up requires quite a lot of water, Ngo positioned a large water tank outside the finisher barn. The water is collected from a well and then stored in these silo-like tanks until use.

No feed silos are attached to the farm buildings, instead compound pelleted feed is being trucked in bags by De Heus Vietnam – this includes feed for sows, growers and finishers. As an additional source of income, Ngo even decided to become a regional distributor of De Heus products – in order to be able to better compete with other dealers, many of them offering products from a different company.

Disease pressure is prevalent in Vietnam, Ngo knows, and therefore, all pigs are vaccinated for both Classical Swine Fever (hog cholera) as well as Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD). He knows that Vietnam is susceptible. “I am happy being a pig farmer, but if a disease outbreak 
happens, I have to accept it.”

Ngo sends his finishers to the market when they are at about 100-110 kg. He sells them through middlemen, who pick up the animals by trucks.

Last but not least – manure plays a triple role on the farm. A small part is used on-farm, to grow his cashew-nut and banana trees. As a source of income, however, much of the manure is bagged as well and sold to neighbouring farmers. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, part of the manure is used for his own underground biogas tank, which generates electricity for the farm and the little house as the general network has not reached the farm yet. Television, the stove, lighting – all is dependent on the pigs. After all, one’s got to be able to play a game of cards at night as well.


New feed plant near Ho Chi Minh City

For much of the 20th   century, Vietnam has been in turmoil. Since the mid-1980s, peace had set in and the country’s market opened up for foreign investments. Ever since, Vietnam’s economy has been booming. The result: Vietnam, with just over about 90 million inhabitants, is looking for increasing amounts of meat – with pork being the most wanted. With livestock production on the increase, demand for high quality animal feed has also taken off. The commercial feed market has enjoyed a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 16% between 2005 and 2009, and continued strong growth is expected in the coming years. By 2020, Vietnam is expected to need around 15 million tonnes of animal feed to meet domestic demand.

This increased demand for animal feed brought Dutch feed manufacturer De Heus to Vietnam. In 2008, the first two factories were bought, in Binh Duong province and in Hai Phong province. These were primarily serving pig, and to a lesser extent, poultry producers. The next step was the purchase of an aquafeed plant in Vinh Long province, in the Mekong Delta, southern Vietnam. Lastly, mid-2012, the company opened its fourth feed plant in Vietnam. This one was a grassroots construction, in Dong Nai province, around the corner from the Ngo family farm. It has three production lines and a production capacity of 300,000 tonnes per year. The new feed factory mainly on the production of pig feed, but also focuses on making compound feed for cattle, ducks and broilers.

The objective is to serve independent small size producers whom they supply with either compound feed or concentrates and premixes – again, the Ngo family being one of these. Through Ngo and other local producers, the De Heus products are further sold to the market.

The company feels strongly about being more than just a feed manufacturer – and rolled out a strategy to be present for producers with knowledge and advice. De Heus Vietnam’s general director Gabor Fluit told All About Feed last year: “We can offer added value through our broad based knowledge and experience. Through our education programmes and extension service at farm level, we believe that we can reach producers and help them increase their productivity.”



Want to see more? Surf to www.pigprogress.net for a photo gallery of this visit, and that of the Vietnamese pig farmer Nguyen Thi Xuan Anh, and a Vietnamese feed plant.

Special thanks for De Heus Vietnam for making this feature possible.

ter Beek
Vincent ter Beek Editor of Pig Progress / Topic: Pigs around the world