BPEX blog

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Sharing ideas from other farms

When BPEX finds practical ideas on farm that are innovative and effective, it aims to tell others about it in its short Farm Case Study factsheets. 

The series helps share how producers do things so others can try new techniques or equipment having seen some evidence of how they work. The aims may be to improve productivity, save money, boost staff morale or all three.

The factsheets include solutions on a range of topics including: creep training, fox fencing on outdoor units, gilt management, staff training, split suckling, solar energy, farrowing paddock wallows and soil management.

There are currently 36 Farm Case Studies to browse; they are available online here and can also be ordered in the post by calling: 0247 647 8792 or emailing kt@bpex.ahdb.org.uk  


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Avoiding any guesswork in on-farm decisions

The changes that can make the biggest difference to pig performance and cost-cutting are often flagged up by recording and spending time understanding data. So BPEX has provided a Recording Toolkit to help producers get the most out of recording.

The toolkit comprises: a ‘Which Guide’ to recording and decision support systems, a cost of production calculator, national costings and herd performance figures, case studies, the BPEX recording field trial report. Also included is a webinar with Danish pig consultant and ex-production manager, Sanne Baden, on getting the most out of your data recording system.

Sanne worked with six English producers on a 12-month BPEX field trial on data recording. She says that, without good record keeping, the decisions made on farm can be little more than guesswork.

“You need to ensure that the right information is being collected and is recorded accurately before you can even start figuring out what it means and whether change is needed to keep performance and costs of production to target.”

The key points highlighted during the BPEX recording trial to maximise the value of data are:

Recording the right data
Running regular reports
Benchmarking
Target setting
Checking progress and monitoring interventions.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Coping with larger litters

An increase in sow performance and larger litter sizes in the English industry has highlighted challenges with weaning and rearing the extra pigs and BPEX is helping producers find solutions to this.

Knowledge transfer manager Angela Cliff says: “It is important to ensure all piglets drink adequate colostrum to get off to a good start and to make sure that sows are milking properly. There are videos to help demonstrate colostrum management to staff, available on the BPEX Practical Pig App and the app website (pictured). We’re also working with a producer who is focusing on recording and analysing the data to ensure he selects the more milky sows to breed from to help rear the larger litters they produce.”

The farrowing disc, free from BPEX, is another tool now being used by many producers to help keep tabs on which sows have farrowed, when they might need assisting and when colostrum is likely to be available for split suckling.

Other areas to look at include ensuring optimum temperatures in creep areas and towel drying small piglets to reduce the chance of chilling.

“Then, a longer-term option to consider is reducing sow numbers, to leave some empty farrowing pens free for nurse sows if needed to help rear the extra piglets. Small pig management is something we’ll be including in our autumn workshops.”

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Innovation Conference: feeding every pig its exact requirements

If you've not yet had chance to catch up with the presentations and speaker videos from this year's BPEX Innovation Conference, they're all available here to view

Meeting the exact nutrient requirements of sows and finishers through bespoke feed rations was a key theme, with examples of how it can be done in practice.

Producers Richard Hooper and Phil Stephenson cited key benefits of lowering feed costs per pig, as well as a reduction in labour intensity and less feed wastage. As a result, overall feed savings of up to 10% were identifed, although the systems do involve high initial investment.

Richard Hooper manages a 240-sow indoor unit at Harper Adams University. He has introduced a  ‘multifast’ feeding system that delivers a specific blend of feed to each pen of finishers to meet each pig’s nutritonal requirements more accurately.

Phil Stephenson, owner and manager of a 700-sow, indoor farrow-to-finish unit spoke about his Gestal wireless sow feeding system. Phil said: “It’s used in the farrowing house and ensures that each sow receives the correct amount of feed based on her parity. This varies between two feeds a day up to farrowing and six feeds a day post farrowing. The system has saved my business as much as £20,000 since installation.

“The computer software allows each individual sow to be monitored from my office. The data produced means that I can nip any issue in the bud before it becomes too serious.”

This tied in with another overarching message from the conference:  if you don’t measure it, you can’t control it. In his presentation, Hugh Crabtree of Farmex said: “Data should be turned into knowledge then used to generate profit. Even the most experienced can learn something when they start measuring.”

He said there was no need to measure everything but the key elements were temperature, water, energy, feed and growth.

“The data must be used to get more things more right more of the time. Do that and the pigs’ biology will respond.”

There are also a few pictures from the conference here

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Modified dry sow arcs aim for targeted feeding

I’ve been working with an outdoor producer to set up a new trial to target delivery of feed into modified dry sow arcs, with the help of a BPEX Innovation Fund grant.

The producer started thinking about how he could feed his pigs effectively by reducing wastage, without incurring too much cost. Because the land can be quite wet at times it was having an impact on sow condition and was also leading to increased aggression. Extra food was having to be given to compensate for what was being lost in the wet ground.

So he has developed a concept where he can simply pull up to his dry sow arc and activate a quick release lever and deliver food into each hut.

On my first look at a group of sows being fed in the new huts, what struck me was just how calm the sows were. A little food is blown in to start with, then the rest is delivered between the two huts. The sows seem to find a natural order. There has also been a significant reduction in bird activity in the dry sow paddocks.
  • The following data will be collected from both the trial feed delivery system and current dry sow feeding system:
  • Group size (20-22/pen)
  • Feed usage per sow
  • Straw usage
  • Bird prevalence in respective paddocks
  • Staff time in feeding and bedding up
  • Sow aggression as measured by incidents of vulva biting         
  • Sow physical performance data
If you’d like to find out more or have any comments, please get in touch. We’ll provide more updates as we gather in the data

Monday, 21 July 2014

Farrowing tent aims to reduce piglet mortality


Our BPEX outdoor farrowing tent field trial is yielding positive results so far, including up to 50% savings in straw usage, compared with traditional arcs, as well as easier access for staff.

The overall aim is to increase the production potential of outdoor farrowing by providing more control at farrowing time. This should lead to lower pre-weaning mortality and provide a better environment for the staff to work in at this crucial stage of the production cycle.

The two producers trialing the farrowing tent are weighing the piglets coming out of both the tent and the arcs to see what, if any, difference there is between weaning weights. Next steps also include further modification of the internal sloping wall which helps the sow to lie down while giving piglets an escape route from potential crushing.

If the development of this practical solution proves successful, it will be highly valuable to the outdoor industry as average figures for pigs weaned per sow per year in outdoor systems continue with little improvement according to Agrosoft’s 12-month rolling data.

Click here to see our photo story showing the design and summarising the project so far.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Piglet weight increasing as stockmanship improves

Pig stockpeople are improving both pig productivity and their own skills, helped along by the BPEX Stockman Development Scheme and Stockman Plus courses which we ran in the north and east this year.

Stockman Callum Musgrave said the Stockman Development Scheme (North) had increased his awareness that even the smallest things matter. “One of the key things I’ve changed is to focus on temperature in farrowing house as it’s really important for sow performance. I check the temperature regularly throughout the day to make sure it’s constant and also check the sows have eaten their feed and are comfortable and not panting.  

“We’ve now just started getting more feed into sows and increasing piglet weight.  Enhanced knowledge has made me a much better stockman.”

Through the Stockman Development Scheme we're aiming both to improve technical knowledge, via pig production workshops, and also provide understanding of the pig supply chain through visits to feed mills and abattoirs.  The workshop topics include: veterinary and medicines, farrowing management and establishing the weaned pig. The Stockman Plus scheme is the next level up and focuses on problem-solving exercises as well as building up pig husbandry knowledge.

Importantly, for trainees at both levels, the chance to get together regularly at training sessions enables everyone to share, improve and learn from the changes they’ve tried out back on their units. 

There is more information on the full range of courses and skills development activities, from stockman up to unit manager level, on the BPEX website here.